Reader reviews for Devotion: A Memoir

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Honest, touching memoir of a woman who has sustained loss and uncertainty and is looking for guidance in making sense of life. Her parents were in a terrible accident in which her father died and her mother was seriously injured. Her son was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease from which he recovered. She questions the Jewish faith in which she was raised and explores meditation and Buddhism. It's beautifully written and will appeal to anyone who is a seeker by nature.
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I've mentioned this before - and the more I experience the life of a book reviewer/blogger, the more I firmly believe this to be true - books have a way of coming across our path when they are most needed, when they will speak to us the most. Over the past two-plus years, as I have finally started paying attention, I have read many a novel or memoir that resonated with me specifically because they touched on something for which I too was searching. Dani Shapiro's Devotion is yet another example of this phenomenon.Ms. Shapiro is facing what most of us without deep faith end up questioning - is this all there is to life? How many of us have sat in an endless meeting and wondered the same thing? How many of us have actually done something about it, whether it is searching out a like-minded group, starting a daily meditation practice, taking up yoga, attending a church group, or some other search for something larger than the mundane? When facing the rest of her life, at a personal crossroads and searching for peace of mind and a greater purpose, Ms Shapiro actively sought out these practices and shares her experiences with readers. Deeply personal, incredibly poignant, her soul-searching takes her on a roller coaster of a journey, through which the reader can glean his or her own key points to adapt to his or her own life.One's search for greater meaning is personal, as is Ms. Shapiro's. Yet, there is much a reader can learn from Ms. Shapiro's journey. Having faith, of any sort, means standing on the edge of a precipice and not fretting about the fall, or the potential to fall. It means living in the moment. This, to me, is the greatest gift and most meaningful lesson to be learned in this day and age of multi-tasking and constant connection to the world."One afternoon at Garrison, Sharon Salzberg spoke about a Buddhist teach in India, a widowed woman with many, many children who had no time to sit on a cushion, meditating. How had she done it then? Sharon had once asked her. How had she achieved her remarkable ability to live in the present?The answer was simply this: she stirred the rice mindfully." (pg. 211)To focus only on the task at hand means to live in the moment, to learn to put aside the fears and concerns, the demands and constant pulls we feel in our lives. It allows us to be still and be calm, whether we are driving, writing, sitting in meetings, running errands or stirring the rice. Something so simple has the ability to change so much.Devotion is not for everyone, although I do feel there is much that everyone could learn from Ms. Shapiro's journey. She goes into detail about her Jewish heritage, her religious upbringing and the conflicts that resulted as she grew older, rebelled, and started her own family. She spends a lot of time discussing her yoga and meditation. In addition, her writing style is very journalistic. Each chapter is relatively short and discusses whatever happened to be on her mind at the time of writing. This means that the story of her son's illness is explained slowly throughout the story, popping up on one page and not mentioned again for another 20 or 30 pages. This modified stream-of-consciousness adds an air of poignancy and intimacy to the entire memoir, as the reader catches more than a glimpse of Ms. Shapiro's inner yearnings and struggles. The result is a beautiful reminder that wanting more is okay, but we also need to be willing to put forth the effort to finding more to life. For those who have ever questioned, Devotion is a great start to one's own search for more.Thank you to Erica Barmash from Harper Collins for my review copy!
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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.
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"Devotion" by Dani Shapiro is one of those books that draws you in and stays with you for a while after you finished it. It's about the author's search for spiritual meaning in her life, and it's something I could easily relate to. From the outside it looks like Shapiro has everything it takes to be completely happy: a loving family, a successful career, and a nice home. But instead she feels anxious and struggles with her religion. She starts on a very personal journey of finding spiritual enlightenment, and documents every step of the way in her memoir. In the beginning, I couldn't wait to get to the end of the book to see at what conclusions the author had arrived at. But I slowly realized this book isn't about giving all the answers. Rather it reminds the reader to focus on the present, and just staying with it, instead of fighting or fleeing from what is. Overall, I truly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it!
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This book was very disappointing. Neither the writing the author kept my interest. She was looking for spirituality, but not clear about how she looked or what she hoped for. She was very unhappy with her mother and did not try at all to understand her. This book did not offend me, but it waste my time.
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There’s something about entering parenthood that can prompt those who’ve drifted away from the religion of their upbringing to consider a return to it. In my own story, the wish to make a religious framework part of our son’s education led my first husband and me back to the Catholic Church around the time he started school.The decision wasn’t quite as cut-and-dred for Dani Shapiro. Raised in an observant Orthodox Jewish family, she’d left behind most of those practices in young adulthood, and the sudden loss of her father after a car accident when she was twenty-three was a further break with them...but a space grew where those traditions had been, and a yoga practice that was more physically than spiritually effective didn’t fill it. As other losses followed - her mother, the pre-9/11 New York City she’d made her home - and parenthood was threatened to be cut short by the rare seizure disorder that overtook her infant son, Shapiro became increasingly aware that she lacked a sense of faith in God, and increasingly focused on the questions that raised for her. Among those questions: was there a place for the Judaism she was raised with in her life, and that of her family, now?Devotion explores Shapiro’s learning to live with, and within, the questions - exploring Torah study and mediation, finding a synagogue for her family in the Connecticut countryside far from the urban Jewish community in New York, attending yoga classes and Buddhist retreats. She comes to understand that her personal history will always make her “complicated with Judaism;” it will always be part of who she is, and will always color her worldview. This is a concept that makes sense to me, and appeals as a way of characterizing the continuing Catholic influence on my own perspective.This isn’t a conventional faith memoir. It has a unifying theme, but it really doesn’t have a strong narrative outline or linear structure, and there’s no particular epiphany that provides a climax. The writing shifts back and forth across various timeframes and experiences over more than 80 brief chapters, sometimes reflective, sometimes philosophical, sometimes reporting and sometimes speculating...but, to me, never sounding anything other than authentic and honest. I related to Shapiro’s questioning and did get a sense that she was finding a way to live comfortably with it; seeing that happen for someone else helps me feel a bit more comfortable living with my own.
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