Thursday, January 09, 2014

Review: Choice

First, a quick note about book reviews. I've been writing them on this blog intermittently, but considering that they are some of my most-read posts, and considering the number of emails I get from readers asking for book recommendations (it's true! and so flattering! and also a little terrifying, because I'm always afraid someone will hate what I recommend, but I do it anyway, because books demand bravery) I'm going to post reviews more often. I'm shooting for 2-4 times a month, depending on how much reading I'm actually doing. I also made a landing page for reviews, to keep them better organized. While I enjoy sharing reviews, I also write them for me, as they help me remember what I read and what I liked most, craft-wise, about each book. Let me know what you think, if you think anything. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy more frequent reviews. 

And now: a review. 

The full title of this powerful anthology is Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, & Abortion. In the forward, editors Nina de Gramont and Karen Bender (who also happen to teach at UNCW) explain why they felt this anthology was necessary. The decision to have or not have a child is personal, dramatic, and unbelievably complex, while the rhetoric surrounding this issue is too often viewed in black and white terms. The editors wanted to create an anthology to honor the gray areas, and they've accomplished that goal times ten.

The essays in Choice are diverse, raw, and beautifully written, but more than that they seek to show all sides of the reproductive coin. When most of us hear "choice" we automatically think abortion, and there are certainly stories of abortion here. But choice is more than abortion. It's a heartbreaking essay about miscarriage, which challenged some of my feelings about abortion. It's an excellent essay about the the struggle for a lesbian couple to get fertility treatments. It's the story of a woman who chooses to go forward with a pregnancy, even though she will raise the child completely alone. It's the story of a woman who decides early on to remain childless, and how that has affected her life. It's essays written by women who gave (or were forced to give) their babies up for adoption, and essays by women who were adopted. And it's essays about the messy, challenging, rewarding world of parenthood.

Choice presents a wide range of stories, yet even this collection barely scratches the surface. For every essay published, there are a hundred thousand other stories, each unique and complex, each worthy and important. While this anthology was motivated by political beliefs, it rises above those urges, presenting stories that are simply beautiful and strikingly honest. It should go without saying that I think everyone should read this - especially the people making laws about womens' bodies and choices.

One of the reasons I read this collection is because an aspect of the novel I'm working on deals with the pressure to have children, and the complications of motherhood. Because I don't have children myself, I wanted some insight into other people's experiences, and this collection delivered that. Which is, of course, the main reason I love reading so much, and why I believe books are so important - they provide an entry into lives that aren't our own, and understanding of experiences beyond our grasp. In that regard, as in so many others, this collection was a truly great read.