Devotion: A Memoir

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In her mid-forties and settled into the responsibilities and routines of adulthood, Dani Shapiro found herself with more questions than answers. Was this all life was-a hodgepodge of errands, dinner dates, e-mails, meetings, to-do lists? What did it all mean?

Having grown up in a deeply religious and traditional family, Shapiro had no personal sense of faith, despite repeated attempts to create a connection to something greater. Feeling as if...
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Devotion: A Memoir

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Overview

In her mid-forties and settled into the responsibilities and routines of adulthood, Dani Shapiro found herself with more questions than answers. Was this all life was-a hodgepodge of errands, dinner dates, e-mails, meetings, to-do lists? What did it all mean?

Having grown up in a deeply religious and traditional family, Shapiro had no personal sense of faith, despite repeated attempts to create a connection to something greater. Feeling as if she was plunging headlong into what Carl Jung termed "the afternoon of life," she wrestled with self-doubt and a searing disquietude that would awaken her in the middle of the night. Set adrift by loss-her father's early death; the life-threatening illness of her infant son; her troubled relationship with her mother-she had become edgy and uncertain. At the heart of this anxiety, she realized, was a challenge: What did she believe? Spurred on by the big questions her young son began to raise, Shapiro embarked upon a surprisingly joyful quest to find meaning in a constantly changing world. The result is Devotion: a literary excavation to the core of a life.

In this spiritual detective story, Shapiro explores the varieties of experience she has pursued-from the rituals of her black hat Orthodox Jewish relatives to yoga shalas and meditation retreats. A reckoning of the choices she has made and the knowledge she has gained, Devotion is the story of a woman whose search for meaning ultimately leads her home. Her journey is at once poignant and funny, intensely personal-and completely universal.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In one sense, Dani Shapiro's slightly tardy midlife crisis began with her young son's prodding questions about God and other ominous subject. In another, it had been festering ever since childhood. Her personal search for core beliefs led her back into the wisdom of her Jewish roots and forward into meditation retreats and Eastern religions. For counsel, she sought counsel from a rabbi, a yogi, and a Buddhist monk. In hardcover, Devotion: A Memoir was compared, usually favorably with Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. A fine choice for spiritually minded women.

(4 out of 4 stars) - People Magazine
"Brave, compelling, unexpectedly witty. . . . Stunningly intimate journey. . . . Thanks to Shapiro’s excruciatingly honest self-examination and crystal clear, lyrical writing, the journey—as secular swami Steve Jobs once famously said—is indeed the reward."
People
“Brave, compelling, unexpectedly witty. . . . Stunningly intimate journey. . . . Thanks to Shapiro’s excruciatingly honest self-examination and crystal clear, lyrical writing, the journey—as secular swami Steve Jobs once famously said—is indeed the reward.”
Juliet Wittman
Shapiro is a thoughtful observer, and her writing is lovely. Some of her most vivid scenes are those in which she brings other people to life…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Shapiro's newest memoir, a mid-life exploration of spirituality begins with her son's difficult questions-about God, mortality and the afterlife-and Shapiro's realization that her answers are lacking, long-avoided in favor of everyday concerns. Determined to find a more satisfying set of answers, author Shapiro (Slow Motion) seeks out the help of a yogi, a Buddhist and a rabbi, and comes away with, if not the answers to life and what comes after, an insightful and penetrating memoir that readers will instantly identify with. Shapiro's ambivalent relationship with her family, her Jewish heritage and her secularity are as universal as they are personal, and she exposes familiar but hard-to-discuss doubts to real effect: she's neither showboating nor seeking pat answers, but using honest self-reflection to provoke herself and her readers into taking stock of their own spiritual inventory. Absorbing, intimate, direct and profound, Shapiro's memoir is a satisfying journey that will touch fans and win her plenty of new ones.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
In the last few years, memoirs by women attempting to find answers to the big spiritual questions have become a genre all their own. The best of these books includes Eat, Pray, Love and much of Anne Lamott's nonfiction—and, make no mistake, Shapiro's Devotion ranks with the best. What makes such titles work is the authors' openness to a sampler approach to faith and a seeming lack of ego, which allows them to be simultaneously unflinchingly honest and self-deprecating. Shapiro, who has written both fiction and nonfiction, grew up in a Jewish household but drifted away from the faith after the death of her very devout father. During a crisis when her son almost died in infancy, Shapiro realized that she had internalized the idea of prayer but was unsure whether or not she was a believer. Age and time, paired with the questions of an inquisitive child and her own middle-of-the-night grapplings with anxiety, force the author to take a look at what spirituality means to her. VERDICT This work should appeal to readers who enjoy memoir, self-help, spirituality, and women's books. To reveal more would undermine the reader's pleasure of discovery. Highly recommended.—Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of Alabama, Florence
Kirkus Reviews
A deeply self-reflective, slow-moving memoir about the longing for spirituality. At midlife, novelist Shapiro (Black & White, 2007, etc.) was anxious, sleepless and worried about nameless things, asking herself constantly, "Who was I, and what did I want for the second half of my life?" Having grown up in a religious Jewish household in New Jersey, the daughter of a kosher-keeping father and a spiteful, unbelieving mother, Shapiro found herself, by her mid 40s, still making peace with her deceased parents. Recently, the author, her husband and their young son, Jacob, moved from Brooklyn to a bucolic spot in Connecticut, enjoying the simple life, doing yoga and going on retreats-yet not unaware of sudden, inexplicable calamity, like the illness suffered by Jacob as a six-month-old baby. Although his infantile seizure disorder was resolved with medication, Shapiro felt plagued by the specter of mortality, or as she learned through her Buddhist practices, what the Buddha gleaned under the Bodhi tree: "the fragility of life, the truth of change." Befriending such well-known yoga teachers as Sylvia Boorstein and Stephen Cope, whose teachings grace this memoir, the author worked through her alienation from God. She found a neighborhood synagogue and started Jacob at Hebrew school, attended occasional services, donned her father's traditional garb for the Jewish Theological Seminary's first egalitarian service and found joy in visiting her aged aunt. In short, Shapiro recognized that the sacred can be found in the familiar and everyday. There is much pretty writing here, taking cues from the limpid prose of Annie Dillard and Thoreau, as well as a winning candor and self-scrutiny. Measured,protracted prose leads this affecting journey. Author appearances in New York and Connecticut. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh/William Morris Agency
People (4 out of 4 stars)
“Brave, compelling, unexpectedly witty. . . . Stunningly intimate journey. . . . Thanks to Shapiro’s excruciatingly honest self-examination and crystal clear, lyrical writing, the journey—as secular swami Steve Jobs once famously said—is indeed the reward.”
Jesse Kornbluth
“The one book that anyone over, say, 35 needs to read right now.”
Elizabeth Gilbert
“I was immensely moved by this elegant book, which reminded me all over again that all of us-at some point or another-must buck up our courage and face down the big spiritual questions of life, death, love, loss and surrender.”
Jeannette Walls
“Dani Shapiro takes readers on an intense journey in search of meaning and peace. Her story of hope is eloquently told and unflinchingly honest.”
Anne Lamott
“Dani Shapiro’s novels and nonfiction are always rich in honesty and intelligence, about the psyche and lost hearts and families, about messes and shame and what calls us to transcend.”
Amy Bloom
“This is a beautiful, wry and moving story about one intelligent woman’s journey into her own life, to the corners where intelligence doesn’t always help.”
Jennifer Egan
“I was on the verge of tears more than once in the course of Dani Shapiro’s impeccably structured spiritual odyssey. But Devotion’s biggest triumph is its voice: funny and unpretentious, concrete and earthy-appealing to skeptics and believers alike. This is a gripping, beautiful story.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061628344
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/26/2010
  • Pages: 245
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro is the author of the novels Black & White and Family History and the bestselling memoir Slow Motion. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, Elle, Vogue, O, and other publications.

Biography

Dani Shapiro is the author of four acclaimed novels, Playing with Fire, Fugitive Blue, and Picturing the Wreck, and Family History, and the bestselling memoir Slow Motion. She teaches in the graduate writing program at The New School, and has written for The New Yorker, Granta, Elle, and Ploughshares, among other magazines. She lives with her husband and son in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Author biography courtesy of Random House.

Good To Know

In out interview, Shapiro shared some interesting anecdotes about her life with us:

"One of the stranger things about me is that I was raised as an Orthodox Jew. I went to a yeshiva until I was thirteen years old, and spoke fluent Hebrew. I no longer can speak Hebrew, though I suppose it would come back if I immersed myself in it."

"I used to act in television commercials when I was a kid and a young adult."

"I've never had a ‘real job'. Well, that's not entirely true. I spent a week as an executive assistant at an advertising agency after I graduated from college -- it's the thing that propelled me back into graduate school, to get my M.F.A. And also, I sold cubic zirconia (fake diamonds) over the phone when I was in high school. Phone sales. Talk about rejection!"

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    1. Hometown:
      Bethlehem, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 10, 1962
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1987, M.F.A., 1989

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Search for Spirituality

    "Devotion" by Dani Shapiro is a memoir about the authors mid-life crisis and search for spirituality. The book provided a fascinating read into the mind of a woman that, it seemed to me, couldn't find inner calm if it slapped her in the face.

    Evaluating herself as mid-life approaches, author Dani Shapiro feels anxiety over which she has no control. Looking at monumental personal events in her past makes her realize where some of that unease comes from. Dani Shapiro does not consider herself religious but she is not a non-believer either and yearns to deepen her understanding of her personal sense of faith. In her search Ms. Shapiro seeks out several different experiences which are complex as they are insightful.

    In "Devotion" by Dani Shapiro, writes in an absorbing style about her upbringing in an orthodox Jewish household, which is divided, much like the author, between an observant father and a resentful mother. As most of us do, Ms. Shapiro rebelled, started drinking and took on an ill-advised lover in the form of a friend's stepfather. Her life were altered when her parents were involved in a car crush, her father tragically lost his life, her mother broke 80 bones.

    Ms. Shapiro was harshly introduced to the fragility of life which seemingly became a quest for understanding what is sometimes impossible to comprehend.

    The author describes to the reader, in an honest and lush prose, her search for spirituality through AA meetings, yoga, Buddhism, Judaism and more (I'm sure I forgot one or two). However, it seems that with all that searching and spiritualism the author fell into a dangerous trap - taking oneself far too seriously.

    Ms. Shapiro's spiritual journey is divided into short chapters, interweaving anecdotes from her past which gives the reader some background about present anxieties.

    We have a saying in our family "rich people's problems" - that is whenever someone complains about something trivial which only rich people, without daily monetary worries actually care about. Maybe things are going too well for Ms. Shapiro, she finally has a successful husband which she adores, a wonderful son, acclaim, a home in Connecticut and, looking at her picture, a youthful beauty many women would give their right arm to have.

    So I don't understand how she didn't come out of her funk.

    Believe it or not I found that I have several things in common with Ms. Shapiro - not the least which we both don't consider ourselves believers, but we don't consider ourselves non-believers either. Which is why I'm surprised the concept of Tikun Olam didn't come up.

    As Ms. Shapiro certainly knows one of the central tenants of Judaism is Tikun Olam (????? ?????) a concept of repairing the world. Meaning you should do things not because they are required, but because they help society and avoid chaos. Tikun Olam doesn't necessarily refer to big, world changing acts, but small acts as well such as volunteering once in a while at a soup kitchen, fire brigade, or helping your elderly neighbor mow their lawn.
    Almost like the "acts of random kindness" concept - those who tried either Tikun Olam or acts of random kindness can tell you what a spiritually lifting and rewarding feeling it is.

    There are moments of wisdom in the book which are certainly worth the journey taken but at the end the author doesn't find what she's looking for. but maybe that's the point.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2011

    As she searches for meaning in her life, she communicates openly and sincerely with the reader.

    From the first page, I believed that Dani Shapiro was presenting an honest appraisal of her search for herself and the meaning of her life. As she pretty much bares her soul and her secrets, she seems to be exposing her fears and weaknesses in an effort to face them in the light of day and better deal with them. She worries about things that haven't happened but devises all sorts of scenarios about what might happen and then spends her time trying to prevent them from happening or prepares for their eventuality. She is wasting a lot of time and effort on imaginary circumstances. It can be exhausting and draining. She is plagued with insecurity. Having suffered through a near tragedy and some loss in her life, she is more susceptible to fears about them recurring; however, I believe that having escaped and/or dealt with the suffering, one usually becomes more sensitive to, and appreciates far more, the meaning of life and its value. Life is seen through the lens of experience and there is an essential feeling of gratitude for the second chance that has been given. There is a feeling that there might be a greater power out there that is controlling events, someone else pulling the strings of the human puppets. Through various events in her life, she explains the anxiety she experiences, just from living everyday. She connects with the reader and as I began to think about my own life, I remembered how I reacted in similar circumstances. It was as if I was seeing parts of my life through the mirror of her eyes. The writing style is light but the message is deep, not trivial. At the end of the book, Dani Shapiro is still a somewhat quasi atheist, questioning her beliefs and viewing the world through the teachings of her religious background. She has taken a spiritual journey and, although not actually practicing her Judaism devoutly, she is instead following traditions and rituals. She explores her past, hoping for self discovery, looking inward, mostly through yoga meditation. She constantly engages in soul searching in an attempt to live in the moment and find inner peace. There are 102 flashbacks which reveal her attempts to analyze and work through her worries; she explores her relationship with her mother, her experiences regarding 9/11, her attendance at AA meetings, her son's illness, her love for her father, and several other momentous occasions in her life. Although at first, I wasn't sure I would like this book as much as I did, I came to really appreciate its message. It made me stop and think about moments in my life, memories that I have not come to terms with, and helped me to view them in another light, more openly and with less sorrow and anger. Her message, throughout the book, is "live safe, live happy, live strong, live with ease". Paraphrasing from a quote in her book, "don't live so far into the future that you lose the present". Enjoy the moment.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Memoir of Searching for Life's Purpose

    She is an adult, married, with a young son. She is a writer, living in New York, with deadlines and assignments. Her place in life is already carved out and understood.

    Right?

    For Dani Shapiro, her memoir embraces the fact that she actually doesn't know, but that she is trying - trying so very, very hard - to find out. Most especially, faith becomes the crucial piece that perhaps will help make sense of it all, to calm her anxiety and the fear that something bad could happen at any moment. Faith, though, has almost disappeared in her adult life, which is the most troubling. The uneasy feeling of being an outsider in the very religion you were raised in is undeniably unsettling. She wonders how it is possible that she doesn't remember Jewish hymns and prayers that she grew up hearing and reciting herself - how can this be so? The doubt and fear become the wall, separating her from some semblance of personal foundation.

    This beautifully written memoir is a quiet undertaking, an introspective study into understanding meaning and religion, if only to feel a connection to her deeply religious father or to repair the relationship with her mother - maybe, actually, even to God. And I could not put it down.

    Weaving elements of different faiths, yoga, Kripalu, her search is a lyrical unfolding of personal stories, snippets of contemplation, short pages of confusion, heartbreak, and understanding. Dani Shapiro's path evoked a sense of my own questions of faith - where was I to fit myself in the great landscape of life? Reading it in a few hours was a simple journey for a similar door to open a bit more, and understand personal faith.

    I know that this will fit perfectly on my bookshelf, a comforting reference point. One person's life can't possibly provide all of the answers another hopes for, but it can certainly offer a bit of comfort to know that you're not the only one moving about and trying to make sense of it all. This is my first time reading Dani Shapiro's work and I kick myself for not having read her other books sooner.

    Although I'm sure this will be recommended mostly for women, I would recommend this to anyone who has pursued their own questions of life and faith, and their place in all of it. Book clubs - this is definitely one to pick! I ent

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Devotion by Dani Shapiro

    I stuck it out through the book only because I was interested in the impact her religious upbringing had on her daily life. There were some backflashes of her super religious Jewish father, her non-worshiping mother and her extended family dynamics. Her struggle to decide whether or not to expose her son to her family traditions were thought provoking. It was an ok read.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Fabulous!!!

    I really enjoyed reading this book about one woman's journey to find inner peace. Many of us do not subscribe to the religion that we grew up with, so to read about Dani's firsthand experience with this struggle was not only reassuring, but also insightful. Being a 30-40 year old mom and yogi helped to shape the author's path. I was fortunate enought to meet Dani Shapiro at a book reading and signing at Kripalu in February. She is as kind and well-spoken "in person" as she is "in writing." I highly recommend this book!

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