Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro

1. As I read Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro, I felt as if I had been waiting for this book, as if somehow Shapiro’s story was meant for me. On the surface, this is a strange notion, as Shapiro and I have little in common: I didn’t grow up in a deeply religious family, my parents are both alive, I don’t have a son who almost died as an infant (in fact, I have no children), I’m not a novelist or memoirist, I didn’t move out of Brooklyn after 9/11 to a farmhouse in Connecticut, I don’t have an impossibly difficult relationship with my mother as Shapiro had with hers. And yet, so many times I found myself nodding yes yes yes in recognition as I read this book.
“I was always racing. I couldn’t settle down. . . . I often felt a sense of tremendous urgency, as if there was a whip at my back. I was fleeing something—but what?” (p. 2)
2. “Anxious, fearful, lonely, resentful, depressed—troubled by a powerful and, some would say, deeply irreverent sense of futility” (p. 11), Shapiro decides to “climb all the way inside the questions and see what was there” (p. 12). Exploring the Orthodox Jewish traditions she grew up with, along with yoga and meditation, she seeks a middle ground between her very religious childhood and her rejection of faith as a young woman.
“Could I find and hold on to a deeper truth than the whir and strum of my daily life, which seemed designed to ensure that some day I would wake up—after the years of packed lunches and piano practice and rushed dinners—and wonder where it had all gone?” (p. 16)
3. Told in 102 short chapters or vignettes, Devotion chronicles Shapiro’s spiritual journey. Sometimes these vignettes are stories, sometimes they are barely more than single moments, flashes of the present, “moments of being,” but each is a piece of the puzzle, a stone in the stream. Inspiring, brave, funny, open-hearted and wise, Devotion invites the reader to follow Shapiro on an incredibly personal journey that will likely resonate with anyone who is searching for meaning in their own lives.
“Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe the knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story—a narrative rich with emotional detail. Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world.” (pp. 16-17)
4. Devotion is a primer, a light shining ahead of me on the path, an inspiration to my own journey through doubt. I highly recommend it. I know I will read it again and again.*

Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me this book to review.

*I’ve already read this book in its entirety twice (and dipped in and out of it as well).

Devotion is on blog tour with TLC Book Tours in February and March. Visit these other blogs for reviews:

Kelly’s Lucky You!Book Club Classics!{Mis}Adventures of an Army WifeBooks Lists LifenomadreaderCoffee and a Book ChickColloquiumThe 3 R’s: Reading, ’Riting, and RandomnessBooks in the CityEnglish Major’s Junk FoodThe House of the Seven TailsBoarding in my FortiesMan of La BookChefdruck Musings

Other reviews:

A Design So VastBeth Kephart BooksBetween the Coverscatching daysCoffees & CommutesMostlyFiction Book ReviewsSmilin’ Buddha CabaretThe Daily Grind of a Work at Home Mom

Interviews with the author: BookPageLinus’s BlanketShambala SunSpace

Read more Devotion-style vignettes: Devotion blog

The author is also available and very enthusiastic about doing Skype chats with book clubs.

“I had stepped into a stream and was now being carried
along by an unfamiliar, powerful current.”
(Devotion, p. 29)

Reading Devotion inspired me to create the Stream of Suggestions Reading Challenge. This is my first review for this challenge.


  1. Wow, you liked this so much, you've already read it twice? It must be terrific!

  2. Avis, I am so happy to read your review. I just finished the book last night and loved it. I felt as you did, that the author and the book was meant just for me. I will write my review later today and while mine will not be a beautifully written as yours I hope it will have the same spirit of thought.

  3. this one sounds so intriguing and the sheer fact that you've read it twice and given me pause...maybe I need to read this one!???

  4. Avis, it sounds like this book really resonated with you, that there was a true meeting of the minds, even though your life is quite different from that of the author. Excellent review!

  5. "I'm not a novelist or memoirist,..."

    Your reviews are so well-written I don't doubt you could easily be either! This is not normally the type of book I would read but your beautiful review makes me want to check it out.

  6. a beautiful review of a beautiful book, dear sister...i felt the exact same way (that it was the book i had been waiting for, and i read it like i was drinking water from a deep thirst)... and i have to thank you for putting it on your blog in the first place months ago so i could request it from the library! our library bought a copy on account of my request, so i was a little proud of that :)

  7. WOW. I'm completely blown away. This book must be particularly special if you have that little in common with the author yet still her story resonated with you. So glad you were on this tour!

  8. I really enjoyed your review. Like you, I have read this book twice and returned to parts of it several times because they really spoke to me. I've always been interested in Buddhism but Dani Shapiro made me understand what it could do for me. I was rised in a very religious Catholic home, a religion that just isn't for me. But I've wanted some kind of connection to something larger for a long time and I feel like Devotion pointed me in the right direction.

    Books are pretty amazing, uh? Let me know if you attend a retreat at a center like Kripalu, if you are okay with sharing it.

  9. Thanks for mentioning my review. I loved this book, and reading your review makes me want to read it again...

  10. I too loved this book (thanks Avis!) and your review. Wow! I agree with Myckyee, you really do have a way with words!! Your review would make anyone want to read this book... I think I need to read it again now ;)