starnosedmole's review against another edition

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4.0

A fantastic, if somewhat repetitive, collection of essays about leading a childfree life. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has decided against becoming a parent. This book provides a space for people to live childfree lives without feeling judged. What makes the collection strong is seeing how some people combat stereotypes and how others admit some truth to them; this book contains a refreshing variety of perspectives and experiences.

bufally47's review against another edition

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2.0

I picked this up at the Texas Book Festival after listening to a talk with the editor and two of the authors. It's kind of a mess; sixteen different mini-memoirs are bound to be. I made the mistake of expecting to be comforted by this book. Many of the stories are engaging (addictive, even), some perspectives eye-opening (especially Laura Kipnis's), but every chapter left me with a sick feeling. I had to stop reading it before bed. Some might say such gutting of the reader is an indication of efficacy, but I'm not sure how much I took away from this compilation. One thing the writers have in common is success -– and this taints their thirty-two cents. You might want to read the Laura Kipnis bit and get out.

erine's review against another edition

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3.0

I should have found a hard copy of this one. Having two narrators read for 17 different voices ended up making some of the essays sound more similar than I think they really were. The lady narrator became robotic after awhile, and the gentleman narrator sounded like Will Patton, and both managed to convey a certain sarcasm. In the end, I wish I had read a print copy, but it was a worthwhile read nonetheless.

As the introduction makes clear, not all of these essays are "nice," some were irritating, others enlightening. I found it interesting that the three essays by men came across as no way were they ever having kids, while most of the women had at least a moment (or an entire time frame) of ambivalence before settling on their choice.

Overall, I appreciate books that allow me to peek inside someone else's life. And this collection of essays does exactly that. It also brought my own reproductive choices to the front of my mind, and emphasized the complex factors involved in making either choice - to have kids or to not have kids - it's not a simple or easy choice, and sometimes the choice is to not fight circumstance, but even that comes with many variations.

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My notes while reading:
I think I'm on the fourth essay (I'm listening, so I'm not entirely positive), and there's one tic in this collection that I have to note. I've noticed at least twice now the assumption that parents are all the same, while people who choose to remain childless are "different." I can't deny that those who choose to be childfree are in the minority, and as such are doing something that bucks trends, which lends them an air of independence, free spiritedness, trailblazing individuality that perhaps I lack. But when I think of the people I know without children, then the people I know with children, both sets of people have arrived at their destination through infinitely complex choices. Both groups handle their circumstances with as much variation. So this idea that being childfree allows you to have a more complex life, or allows you to remain young yourself, is odd to me when I see such complexity everywhere I look.

Now might be a good time to note my own perspective and bias as I read this book: I have two kids, am expecting a third, and all of my siblings, although not all of my friends, have children.
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I've reached Lionel Shriver's essay, which generated a lot of raised hackles and grumbles of racism and classism among some goodreads reviews. Perhaps because I'm listening to it and the narrator has a bit of a snarky tone, this essay came across as more self-deprecating and sarcastic to me. I also found it fascinating since immigration and abortion are two exceptionally hot button issues right now, and Shriver delves into birth rate and its consequences relatively frankly.
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The audio version presents a problem in that I have no idea whose essay I just finished (the one that intensely focused on Roe v. Wade and the 2012 Presidential Election, the woman who teaches, travels, and has a stepdaughter). But I really liked her point about "having it all:" that no one gets to. We all make choices (even Donald Trump, which made me wonder at her prescience regarding the current election) that limit what we can have. And if we do choose to have children and pursue a career, the nature of a 24-hour day is such that we must limit our time for each pursuit in order to have time for both. I also appreciated her point regarding generosity: no one lifestyle has a monopoly on selfishness, and all people should be able to decide how they can best be generous. The writer gives of herself to her students, her stepdaughter, her partner instead of pouring herself into a child of her own making. What I took from this essay was a reiteration that all people are complex and deserve to have the freedom to choose their own path. I greatly appreciated that she did not claim that childfree women are somehow all different while mothers are all the same.

The other problem with this audio is that the woman narrating is registering rather robotic at this point. She has no rhythm or flow and makes all the writers come across as dry and sarcastic. In the case of Lionel Shriver I think that was good. But now I'm wishing there was a different reader for each story, to match the format of the book itself.
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And the very next essay says the same thing in a different way: there is no life without regret. All choices limit us, and we must ultimately recognize those limits, grieve the choices we did not make, and embrace the life we have made for ourselves. All life has sacrifice, but not all sacrifice is equal to everyone.
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rusalka's review against another edition

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2.0

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 childlessness, in that it confirmed a few things:

- that childlessness, like the decision to have children, even when felt deeply as the right choice, often ends up being a decision taken on a short-term basis (that is, even women who have made a macro-level decision not to have children, and especially women who are ambivalent about it, are often then faced with micro-level conjunctures, such as an accidental pregnancy or a relationship with a partner who wants children, that require either recommitment to the decision or abandoning of it). This is important to me because often the assumptions underlying demographic research on childbearing assume long-term, stable "targets" on the number of children a woman or a couple wants, but narratives like this show that that's only part of how people live and make fertility choices;
- that much of the rhetoric around childlessness is based on a very bourgeois, late-capitalist, and American idea of what children entail for the lifecourse, under which they require explicitly lifelong sacrifice and self abnegation. This seems to go hand-in-hand with a rhetorical focus on the parental role in infancy and early childhood;
- that lifecourse and lifestyle justifications for childlessness are often given prime importance, even for those who also give other reasons (childhood abuse and environmental concerns are common ones).

Anyway, like I said, I'm interested in this topic, but sixteen essays on it was a bit much, especially as they're all essays by writers and mostly by straight, white American women of the second-wave feminist generation, so they strike a lot of similar chords over and over.

Others might enjoy it more, but in any case, I recommend skipping Lionel Shriver's bizarre contribution, which flirts with alt-right ideas about "white genocide" and white women's ethnic duty to perpetuate, and I quote, "gene lines that in their various ways played a part in the establishment of Western civilization." Good LORD.

maghily's review against another edition

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3.0

Une lecture intéressante mais aussi redondante. Certains essais m'ont beaucoup plu, d'autres moins. Je ne suis pas sûre d'en retirer finalement quelque chose.

queerbillydeluxe's review against another edition

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3.0

As with most anthologies/collections, it was hit or miss. Great topic, but some of the responses were just meh. And as noted in my mid-read update, the Lionel Shriver essay smacked of casual, slightly eugenic racism. So, not a fan.

speccygeekgrrl's review against another edition

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4.0

An interesting variety of childfree perspectives on the lifestyle. I think my favorite was the one that said that deliberately defying the biological imperative to reproduce is the second most ultimate expression of free will an organism can make.

sam_inthestacks's review against another edition

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4.0

This definitely captivated me but I did not relate as much as I expected. I'm 25 and don't want kids. Maybe I'll change my mind. Probably not. I feel like most of these people had bad childhoods, or unloving parents or are scared to parent with their tendencies to depression. My parents are wonderful and my childhood was great and I guess I don't really know how to outline my reasons so I was hoping I'd connect with an essay that would help me to lay it all out. Still a great read, though.

drlindseynb's review against another edition

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5.0

I loved this anthology. All the experiences/decisions/reasons these writers had were so different - bringing complexity to a topic normally discussed with stereotypes.

shaguftap's review against another edition

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4.0

These essays are not about hating children, or disparaging the choice to have kids. These essays are about actively choosing not to have children, and exploring the labels of “selfish, shallow and self-absorbed” which is often what people without kids are described to be.
I found it a fascinating read. I wished there were more POC voices in this anthology, and I did want to hear from non-writers as well (many of the essays were about making space for one’s art), but overall, I appreciated the collection, and how it delved into the political, the personal, the systemic through different essays.
One takeaway/discussion from in the collection its that one cannot have it all whether one has kids or not, and every life is about choosing the things one wants to focus on. Sometimes that means personal healing, sometimes that means focusing on art, sometimes that means deciding that you cannot go through more loss, or simply just recognising that there are other things one is called towards.