On The “To Read” Pile

I’ve read and heard quite a bit about a recent book–Far From the Tree:  Parents, Children and the Search For Identity by Andrew Solomon.  You can read the blurb from Elliot Bay (that’s what I linked to–it is our wonderful local bookstore) and there is also this excellent review from The Guardian.    It’s on my “must read” list, but since it is 976 pages long it might be a while before I get around to it.  (That’s starting–finishing will, I fear, take even longer.)

The book is about parents and children–and more particularly families in which the children are exceptional in one way or another.   The children have conditions that make them “alien” (his word) to their parents.  

What finally sold me on putting the book high up on my “to read” list is this quote from the Guardian review:

If Solomon has a thesis, it is contained in the book’s opening line. “There is,” he asserts, “no such thing as reproduction.” Much as we might like to believe otherwise, his chapters make the unarguable case that our children are always importantly more different from us than they are alike. There is no normal in these pages, still less beyond them. “All offspring are startling to their parents,” Solomon writes. He gestures towards counting the ways, and demands we do the same.

This quote caught my attention for a very specific reason.   There have been some conversations here about reproduction–particularly in the context of people who provide gametes that others will use.  The question has been posed in terms of who is reproducing–the gamete provider or the recipient/purchaser.   But now that I’ve read the quote, I think that’s the wrong question to ask.  No one is reproducing–as Solomon says, “there is no such thing as reproduction.”

Surely you can pass on a genetic legacy to a child–though what it will be no one can predict.   But you do not reproduce and your child is not a reproduction.  Each child is an original.

It’s curious how one can read and write a word for quite a while and not think about its obvious meaning.




13 responses to “On The “To Read” Pile

  1. physical reproduction is something all organisms do. what he means to say is that the kid doesn’t come out exactly the same as the parents. he’s using the word reproduction poetically in this case, not literally. Of course reproduction exists.
    i’m definitely a puzzle to my biological parents, as they are to me. you’d think we’d understand each other after all these years but whatever.

    • Right–I understand that “reproduction” has two meanings. It seems to me that both are somewhat in play when people talk about having kids. It’s the while “mini-me” thing I sometimes hear bandied about.

  2. Oh gawd – you’re not going to word jack reproduction now are you? Our children are a 50% reproduction of ourselves. Our biology is reproduced in the body of our offspring.

    • I have no idea what you mean by “word jack.” I do mean to think about the meaning of the word and how we use it. Loke many English words it has several meanings or at least usages.

      I’m not sure what a “50% reproduction” of ourselves means (to some people it would mean a 1/2 size version) but I disagree that this can describe children. In human reproduction a man provides 1/2 DNA that will be used to create the new being. But that doesn’t make the child a 50% reproduction of him in any way that I can understand. The child also has DNA from another person and the genes of the child are quite different from either half alone (at least as I understand it). The person who provides the gametes provides 50% of the DNA but the product of reproduction (the child) is something entirely new and different–not a reproduction or a 1/2 reproduction.

  3. Andrew Solomon was on the radio here in the UK this morning and I too noted the book as a ‘must read’. I absolutely agree Julie that children are not 50 per cent one progenitor and 50 per cent the other. What with recessive genes and epigenetics, each child is definitely unique. I always think parents by donor conception have a real opportunity to avoid the DNA determinism of the mini-me mind-set, because they know that there is an unknown factor present in the make-up of their child. It is so interesting to see how they develop as individuals and support their interests or passions as they emerge rather than expecting a chip off the old block. Very liberating for everyone.

    • CM # of people % CM SAME
      6760 1
      3380 2 0.5
      1690 4 0.25
      845 8 0.125
      422.5 16 0.0625
      211.25 32 0.03125
      105.625 64 0.015625
      52.8125 128 0.0078125
      26.40625 256 0.00390625
      13.203125 512 0.001953125

      One person registers at 6760 CM and their parents will register as sharing 3380 cm. That is the genes of the parent are reproduced in the body of the offspring, half of their cellular biology came from one parent, the other half came from the other one.

      Like Ki was saying maybe you just mean poetically or intellectually.

      Or do you mean this epigenics thing? Exactly how much less than 50% will the child of a donor register as and exactly how related will they be to a social dad or gestational carrier due to epigenics

      • I’m not disputing the shared genetics. What I mean to point out is that the word “reproduction” has multiple meanings. One meaning is a copy of something. If I reproduce a document I take it to the xerox machine and produce an exact copy. In this sense, humans do not reproduce when they have children. The product of human reproduction (that would be the child) isn’t a copy–even if it may carry one-half of your genes. It’s a competely new and unique thing–an original, if you will.

        I know we call it reproduction, but it is striking to me that it really isn’t that.

        • You do kind of got me there and I’m having a hard time with it. The fertilized egg is its own new cell and it in fact reproduces to build the baby the baby builds itself shares no blood or anything with the mother other than eats her food which is not her I might add. When women say they literally built their baby out of their own body and that the baby shared their blood I’m like no lady the baby built itself. That new cell is not the expectant mother’s or the expectant father’s it is their expectant child’s cell reproducing itself into a new person. It is an original. Hard hard hard.

          But it is still true that the new cell originated and was produced by the joining of the cells of two particular individuals and so their cells are reproducing in this new format. Their two cells join together as a unit and then the cell divides and divides and divides. It is their genes which are reproducing only in less concentrated form. Different from when your cells reproduce at 100% to fill in a bad cut with scar tissue, sex cells reproduce only when they are merged with sex cells of someone else and then only half the information comes from one person’s cell. Crazy. It still is reproduction of the person

          • Only half of a person’s genes join with half of the other person’s genes, and the other half don’t get passed on at all. Often it is a recessive gene that gets passed on. And the number of different ways two people can combine their parent’s genes to make them grandchildren is pretty staggering (and with recombination then each gamete is essentially unique). So it’s more like the four grandparents are each contributing a little bit to their grandchild than like the parents are each contributing half.

            So it isn’t either individual that is reproducing, it is the marriage that reproduces. But not in each child, for it would take several dozen children for most of the parents genes to be passed on. But marriages usually have several children, so they reproduce not by having one child but by having several.

            • I agree with the first part–that the individuals aren’t reproducing–not in the literal sense of the world. But I’m not sure I can agree that the marriage is reproducing. I actually cannot quite wrap my mind around what it would mean for a marriage to reproduce (in a literal sense).

          • I think part of going on here is just the slipperiness of language. One meaning of “reproduce” is to create an exact copy. In that sense the child is not a reproduction of either parent nor is a reproduction of either the sperm or the egg. It is something new. The genes of the child are not identical to either the genes in the sperm or the genes in the egg.

            But of course, reproduce has other meanings as well. We certainly do use it to discuss the generation of new organisms via the union of sperm and egg. But when we use it that way, I just don’t think we’re saying that the new organisms are identical copies of the original. It’s a different usage. Related in some ways, but different.

            Key to me is that I think they are different usages and I don’t actually see that there is anything wrong with that–it’s interesting, but that’s about all I’d say. The problem is when you move from the verb (to reproduce) to the noun (a reproduction.) I don’t think there are two meanings of the noun–I think the only one is attached to the first meaning of “reproduce”–to create a copy.

            So in your last line I think you use reproduction in that first sense–creating a copy–then I don’t agree. The child is not the copy of either parent. And it isn’t a copy of both parents, either. But oddly, I’d be okay saying that the child is the produce of the reproductive process.

  4. darn it crammed together.

  5. I read this book on my Kindle and had no idea it was nearly 1,000 pages. It was so fascinating it went as quickly as a book half the length. Much of it is in a journalistic style, rather than a dry academic–or even popular science–style.
    The book coheres, and Solomon draws threads through all the chapters, but you can also profitably read a chapter or two, then set the book aside for a while and come back to it later. Each chapter is fascinating on its own.

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