Review: Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum

selfish shallow and self-absorbed by meghan daumFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: nonfiction, essays
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Picador
Date Released: March 31, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

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 their biological clock stopped ticking. Now, however, conversation has turned to whether it’s necessary to have it all or, perhaps more controversial, whether children are really a requirement for a fulfilling life. The idea that some women and men prefer not to have children is often met with sharp criticism and incredulity by the public and mainstream media.

In this provocative and controversial collection of essays, curated by writer Meghan Daum, sixteen acclaimed writers explain why they have chosen to eschew parenthood. Contributors Lionel Shriver, Sigrid Nunez, Kate Christiensen, Elliott Holt, Geoff Dyer, and Tim Kreider, among others, offer a unique perspective on the overwhelming cultural pressure of parenthood.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process. What emerges is a more nuanced, diverse view of what it means to live a full, satisfying life.

My Review:

I’ve always said that two of the greatest tragedies in the world are people who desperately want to have children, but can’t, and people who know they shouldn’t have children, for whatever reason, but do. This collection of essays speaks to the latter, except, these people decided to forgo the tragedy, and just plain chose not to have kids.

As I read this collection, I heard echoes of my own thoughts in each of these essays. I could have written nearly any of them, although probably not nearly as well, because I too am childless by choice.

Because this is a collection of essays by writers, the specific reasons may or may not generalize to a greater population. But there are plenty of statistics to show that more and more people are choosing, for whatever reason of their own and in spite of societal pressure, not to have children.

For those who say that we don’t really know what we want, or that we’ll change our minds at some point, the answers in this collection are generally unequivocal. Mostly, we do know what we want, and we don’t change our minds.

There’s a sense among the group that everyone is aware that if you decide to have children and it turns out you were right about not wanting them after the fact, there are no “takesy-backsies”. It’s a decision for life.

While the majority of women still do have children, the option to remain childfree is not as rare as social pressures would make one believe. Neither the U.S. nor Western Europe produce enough children to replace their populations. At the moment, that difference is made up by immigration. What will the future bring? We will see.

Or someone else’s children will.

The reasons given by the writers in this collection vary. Some had difficult childhoods themselves, and are unsure whether they have what it takes to become good parents, not having been raised with anything like good examples.

But many have chosen this path because not just bearing children but also raising them is a burden that falls disproportionately on women. For the female writers in this collection, they recognized that they could realistically either work on their craft of writing, or they could be mothers, but not both. There’s a sense that the writers recognize that “having it all” really isn’t possible.

So they chose to produce books instead of babies. Collectively, they have decided that the choice they made was the right one for them.

It was gratifying from my perspective that some of the authors simply said that they always knew that they did not want children, and that if they had a so-called “biological clock” its alarm just never went off.

One of the most interesting commentaries was about regrets. So many people will say that we will regret our decisions later. The answer, stated quite clearly, was that of course we will. But not in the way that the speakers usually mean it to be. As adults it is impossible not to regret decisions we made, no matter which way we went. Unless you live a completely controlled life and never make any decisions at all, you are bound to regret every decision in one way or another. And if you never make any decisions, in the end, you regret that.

There’s a reason why Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” is so poignant. Whatever is on the other road, we don’t get to experience it. Which does not mean that the road we chose wasn’t the right one for us.

Reality Rating A-: I found this collection fascinating because it reflected so many of my own views. This group of writers made the same choices that I did, often for reasons that were not dissimilar to my own.

There’s a sense of validation that we don’t often find in other settings. I still have people tell me that I’ll change my mind, or that I’ll regret it later. (I can’t at this point, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t) Why is this particular decision, particularly when made by a woman, something that other people feel duty-bound to weigh in on? As is observed in several of the essays, men do not face the same level of scrutiny or censure.

As much as I personally enjoyed the essays, I’m not sure that the book comes to any conclusion. I don’t think it makes a case per se. What is does show is that there are as many reasons that people chose not to have children as there are people who have made that choice.

The argument, not necessarily stated outright, is that each person must make this decision for themselves, and that the life they create out of that choice is the one that they believe will be satisfying for themselves.

And that everyone else needs to step away from forcing that decision. This is one of those cases where no one can really walk in anyone else’s shoes, and society should quit presuming to try.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Q&A with Author Josh Hanagarne

Today I’d like to welcome Josh Hanagarne, author of The World’s Strongest Librarian (reviewed here). In addition to being a newly published author and avowed booklover, Josh is also a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library, which made some of his humor in the book ring particularly true for me since we share that profession. 

For those of you in the Seattle area, Josh is going to be in town and talking about his book! Tomorrow, May 18th, he’ll be at Third Place Books, and on Monday, May 20th, he’ll be at the Seattle Central Library.

And now, here’s some Q&A with Josh:

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh HanagarneJosh: Everyone loves a good story, including me.  And there’s nothing as messy and chaotic as a human life, which is why memoirs can be so engaging and surprising.  It just so happens that this story was about me and I’d be the one to write about the mess.  I started writing the book because I wanted to see where the story went.  I kept writing because I had to see how it would end.

Q: How has Tourette’s impacted your life?

Josh: Let’s get the negative out of the way: My case of Tourette’s hurts, it’s disruptive, it’s exhausting, it makes it hard to be out in public, it made me a great target for bullies, etc—Tourette’s often steals my chances to make my own first impressions. There’s this weird thing that goes out before me, announcing me, defining me, before I get the chance to explain myself. But it’s not me.

There are positives, though: Tourette’s has made me tough, stubborn, and has given me a low tolerance for whining and inertia. And it’s lead me to a lot of wonderful people in the Tourette’s community, particularly the kids who are having a tough time adjusting to the disorder.

Q: What are some of the ways you have tried to conquer your tics?

Josh: Lots of pills. A nicotine patch. A faith healer/chiropractor in Elko, Nevada, who dressed like Randall Flagg from The Stand and administered to me with ramen noodle crumbs in his scraggly beard. I got botox injections in my vocal cords for three years, which took away my voice, so I couldn’t scream, but I couldn’t really talk either.

Lifting weights helped for a while, because I would train so hard that the pain of the workouts made the tics pale in comparison, but that’s a stupid way to approach a problem. I’ve also tried to stifle the tics through willpower, but that doesn’t work for long.

Ultimately, it’s come down to a grim truce. I’m still convinced I’ll get rid of it entirely, but until then, I’ll be running on pure spite, here in the library, on full display and defiant.

Q: What do libraries mean to you? What do you think is the future of the public library?

Josh: The library is the ultimate symbol of freethinking and curiosity. Its presence in a community is a challenge to the pack mentality and an invitation to ignore ideology and explore your mind. However, it will be tragic if the library gets reduced to nothing but that symbol. The future of public libraries depends on whether people think they need a library or not. Libraries need to prove that they can offer people something they can’t get anywhere else. As long as they’re doing that, they’ll exist in some form. I hope they don’t become museums.

Q: Are you still a Mormon? How has your faith changed throughout your life?

Josh: Not really. I still go to church now and then with my family; it certainly doesn’t hurt me. I’d call myself a “heritage Mormon.” Mormonism is such a fantastic American story that I get a kick out of being from such tough stock. Those pioneers were rough customers.

At this point I’ve got some of the habits, minus the conviction.

The major shift in my lifetime of faith is that now I’m more interested in how I think than in what I think.

Q: Why is strength training important to you?

Josh: Training is the only time I feel like I’m in control of my body. It’s where I can actually see that I’m getting better at something. You’re either stronger than yesterday or you’re not. In any case, there’s no downside to being strong and healthy, so don’t feel like you need to have Tourette’s to take care of your body! It’s a gift you can always give yourself.

Q: How can we get kids to read more?

Josh: They need examples. If you’re a parent who loves books, your kids will probably love books. If you are in a mentor role and kids who emulate you know that you prioritize knowledge, they will too. This sounds very after-school-special-ish, but learning is fun. Kids learn and adapt by watching the adults around them. If you play Angry Birds all day in front of your kid, you don’t get to whine when his reading comprehension lags.

Q: What do you hope readers will get out of this book?

Josh: I hope they’ll laugh, hug their families, use their libraries more, read more books, and ask all of those uncomfortable questions they’ve been avoiding. And then I want them to write to me and recommend a book that I should read. Anyone can send me a recommendation through my website.

Josh HanagarneAbout Josh Hanagarne Josh Hanagarne is a proud dad, husband, writer, speaker, and librarian.He currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes, voluntarily.He is obsessed with books and book culture. Speaking of, his own book, a memoir called The World’s Strongest Librarian, will be published by Gotham Books in 2013. This is extremely awesome.

He is nearly as obsessed with the fringe world of physical strength.

Most of the time he loves people. He is interested in helping as many of them as possible, as long as it doesn’t involve pretending he knows things he doesn’t.

All of the time he hates boredom.

He has an extreme case of Tourette’s Syndrome. He is owning it.

He loves his parents.

He likes to ask questions.

He loves big words but tries not to trot them out for casual conversation.

To learn more about Josh, visit his website and blog or follow him on Twitter.

Interview with Author John Marco + Giveaway

The Forever Knight by John MarcoToday I’d like to welcome author John Marco, who recently published the latest book in his Bronze Knight series, The Forever Knight. John also has the best online ID ever, “happynerdjohn” and he’s probably pretty happy right now, since Kirkus Reviews chose The Forever Knight as a TOP PICK for April. I’d have to agree (read my review here).

Marlene: John, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

John: Marlene, I’d like to start by thanking you for doing this interview with me and for agreeing to take part in my blog tour. I say this all the time, but I’ve met so many helpful book bloggers over the years who’ve been willing to take a chance and review my books even though they’ve never heard of me. The book blogging community has been wonderful, and I appreciate it.

It always feels a bit strange to talk about myself, but I’ll start by saying that I’m a writer, a husband, and a proud father of a great nine year-old boy. I pretty much always wanted to be a writer, and a fantasy writer in particular, because that’s what I grew up reading and loving. I spent more than enough time as a technical writer in various jobs, and now I am writing fiction full time again. Overall I think of myself as a very average guy who just happens to write stories.

Marlene: Who influenced your decision to become a writer?

John: I’ve had friends along the way who have been very encouraging. Once you actually make the decision to become a writer and get published (or try to get published), it’s good to have people who believe in what you’re doing and support you. There’s always negative people around as well, but you have to ignore them. Those are usually the people who’ve never really accomplished anything in life anyway, so why listen to them? Once you decide to be a writer, you’ll have enough of your own doubts anyway.

Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

John: This is a difficult question to answer. I think most writers would say they have a number of “favorite” things about writing, and find it tough to select just one. I love creating worlds and characters, and I’ve always had a need to tell stories. I’m not sure why that is. It just feels like something I was born to do.

Besides that, I love the intimacy of writing. I’m a real introvert, which means that I like to be alone with my own thoughts and I’m comfortable in my own head. Writing gives me the chance to embrace that part of me, to be by myself and be in control. I like being my own boss, in a sense.

Marlene: In The Forever Knight, you changed from third-person narrative to first-person. In general, do you try to experiment with writing style intentionally, or do you find that it just evolves over time?

John: Both. Yes, definitely both. I have always wanted to do different things, to grow and stretch and test myself as a writer. For one thing, I’m very easily bored. I find it surprising that so many writers are able to write in the same world with the same characters over and over and not try something different in between books. That’s never been for me. So trying to write a first person story was always in the cards for me.

On the other hand, there are changes in writing style that come without warning and aren’t by design. I have definitely felt myself “evolving” over the years. For one thing, I’m not as descriptive as I used to be. I used to write really long passages describing things like architecture and culture and dress, and now I do less of that. I just figure that a little goes a long way when it comes to that stuff, but when in my earlier books I really piled it on.

Marlene: Do your characters ever want to take over the story?

John: They do, yes. Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s frustrating. I make a fairly detailed outlined each time I start a book, so I have a pretty good idea of what’s supposed to happen. But very often characters come to the forefront of the story in a way that’s unexpected. Sometimes they’re just stronger characters, and instead of taking a minor role they wind up with a much larger one. And sometimes there are characters in the books that aren’t even in the outline at all. That’s happened to me twice so far with fairly major characters.

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

John: Yes, there will definitely be more books in the Bronze Knight series. I am contracted for two more at the moment, and have some ideas for the next one. Before I get to that, however, I will finish up the book I am writing right now. It’s called The Bloody Chorus, and it’s an epic fantasy novel, the first in a new series. I’m also slated to contribute a short story to an upcoming anthology of military fantasy stories. I’m particularly excited about that, because I love writing short stories and don’t get the chance to write them as often as I’d like.

Marlene: What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?

John: Oh, so much. Publishing has changed a lot since I first started, and I’ve changed too. The first thing I learned was that publishing a book is only the beginning. I had thought that once I got my foot in the door it would be easy, but that’s really not the case at all. Some books do well, others not so well, and you have got to be ready and willing to weather the storms, because they always come eventually. And then there’s the technical aspects of writing that I’ve gotten better at over time. Again, when I first started I used to say that I was always willing to learn, but it was mostly lip service. I suppose I meant it, but I hadn’t really internalized that idea. It was just something that I would say, kind of like a cliché. Now, however, I’m eager to learn and grow as a writer. I see things that other writers do, and they don’t scare me anymore. I want to be as good as I can be, but I realize that the whole thing involves constant striving.

Marlene: What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

Demon by John VarleyJohn: That’s a real book lovers question! A tough one to answer to be sure. I’ll say Demon by John Varley. It’s one of the first serious science fiction novels that I ever read, and it filled me with an almost indescribable sense of wonder. Not a lot of books do that for me any more. Maybe it’s because I’m so much older now, and wonder is such a rare thing when you’re older. I’d love to experience that feeling again.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

John: I wish I knew how to draw or paint. I wish I was an artist. If there was any other “art” form that I could participate in besides writing, that would be it. It was fantasy art that first drew me into the genre in the first place.

Marlene: Coffee or Tea?

John: I’ll have to say tea, because I don’t drink coffee at all and never have. It’s just one of those things that I never grew into. And to be honest I’m not nuts for tea either, unless it’s iced tea. I don’t even drink alchohol. Really, I drink like a big kid—soda, fruit drinks, Snapple, that sort of stuff.

John MarcoAbout John MarcoJohn Marco is the author of several novels of epic fantasy, many of which have been translated into various languages throughout the world. His first book, The Jackal of Nar, was published in 1999 and won the Barnes and Noble Maiden Voyage Award for best first fantasy novel. John writes full time from his home in Kings Park, NY, a north shore Long Island suburb, where he lives with his wife Deborah and his young son Jack. Though most of his days are consumed with writing, John enjoys spending free time biking, visiting the beach, flying, and of course, reading good books.

To learn more about John, check out his blog or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.


John is kindly giving away a signed hardcover edition of The Forever Knight to one lucky winner! To enter, please use the Rafflecopter below (shipment to U.S. or Canadian addresses only).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

Authors on Reviews Blog Hop

To Be or Not To Be? Not exactly.

This is a book blog and this is a blog hop asking the question, “should authors comment on reviews?”

So perhaps better is “To Comment or Not to Comment?”

The blog hop was inspired by the recent 3 Star Ratings Event. Nat @ Reading Romances decided to create today’s event as an opportunity for us book bloggers and reviewers to say what we expect from authors when we post reviews of their books.

So it’s up to each blogger to answer that age-old question, “Should Authors Comment on Reviews?”

On the one hand, I want the author to know I’ve reviewed their book. I want the publisher to know about it too. I want it so bad that I tweet my review to both of them. Some authors reply to the tweet. Some re-tweet, especially if the review is good. Sometimes the publishers will re-tweet.

But yes, I expect the tweet to get some traffic. That’s the point. I agonize over those 140 characters, hoping to maximize their impact. I tweet my reviews because I want somebody to pay attention.

The author, and the publisher, are likely to be the two parties most interested in whatever I said about the book. It’s logical.

And the economy has changed. I don’t mean the money economy, although, let’s face it, that too. I mean the information/attention economy. It used to be that information was expensive and attention was cheap. Now it’s the other way, information is easy to get, it’s attention that hard to grab.

Reviews are attention, especially for small press/ebook-only/self-published books.

So yes, I think it’s terrific when an author comments, even when it’s just to say “thank you”. Particularly when they thank the other commenters who are saying they might read the book.

When I start with “on the one hand” I generally have another hand hidden behind my back. In this case, that other hand is Ebook Review Central.

Every week, the Monday Ebook Review Central wrap-up highlights the three most and best reviewed titles from one (or more) of the ebook publishers for the month. The featured titles are always going to be the big hits, because that’s the point. I comb through all the reviews to tally which three books got the most recognition from reviewers.

It’s totally recognition of who did well, and why. Also a recommendation that these are the books that people loved, so, if you (person reading the post) like the type of story represented, and haven’t yet read this, you might want to check out all these reviews conveniently linked here, and see if you want to read it too.

Since the ERC post emphasizes the positives (the books that don’t get reviewed a lot are in the database, I just don’t talk about them much), I would love, love, love to get more authors (and readers) commenting on the Ebook Review Central posts.

But we’ve all heard that some people feel “intimidated” if the author might comment on the review or in the comments to a post.

Please comment here! How do you feel? Do you like seeing authors comment on their reviews? Do you like seeing authors participate in book blog commentary in general?

If you want to read what others are saying on this topic, here are the links to all the participating blog hops: