James Lileks examines for National Review Online readers a growing fascination with the challenges of the childless.

When the New York Times runs a piece by someone explaining why she didn’t have children, runs a feature on authors who have banded together in a book to celebrate child-free lives (Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids), and runs a review of the book a while later, you know it’s a matter that consumes the thoughts of the nation. Well, part of the nation. Okay, a few thousand people on the Upper East side. So it’s a big deal. …

… Sure, okay. Not everyone should reproduce, and we should celebrate those who know themselves well and decided to be childless. It’s their choice. We should be sympathetic to those who find themselves childless against their wishes, and pay heed to their observations about how society regards them. We should be a bit suspicious of those whose proclamations on the child-free life have the tiresome characteristics of the Braying Atheist, or those who say they don’t want kids because they’ve seen what it does to other women in Park Slope in Brooklyn. I mean the money they spend on strollers.

But one suspects the book goes a bit too far in exalting the barren-loin option. According to the NYT review, it “concludes with Tim Kreider’s rousing defense of the child-free as ‘an experiment unprecedented in human history . . . A kind of existential vanguard, forced by our own choices to face the naked question of existence with fewer illusions, or at least fewer consolations, than the rest of humanity, forced to prove ourselves anew every day that extinction does not negate meaning.’”

How true. I had coffee with an old friend who never married, and the subject came up. He asked after my son, possibly out of politeness, and was a bit abashed when I reminded him I had a daughter.

“Oh. Right. I just assumed that the inbred ache to mirror oneself as a rebuke to the void would manifest itself as a boy, you know? An attempt to re-experience childhood from a distance both impossibly vast and tantalizingly close.”

“Well, when I was my daughter’s age I was a fat kid who read too much sci-fi and got beat up by the class bully while he was on crutches, so it’s not a period I’m keen to do over. Anyway, daughter’s fine.”