Editor's choice; Ever Since Eve: Personal Reflections on Childbirth, by Nancy Caldwell Sorel. New York: Oxford University Press. 350 pp. $14.95.
The catchy title may evince no more than Oxford's belief that this book should reach a wide audience, but the subtitle is downright misleading. These are not the personal reflections of Nancy Caldwell Sorel, the astute and skillful editor, but of men and women, famous and obscure, who have left records of their experiences of every aspect of childbirth.
The book develops, section by section, from the first surmise (a section titled ''Considering'') through ''Conceiving,'' ''Expecting,'' ''Laboring,'' and ''Nurturing,'' then to ''Attending,'' ''Fathering,'' and so on, concluding with less obvious but no less relevant topics. There is a short section on mourning which will perhaps strike some of our readers as inadequate.
The section titles themselves emphasize ongoing activity; ''Ever Since Eve'' is a lively book. And reading it through is an unavoidably personal experience. Like all anthologies, it has pages more suited to one mood than to another. Yet at whatever page one closes it, the overall effect may be the same. The inescapable wonder of it all should help us resist the impersonalization of childbirth, which grows apace in our time. The section on ''Politicizing'' would have been even more riveting had it included Stephen Mosher's accounts of childbirth in contemporary Chinese villages.
''Ever Since Eve'' is well designed; the sections are introduced by pages adorned with curious illustrations and charming epigraphs. And the dust jacket is by Mrs. Sorel's husband, Edward Sorel, whose vivaciously rendered subjects include Napoleon, Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, and Sophia Loren, each cradling at least one infant, each a ''contributor'' to Mrs. Sorel's anthology. As the jacket art suggests, the editing was done out of respect for the variety of individual responses to various phases of childbirth; the book is interesting without being vulgar, serious without being solemn.
In fact, the astonishing mix of attitudes toward childbirth one is treated to in ''Ever Since Eve'' should prompt even the most reticent of readers to ''contribute'' his or her reflections, in the spirit of the collection. I found myself thinking my way through the book, with little moments given over to involuntary memories.