Top Ten Books If I Taught “Child-Freedom 101”

Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

It’s been forever since my last Top Ten Tuesday entry (four months, to be exact), but I couldn’t help but contribute to this week’s topic. This meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish features the top ten books on our syllabus if we taught a literature course of our own choosing.

I’m betting that no other blogger will choose this subject matter, but I’ve covered it several times on Book Club Babe. As I become more comfortable discussing my choice to live a childfree life, I feel responsible to serve as a role model, to prove to others that you can be happy and fulfilled without having kids.

When making a major decision like this, a little confirmation bias never hurt. I appreciate reading books about child-freedom to validate my choice and reassure me that I’m doing what’s best for me.

If you have a feeling that you’re better off never reproducing, then here are my top ten books to bring you up to speed on child-freedom:

Non-Fiction

1. All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior: Out of 19 studied activities, child-rearing ranked 16th in pleasurability, after housework. I don’t like those odds!

2. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed by Meghan Daum: 16 writers share their decision not to have children, so you’re in good company.

3. Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti: This renowned feminist is also a mother, but that doesn’t stop her from asking the important question of why have children in the first place.

Humor

4. Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler: Worried you’ll be bored without a mini-me? See how Chelsea spends her childfree time–drinking her way through an African safari!

5. I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman: This writer of Chelsea Handler’s also takes a hard pass on having kids. Like boss, like employee!

6. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh: A great comic book for your inner child–much more fun than actually having a child!

Romance

7. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie: Romance novels are chock-full of women fantasizing about finding their baby daddies, but this one explicitly stars a childfree couple. So refreshing!

Classics

8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: When the government regulates your reproduction, this dystopia is what you get. Infuriatingly haunting and a total life-changer. Can’t wait to meet the author in October!

9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin: A heart-breaking tale about a woman in the late 19th century whose decisions to marry and have children were forced upon her by society. Despite its controversy, I have no qualms drawing a line in the sand: if you can’t sympathize with Edna’s demise, then you’re not a feminist.

10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: And if you needed another example of how children aren’t always sweet and innocent, these boys succumb to sadistic evil when left to their own devices on a deserted island. Literary birth control if I ever saw it!

Are you never having kids? I’d love to hear your own book recommendations in support of child-freedom!

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Book Review: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on the Decision NOT to have Kids

Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m not going to lie: I was absolutely giddy when I heard that this book was being published, because if there’s anything I enjoy most, it’s external validation of my life choices. In a world obsessed with baby bumps, this book by Meghan Daum is a breath of fresh air.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays by renowned writers who have made the conscious decision not to have kids. I approve of the label “childfree,” because not only does it separate the rebels from the infertile, it also connotes a sense of liberation rather than lacking.

Although they have all made their living with their writing, these authors–mostly female but a few male–each come from different backgrounds. Some never felt a maternal or paternal urge, and others desperately wanted to want children but couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm to go through with it. Quite a few actually became pregnant and decided to abort than risk raising children they didn’t want.

Obviously, the subject matter is highly controversial, but that is Daum’s strength. Her previous book Unspeakable also covers taboo topics, such as feeling relief after a parent’s death. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is perfectly titled, because that’s the characterization of the childfree that self-righteous, anti-choice parents have created. These 16 writers revel in their perceived selfishness, arguing that parenthood is governed by its own selfishness and that there is nothing wrong with valuing a good night’s sleep over making a mini-me.

We’re all selfish at heart!

All of the major justifications are touched upon in this book, including:

  • The fallacy of ‘having it all’
  • The benefits of solitude, peace, and quiet
  • Refusing to participate in overpopulation and environmental destruction
  • Freedom from the constant worry and anxiety
  • Enjoying their disposable income and ability to travel

That’s not to say that these writers hate children; on the contrary, most relish their roles as cool aunts and uncles. Some are even step-parents, teachers, or have otherwise surrounded themselves with kids. They just get the bonus of not having to define their entire identities around them.

My only complaint is that most of these people suffered heartbreaking childhoods, many with neglectful or abusive parents. Although it’s certainly a valid reason to become childfree to save yourself from making your own parents’ mistakes, I would have liked to read more well-adjusted stories. Not all childfree folks are dependent on Prozac and Valium, and while there should be no shame in mental illness, I’d hate parents to assume that we’re all damaged from our traumatic pasts.

As a childfree woman myself, I recognize that this book is not for everybody, but its audience is so appreciative for its existence. It can be downright infuriating to face the endless barrage of judgments (You don’t know what you want! You’ll change your mind! You just haven’t met the right person yet!), especially for those of us who have made this decision early in life. Selfish may be preaching to the choir, but I’m grateful nonetheless.

If you dream of being a parent, fantastic. Someone has to further the human race, because I don’t want to. And guess what? That’s the only reason that should matter.

Amen!

Book Review: Bet Me

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m done with my 8th book, out of the 20 I pledged to read this year! I must admit that I’m on a roll to complete my quota!

After reading an article on Jezebel, titled, “So you want to get into romance novels. Start here!“, one of my 2015 goals as Book Club Babe was to read more of the ‘classics’ in the romance genre.

There were so many great books to choose from in this article, with hundreds of internet commenters adding their own suggestions as well. A top contender was Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie. Here’s the summary Jezebel wrote to convince me to add it to my TBR list:

Basically anyone who reads a lot of romance will sooner or later hurl some Jennifer Crusie book at your head while screeching I TOLD YOU TO READ IT ALREADY, GODDAMMIT.

Welcome to Temptation, about a woman who falls for a small-town mayor while accidentally (?) making some soft porn, is probably more universally beloved. But my fave will always be Bet Me, about charming Cal and cranky Min. She’s plump without being a pathetic sad-sack; their happily-ever-after is childfree by choice.

Childfree by choice? Sign me up! I’m so sick of female leads gushing about their love interests and how cute their future kids will look. Enough with the biological clocks already! Not all women have them!

One of those women in Minerva “Min” Dobbs, an actuary who overhears Calvin Morrissey make a bet with her sleazy ex that he could bed her in a month. Convinced that Cal is a beast, she only accepts his dinner invitation to give him grief. This plan backfires as they quickly fall head over heels for one another.

This romance novel is so different from any that I have read before. First, it stars an unconventional couple, given that Cal has a supermodel body and Min is very curvy. Min is constantly abused verbally and emotionally by her harpy mother for eating carbs and not sticking to a diet for Min’s sister Diana’s upcoming wedding. Fortunately, Cal couldn’t give a damn about her size, because he falls in love with her just as she is.

That being said, much of the foreplay in this book (and there was a LOT of it, since they didn’t actually hook up until the last couple chapters) revolved around food, which just isn’t my cup of tea. I can’t be the only one who thinks that fetishizing plus-size women by feeding them donuts isn’t the best seduction tactic.

Despite the weird scenes with chocolate icing, I thought Bet Me was hilarious and fun. Crusie created excellent secondary characters, including Cal’s nephew Harry and Min’s adopted cat Elvis. The tone was sweet and playful, encouraging readers to believe in happily-ever-afters without being overly sappy.

I highly recommend Bet Me to romance novel lovers, whether they’re new to the genre or very familiar. And, of course, I will definitely read more of Jennifer Crusie’s work in the future!

(Bonus) Book Review: All Joy and No Fun

Image via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

As I stated when I reviewed Hyperbole and a Half, sometimes I get the chance to discuss a book that I enjoyed, even though I’m not counting it toward my official reading quota.

Today I wanted to share my thoughts on All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, a work of nonfiction by Jennifer Senior.

Published in January, Senior’s book is an insightful look into how children affect their parents, with tons of research to supplement her own qualitative interviews.

After decades of progress regarding birth control and women’s acceptance in the workplace, children are more wanted than ever, as their parents can now plan for them when they are financially and psychologically ready.

So…never?

This progression is not without consequences; because of our elimination of child labor and focus on preserving innocence, society has defined children as “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.” Parenting went from being something everyone just did to our primary source of identity. Senior notes that the vocabulary shift from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mom” speak volumes about how much we define ourselves by our children.

Each chapter of this book reveals the struggles behind each stage of a child’s development: infancy, early childhood, and adolescence. Sure, everyone says that they love their kids, but here is the reality of their lives, according to Senior’s 2010 article in New York Magazine prior to the book’s publication:

“A 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist, who surveyed 909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.)”

“Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, says parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances—whether they’re single or married, whether they have one child or four.”

All parents spend more time today with their children than they did in 1975, including mothers, in spite of the great rush of women into the American workforce. Today’s married mothers also have less leisure time (5.4 fewer hours per week); 71 percent say they crave more time for themselves (as do 57 percent of married fathers). Yet 85 percent of all parents still—still!—think they don’t spend enough time with their children.”

Senior discusses all the strains that children create: the loss of autonomy, the lack of sex and sleep, the unequal division of labor between mother and father, the constant anxiety over a child’s happiness and future success, and the betrayal felt during teenage rebellion.

Again…never?

Of course, it is important to note that Senior has one child, so this book is not a diatribe against children, but rather an academic analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of parenting–and more importantly, how parents justify their choice when the research is heavily weighted against it.

I only wished that Senior was more comprehensive. Hopefully, future books of hers will discuss the effects of children on low-income or LGBT parents, because the heterosexual middle-class is just one slice of the parenting pie.

I recommend this book to parents and nonparents alike, because as a person who is childfree by choice and is often interrogated on why I don’t want kids, this book flips the question and forces people to evaluate why they do. As the stats show, it’s certainly not a decision to make lightly.

Food for thought…

For those interested in other books on this topic, I also recommend Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti. It’s a fantastic book from a feminist perspective about how parenting is especially difficult in the U.S. without such benefits as paid maternity/paternity leave, affordable day care, and equal pay.

So whether you have kids or don’t, let me know what you think about this divisive topic!

Amen!

I also want to wish everyone happy holidays! Be on the lookout later this week for my last book review of the year!

Book Review: I Can Barely Take Care of Myself

Cover via Goodreads

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

“The way most people feel about loving being a parent is exactly how I feel about not being a parent. I love it. And I can’t imagine my life any other way.”

Don’t pity Jen Kirkman for her childfree lifestyle. The author is also a stand-up comedian and writer/guest panelist for Chelsea Handler’s talk show. She’s traveling the world and living her dream of making people laugh.

And while she just so happens to not have kids, she finds that most people can’t accept that fact. In her memoir, I Can Barely Take of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids, Kirkman releases her frustration from having to constantly justify her life choices.

Covering all the popular responses, including, “You’ll change your mind,” “You’re selfish,” and “Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?” she refutes all the ignorance with humorous self-deprecation.

While I always enjoy hearing from fellow childfree folk, especially when mainstream media incites so-called ‘mommy wars’ and obsesses over celebrities like  Kim Kardashian and Kate Middleton simply for their reproductive abilities, I felt that this memoir could have had more fun.

I bought Kirkman’s book because I liked Chelsea Handler’s Are You There, Vodka? and I was expecting similarly crazy, crass stories. Unfortunately, after noticing that I’ve rated both memoirs the same, perhaps Handler deserved an extra half-point. Even if Handler’s tales seemed more tall than true, at least they were entertaining.

Definitely something Chelsea Handler would say!

It’s not to say that Kirkman isn’t entertaining (Handler herself played a prank by emailing Kirkman’s sister that her writer was pregnant. Awkward conversations ensued!). It’s just that oftentimes the author sneaked a bit of sadness in her stories.

It’s clear that Kirkman is successful, but I’m not too sure about well-adjusted. The title, “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself,” implies being overwhelmed, but she wasn’t kidding. For much of her life, she was medicated for depression, anxiety, and childhood paranoia. She also recently suffered a divorce after only two years of marriage, something which she never fully explained in the book.

And I’m not saying that childfree people don’t have mental health issues or relationship trouble, but the uber-judgmental parents of the world don’t need any more ammunition when it comes to throwing the side eye at those without kids.

Put another way, Chelsea Handler is also childfree but her books are so full of fun that her status doesn’t even matter. No one has time to give her grief because she’s too busy downing cocktails and making smart-ass jokes.

If Kirkman wanted to prove that she has ‘a Happy Life Without Kids,’ maybe she should have included more life and less kids.

And more of Kirkman’s fav show, “The Golden Girls.” Hilarious!

Does Having Children Make You a Better Writer?

Maeve Binchy, who lived a wonderful, successful life full of affection, thank you very much, Ms. Craig

For the record, I’m having a pleasant low-key weekend while my parents are at the coast celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Tonight one of my best friends is coming over for a girls movie night, and we’ll be binging on pizza, popcorn, and these delicious smores bars I’ve discovered.

However, yesterday I had a moment of blinding rage after I read this article by Amanda Craig in The Telegraph. The sub-heading lets you know this is going to be one rollercoaster of a read: “Does a female novelist need to have experienced childhood to truly understand human emotions?”

Why is she asking such a ridiculous question? She’s criticizing Maeve Binchy, an Irish writer who passed away earlier this week. Binchy’s sold more than 40 million copies of her books, has been featured in the New York Times bestseller list and Oprah’s book club, and won a “People of the Year” award in 2000.

But according to Craig, she would’ve been so much more successful if she had some babies too.

Starting with the photo caption, which states, “Maeve Binchy, who had no children on whom to lavish her affections,” this whole piece reeks of sanctimonious, patronizing, condescension. I cannot believe she has the gall to say that, “there is no practical difference between a man and a woman writer when the latter has not had children.” You know, because if you don’t use your womb, you might as well hand in your women’s ID card because it’s void now.

Let’s point out the real motive here: Craig is jealous. A writer with two children, she’s published six novels with relatively little fanfare. Oprah hasn’t chosen her for her book club. She moans that life is so hard when you’re trying to write and raise kids, so why can’t there be special mommy writing awards to celebrate all her extra hard work?

I have often wondered whether the Orange Prize should be renamed the Navel Orange Prize, given the difference in time and energy available to women writers before and after motherhood.

You’ve got to be kidding me! Craig is bitter at her relative lack of success compared to Binchy–and the echelon of childfree female authors, including Austen, Woolf, and the Bronte sisters–so instead she decides to judge a person’s career on their ability to reproduce.

Which by the way, is highly offensive, considering that many readers have commented that Binchy and her husband suffered from infertility. The woman just died, and you’re criticizing her life choices when she possibly didn’t choose them at all.

No matter what your experience of adult love, there is nothing as strong as the bond between a mother and a child.

I disagree wholeheartedly. Craig’s on a roll pouring salt into Binchy’s wounds, but even if Binchy was childfree-by-choice, this statement holds no weight. The bond between mother and child is just one kind of bond, and if you look to the likes of Casey Anthony, many women have not honored that bond. Love comes in many forms, between partners, spouses, friends, relatives, pets, etc. Love is not a hierarchy.

And by the way, men should also feel disgusted by this article for its inherent silence on fatherhood. Kafka and Poe never had children either, but you don’t see Craig judging childfree male authors. Are they somehow inferior to Hemingway or Fitzgerald because they didn’t create offspring?

Anyway, I could rant all day about this ridiculous piece of “journalism,” but I would love to hear your thoughts. I’ll just leave you with a final quote:

I make no moral claims for motherhood ­— which can bring out the worst in a person, in the form of vicarious rivalry, bitchiness, envy and even mental illness…

Finally, we agree on something, Ms. Craig, because motherhood has certainly brought out the worst in you.