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Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids Hardcover – March 31, 2015

4.3 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Anthologies aren't famous for changing attitudes en masse, but at the very least this one gives voice to the complexities of assuming and enjoying a 'child-free' life....The sixteen essays are cleverly arranged, creating a satisfying intellectual and emotional arc....The reader is treated to nearly every reason one might choose to forgo having children.” ―Kate Bolick, The New York Times Book Review

“[A] searing collection...The child-burdened should come away from this engaging collection with a rich sense of what they have missed.” ―Katie Roiphe, The Washington Post

“A round of applause to Meghan Daum for putting this book together....Entertaining and heartfelt.” ―The Boston Globe

“Provocative.” ―Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

“The 16 essays--variously funny, devastating, infuriating, insightful, and, yes, occasionally smug--not only dismantle the assumption of selfishness, they shed light on a stigma that's remained stubbornly pervasive...Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is generally very strong, bringing together a diverse range of voices and styles to riff entertainingly on a subject that has seemed, up until now, unriffable. But as a collection of manifestos, it's hugely significant.” ―TheAtlantic.com

“Some [essays] are moving, some are clear-eyed and straightforward, and some are straight-up funny.” ―The Guardian (London)

“I highly recommend the book. Each essay is unique and thought-provoking.” ―Bitch.com

“Refreshing for this reader, who's a parent but who also has no trouble identifying with non-parents; though we might come to different decisions (to become parents or not), we still worry and ponder and project in similar ways...The anthology's variation in tone proves that, like those with children, the childless aren't some monolithic group with identical motives....It's this kind of open-minded honesty that will move the topic away from its limiting us versus them binaries.” ―Edan Lepucki, The Millions

“Shallow conversation-changers are nowhere to be found in this searing collection.” ―The Huffington Post

“Oftentimes hilarious and heartbreaking, and riddled throughout with truth.” ―Minda Honey, Los Angeles Review of Books

“The most recent and high-profile addition to the developing canon of writing by childfree women on their lives--and recommended reading for anyone who wants fascinating, thrilling, and occasionally frustrating insight into the lives of the childfree.” ―Bustle

“Potent and sorely needed antidote to this toxic myth comes in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by the brilliant Meghan Daum-a writer of rare aptitude for articulating the unspeakable. The contributions-sometimes witty, sometimes wistful, always wise-come from such celebrated authors as Geoff Dyer, Anna Holmes, and Sigrid Nunez...Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is a nuanced and necessary read in its totality.” ―Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

“Maybe I really am selfish, shallow and self-absorbed. But at least I'm not alone, and this collection was a fantastic reminder.” ―BlogHer

“[An] absorbing collection....some entries are heart-wrenching...while others are downright hilarious.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A taboo will linger until someone writes lyrically enough to destroy it. Here, sixteen writers finally say what women are never supposed to but what we all know is true: pregnancy seems terrifying, birth even more so, baby lust passes, and, just as with men, work, creativity, and love affairs can crowd out everything else. Also, who really cares about getting a Mother's Day card? My three children are of course perfect in every way and yet, the longer I am a mother, the more it's obvious to me that it's not for everyone. Any woman who shares that instinct: Ignore your grandmother. Read this instead.” ―Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men: And the Rise of Women

“I've never needed approval for my decision to go childless through this world, but there've been times when I wanted company, a sounding board, a friend who wouldn't take the wrong way my desire to be occasionally ecstatic about not having babies and all the opportunities it affords me. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is all that and more. It's sweet, heartfelt...utterly (and by design) the opposite of its title. It's a triumph of honesty and sincerity. I imagine returning again and again to its many smart and caring voices.” ―Hannah Pittard, author of Reunion and The Fates Will Find Their Way

“Put aside your moralistic assumptions. The sixteen probing essays collected here show how deeply individual-and varied, rich, and colorful-are the paths by which people arrive at the decision to not have children. This has to be one of the best of the many anthologies about women's (and men's) life stages-there's a lot at stake here for the writers, and for the readers as well.” ―Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights and The Mind-Body Problem

“To her illustrious list of literary accomplishments, Meghan Daum must now add brilliant anthology editor. In this thoughtful, hilarious, gorgeously written collection of original essays by anything-but-the-usual-suspects, Daum has taken a taboo subject and turned it inside out so that we see the seams, the stitching, and the bloody guts of one of the most personal and complex decisions any of us can ever make. This is a wonderful book.” ―Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing and Devotion: A Memoir

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed doesn't seek to settle the issue of children vs. childfree. But it will make you think. It will make you sit up in your chair. As a parent it provoked a strange reaction in me--a mirror to the same defensiveness I perceived in so many of the essays. But that is a good thing. Daum's assemblage of these essays does what it's intended to do: inspire us to think about why we live the way we live....A provocative collection that will inspire a lot of conversation.” ―The Rumpus

About the Author

MEGHAN DAUM is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, the author of The Unspeakable, My Misspent Youth, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House, The Quality of Life Report, and the editor of Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Times Book Review, Vogue, and other publications.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (March 31, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250052939
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250052933
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 31, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Childlessness is not pitiful, disgraceful, or unnatural. This is the fundamental point in "Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed," edited and with an introduction by Meghan Daum. The majority of the essays that appear in this collection are articulate and eloquent. Most of us are familiar with the stereotype of affluent and carefree adults who have decided not to reproduce. They have fulfilling jobs, travel wherever and whenever they please, take part in a host of recreational activities, and enjoy get-togethers with friends and family. In addition, their homes are quiet and pristine, with no toys cluttering the floor, and no sounds of screeching youngsters. This may be a portrait of some childless individuals, but it does not accurately represent all of them.

The essayists, three males and thirteen females, are professional writers, so they are not necessarily representative of the general population. The majority of their pieces are witty, insightful, and honest; it is a pleasure to read such lucid, reflective, and poignant prose. We learn a great deal about why these individuals decided to forego parenthood. They describe, among other things, their traumatic experiences at the mercy of indifferent, abusive, or negligent mothers and fathers; a gut feeling that they did not have what it takes to properly nurture children; their craving for a predictable routine and the freedom to write without distraction; and their realization that they enjoy the company of other people's sons and daughters, but are happy to hand them over to their moms and dads at the end of the day.

Every thinking and feeling person's heart goes out to infertile people who would love nothing more than to have a child.
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Format: Hardcover
Meghan Daum set out to capture the diverse reasonings of men and women who choose not to have children in this anthology of essays. She writes in her Introduction: "I wanted to show that there are just as many ways of being a nonparent as there are of being a parent. You can do it lazily and self-servingly or you can do it generously and imaginatively."

This book rightly runs the gamut of those attitudes. Some essayists view motherhood as an infringement on the individual (Courtney Hodell) or a cultural imperative masked as maternal instinct (Laura Kipnis). Others approach the issue from an entirely different angle. That a history of depressive episodes may impact some future child (Elliott Holt) or how a larger group's decision to not procreate could lead to shifting demographics (Lionel Shriver).

I was struck by how many of the authors felt the need to say they love children. To dispel the image of the childless ogre living alone and loveless. Even the term childfree is questioned for its analogizing children to something dangerous like cigarettes.

It was those essays that were a bit more unapologetic about the choice (because, parent or not, it's a choice most of the time) that made the most impact. That didn't feature a seemingly throwaway statement of gratitude to a sibling who afforded them the right to live without judgment for not giving their parents a grandchild, or suggest they have filled the cultural script in some other way by being successful in another area of life. There are ways to live that are neither child-focused nor career-focused, and those are the most interesting to me.

It's a shame Daum only sought submissions from professional writers.
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As a non-mom (or "childfree" in the book's parlance), but a happy aunt, Best Summer Camp Counselor Ever and a big fan of children in general, I've spent most of my child-bearing years married and stable yet with a general indifference about raising children of my own. I've never been able to put a finger on why my husband and I didn't put more energy into becoming parents. I was hoping this collection of essays, edited by Meghan Daum whom I adore, would have answered questions for me. I was hoping I'd have gotten more out of it. Unfortunately, many of the writers do come off as being self-absorbed to the point of monotony. Several of the whiny essays are indistinguishable from the next. Though each is well-written and interesting, many of the voices begin to run together. Similar family issues, relationship issues, mental health issues, all insisting a love for kids (to the point of protesting too much), all insisting their writing careers could not sustain the demands of children. For parents reading this in an attempt to understand the mindset of people who don't have children, the essays mainly reinforce bratty stereotypes about DINKS (Double Income No Kids). Very little new light is shed on this important topic. It's something I navigate often, as people of my generation are either raising young kids, ignoring the kids they do have, or ignoring the idea of creating kids completely. I do get flack for not being a parent, much of it unfair, self-righteous and pompous considering the issue is heavily layered and textured in all directions.

These insular and very specific stories did not venture far outside of the writer's own heads.
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