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CHILDFREE BY CHOICE

THE MOVEMENT REDEFINING FAMILY AND CREATING A NEW AGE OF INDEPENDENCE

The book will provide intellectual backing for those who have made—or are thinking of making—the choice Blackstone has made...

An exploration of contemporary American attitudes toward those who choose not to have children.

In her first book, Blackstone (Sociology/Univ. of Maine) surveys both her own work on the subject and that of others. She and her husband have chosen to be “childfree,” and their experiences, along with interviews conducted during a decadelong study of dozens of other people who have made the same choice, add a personal dimension to the more academic side of the book. With quiet humor and without stridency, the author explores the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures people, in particular married women, feel to have children and the conscious or unconscious assumption that life without children is incomplete and that a “family” must include children. She debunks many of the myths about childfree people, demonstrating, for example, that rather than being selfish, they are often more involved than parents in volunteering and other civic activities and that they often play key roles in the lives of children of others, whether as aunts and uncles or as teachers, social workers, and mentors. Blackstone also argues that the decision not to have children causes more social pressure on women than men, and she devotes a chapter to tearing down the widely held theory of “maternal instinct.” She reassures those inclined to make this choice that, contrary to popular wisdom, it is no more likely to lead to a lonely old age than a child-filled marriage is. While at times the narrative turns densely academic and Blackstone has a tendency to repeat key arguments or examples from chapter to chapter, she provides a thoroughly researched and illuminating survey of a subject that deserves further exploration.

The book will provide intellectual backing for those who have made—or are thinking of making—the choice Blackstone has made and make those who consider children essential to universal happiness reconsider their position.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4409-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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