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Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  5,763 ratings  ·  877 reviews
Sixteen Literary Luminaries On The Controversial Subject Of Being Childless By Choice, Collected In One Fascinating Anthology

One of the main topics of cultural conversation during the last decade was the supposed "fertility crisis," and whether modern women could figure out a way to way to have it all--a successful, demanding career and the required 2.3 children--before th
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 1st 2015 by Picador (first published March 31st 2015)
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Kriselda Gray Most publishers will make a limited number of copies of their books available to reviewers prior to the book's release so that there can be reviews av…moreMost publishers will make a limited number of copies of their books available to reviewers prior to the book's release so that there can be reviews available when the book comes out.(less)
Cora I wish this book had a greater variety of viewpoints and not just authors, but it does tell you in the title that it is just writers. So I guess I was…moreI wish this book had a greater variety of viewpoints and not just authors, but it does tell you in the title that it is just writers. So I guess I was warned!(less)

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Jaclyn Hogan
Nov 28, 2014 rated it really liked it

I received a digital ARC of this title from Netgalley.

I will never have children. I made up my mind on this years ago, and now, as I near 30, I have no inclination to change my mind. If I have a 'biological clock,' it's assuredly broken. What else could explain the crawling horror I feel at the prospect of pregnancy? Nope, no babies for this girl.

My niece is expecting a baby in a few months, and I'm excited. But, and this is key, I'm excited because I'm not the one having it. I'm looking forwar
Apr 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: never-finished
So, here's the deal. I read the first four? five? essays and just had to call it quits. Turns out that I'm just not interested in why people don't want to have kids. I know, totally surprising because I also don't care why people do have kids. You do you and I'll do me.

But for those who are perhaps more interested in the premise behind the book, I'm not sure that this book is the best way to find answers or explanations. Just like in real life, sometimes people don't have kids because they are
Summer Smith
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
I was slightly disappointed that most of the women in the book had actually courted or coveted motherhood for a time - and more missed the window than made an active choice. ironically, I most identified with a male writer's essay because he has always firmly known he didn't want children -- one of only a couple in the book. But still, I found the essays interesting, and I love that the topic is now open for intelligent dialogue. ...more
Such a necessary essay collection in a society that still glorifies having children, even with the existence of many other paths to fulfillment. I appreciated these writers, mostly women, who shared about their diverse range of reasons for remaining childless – deriving meaning from other worthwhile life pursuits, not feeling a parental instinct, having had negative experiences related to parenting on the receiving end of it, and more. I liked the theme of how most if not all of these writers di ...more
Jessica Jeffers
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
I've known since I was a kid that I didn't want to be a mother. I have a distinct memory of being 7 or 8 and joining my own mom and her aunts and cousins on a Memorial Day trip to decorate family graves. In the cemetery, I remember coming across a string of Depression-era headstones for a set of siblings who all died as children and declaring I never wanted to have kids. I don't know why that was the moment it clicked for me, but it was. The women who were there with me all enjoyed a good laugh ...more
Leah Hortin
Apr 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
I'm quite disappointed. I had such high hopes. The summary called to me, the intro was stellar and had me nodding in agreement with the editor, and then I started reading the essays. I think that there were only 3 or 4 that spoke to me, the rest were either uninteresting or thoroughly depressing. I'm sorry but I don't think that finding yourself in middle age, unmarried, without children, and coming to terms with that is the same as "deciding" to not have children. I cannot relate to women that ...more
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who does not want children, or wants to understand why some don't want children
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I don't want children.

At my age, however, this statement is usually met with the response of, "Oh, but you're so young. You'll change your mind."

This is not only condescending, but inaccurate (which honestly bothers me more). Not every woman is built to be a mother. Children can be great, sure. But I've never been one to "ooh" and "ahh" over baby pictures, find myself unable to resist pinching baby cheeks, or feel the desire to
Sep 19, 2014 rated it liked it
This hit the spot. Almost. I wanted to read the perspectives of writers who not only didn't have children but were thrilled with the decision to the point of being relieved that they trusted their intuition, who like me are edified by their decision each passing year rather than being unnerved by it or the social judgment that accompanies it. I found several of my own reasons for being persona non mama scattered throughout, but the BEST and most identifiable for me was the final essay written by ...more
Much has been written about women "having it all," and the difficulties for women with balancing work and child-rearing. Literature also abounds on the topic of infertility, detailing stories of women who long to have children, but are unable for various reasons. However, very little has been written about making a conscious, well-thought out decision NOT to have children, and even less so from a male perspective. Social groups are plentiful for women who are mothers, from informal playgroups to ...more
Erica Zimmermann
Apr 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Until about a year ago, I always thought I would eventually have kids. As I made my way through my twenties watching my friends have babies, I would feel the occasional twinge of a biological urge and assumed one day that would be me with the swollen belly and piles of tiny jumpers to organize. I’m not entirely sure what changed, but lately I’ve been pretty convinced that motherhood is not for me. My boyfriend/roommate has always said he doesn’t want children and I believed him, but always kind ...more
Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile
Overall, I think this book's importance in our society cannot be expressed enough. I'm so grateful to the author for giving this viewpoint a much-needed voice. I can't count how many times older women have said to me, "Oh, you'll change your mind about having kids when you're older." As if I'm wrong. As if I'm so young and blindly misguided that I will soon come to my senses. These responses are offensive to me. I'm 29 years old, and have very closely considered what route in life I would like t ...more
Erica Clou
The idea that people who choose not have children are selfish has always been completely preposterous to me. I have two children I completely love and adore, but the reasons I chose to have them were (in my opinion) "selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed" even if the actual raising of them sometimes requires saint-like patience and sacrifice. That is, I desperately wanted my own kids, my own family, little me's to shower with affection. In contrast, I think people who adopt or even those who don't ...more
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 stars - It was really good.

Like most essay collections, some were better than others but I found something interesting or thought provoking in each one. The authors come from very diverse backgrounds, with essays from both men and women, rich and poor, old and young, straight and gay.
Favorite Quotes: The lack of desire to have a child is innate. It exists outside of my control. It is simply who I am and I can take neither credit nor blame for all th
I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for a review. I don't know what it says about me that the essay that resonated most was written by a man (Geoff Dyer's was GREAT). I found the women's accounts a little to emotionally wrought and apologetic ("I LOVE kids, just don't want my own") and repetitive (got pregnant, didn't work out, it's fine I guess). Not a bunch of new ground covered here for those of us already committed to not having kids, but I guess it's a good thing that the i ...more
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Ach, I was so excited to read this one but just felt like it didn't really deliver for me. Like a lot of the other reviewers, I identified a lot more with the male authors' essays (I especially liked the last one)- for a book that I assumed was supposed to represent many different authors' reasons/experiences with childlessness, the women's stories felt so similar to me: difficult childhoods, mental/emotional difficulties, just didn't meet the right guy at the right time. I wonder if this is som ...more
Amy Thibodeau
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
"I wish that we had more conversations about childlessness that didn’t force us to approach them from such a defensive place."

I found this book mostly refreshing, save for the essay by Lionel Shriver, which struck me as bonkers with its focus on what seemed to me about the pressure to pass on good, European genes. I'm a woman, in my 30s and I never want to have children. Though I personally haven't experienced a lot of the pressure some of the authors in this book have, I wish the default assump
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have read just about every “childfree” book ever published. Some are better than others, but they all dwell on the same theme: “we have wisely chosen to live our lives without the burden of children and those who do have children are sheep who have let themselves be brainwashed into the mommy-daddy track.” This book is different. These authors do not offer pat answers or smug assurances that childfree is the only way to go. Each has struggled with the question of why they don’t have children a ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction-btr
Personally I have to recognize that after reading this book I realized I don’t like the essays in a book format , nonetheless this book was brilliant for what it is , a compendium of people stating their reasons of why they don’t want have kids (a personal stance as well), in them you will find reasons that range from the philosophical aspects to what could be call selfish attitudes (there is a reason for the title of the book) , you might not agree with some of them and one in particular might ...more
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
“At times, I felt like a pioneer, a woman who has had access to countless new opportunities, including the chance to craft a life best suited to her own skills and temperament.”

I have been saying for over 20 years now that I don’t want kids. What’s interesting about this book is that it’s most likely going to be read by people who made the same decision long ago—and it won’t be read by those who probably should read it, the ones who ask “Why?” the ones who repeatedly state, “You’ll change your m
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids is a collection of essays explaining just that. Even though Meghan Daum, the editor of this collection, intends this title to be taken facetiously, I still dislike it. It seems less like a sly joke and more like an admission, that we, the childfree, are indeed all those things. We are not.

The women and (three) men writers in this collection explain their various reasons for not having children. Their reasons v
Chris Hartley
Mar 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, first-reads
I received this book as part of the First Reads giveaway program.

What made “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed” appealing to me from the get-go is being able to get insight from writers who have made the same life decision I have that is the choice to not have children. Over the years, it is a choice that has garnered me odd looks, inane questioning, and such proclamations as “You don’t know what you’re missing!” and “How do you know it’s not for you?” – My answers: a) Judging from those around
I have been saying for a long while now that I don’t want to have kids and I am always met with shock, rolling eyes or pity. I am told, “you’re young, this will change” or “ so what will happen when you get old?” and the most annoying, “won’t you be lonely?” It was so refreshing to read these 16 essays as they captured everything I want to say and how I feel about this topic. I cannot tell the last time I read a book and really related to the authors. This book not only helped in cementing my de ...more
Jul 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Why Don't You Have Kids?
This book provided prospective on the many ways childless adults deal with the questions related to, "how many kids do you have," or other variations to the same point. I am in my early thirties and work in a primarily male, highly demanding, scientific field, and have been in a relationship with my now husband (also a scientist) for a little over nine years. It never fails that this is one of the first five questions I'm asked by new acquaintances (but rarely comes up f
Jenn "JR"
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir-essay
When I first read the title, I thought "Hey! That's me!" I'm almost 50 and still get the "tsk" and "it's not too late!" and grandiose exclamations from exhausted late-in-life-parents that "having children is the most fulfilling thing you can do as a human/woman/educated liberal/etc." I mostly think they are trying to convince themselves - and so do many of the contributors to this volume.

The first essay is probably my favorite - it's a sweet love letter from the writer to her sibling, both thoug
Although I am very interested in childlessness as a cultural phenomenon, this book wasn't really for me. People's explanations of why they've chosen not to do something and the repercussions of that choice are, it turns out, fundamentally kind of uninteresting. Basically, people who share a culture make decisions for reasons that make sense within that culture, and thus tend to look, at the macro-level, pretty much alike. However, the book was useful in terms of my thinking about voluntary child ...more
Apr 29, 2017 rated it liked it
I have been pretty transparent about my inclinations to remain childless on this platform, and when I saw this book come up on my recommendations list I thought it would be a way to find additional words to shield myself with. People like to judge people, after all, especially those people who dare live lives that differ from their own.

This book, however, wasn't exactly fulfilling. The collection, in brief, is this: 13 essays by female authors; 3 by male authors all meandering through their men
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is a compilation of essays from a variety of writers who bring a very wide variety of experiences, perspectives, and insights to the book and to the burgeoning societal conversation about those who choose not to have children. I didn't agree with all the authors or even all the topics/focal points (Islam, for example, does not hate the West for 'decadence' exemplified by trends of willing childlessness and it is a distraction from actual issues to seriously su ...more
Michelle Marasco
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rarely write reviews, but I will for this one because I think it's valuable reading for the childless and those with children alike.

There is much to love, and to hate, in these essays no matter your viewpoint on having children. Because the collection is from writers, there is a specific viewpoint on flexible lifestyle that is overrepresented, as is the choice to not have children from people with deeply damaging childhoods themselves. What was missing for me was the decision to not have child
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book. It feels so wonderful to have some form of validation, to know that outside the not-so-small-town-but-everyone-acts-just-like-it-is-one Midwestern city I currently live in other women (and men) are being harangued about choosing not to have children, about running out of time (I'm 29 at the time of this review.), about not being at least married and on the way to having children. Children, children, children.

On some level, I understood all of the reasons each person had. I understand
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Meghan Daum is the author of Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, a personal chronicle of real estate addiction and obsessive fascination with houses, as well as the novel The Quality of Life Report and the essay collection My Misspent Youth. Since 2005 she has written a weekly column for The Los Angeles Times, which appears on the op-ed page every Thursday. She has contributed to publi ...more

Articles featuring this book

Favorite Books About Living on Your Own Terms (or What Happens When You Don't): Try this top list from the editor of Selfish, Shallow, and...
11 likes · 4 comments
“I will never regret not having children. What I regret is that I live in a world where in spite of everything, that decision is still not quite okay.” 16 likes
“There is no life without regrets. Every important choice has its benefits and its deficits, whether or not people admit it or even recognize the fact: no mother has the radical, lifelong freedom that is essential for my happiness. I will never know the intimacy with, or have the impact on, a child that a mother has. Losses, including the loss of future possibilities, are inevitable in life; nobody has it all.” 13 likes
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