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Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage

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The best-selling novelist and memoirist delivers her most intimate and powerful work: a piercing, life-affirming memoir about marriage and memory, about the frailty and elasticity of our most essential bonds, and about the accretion, over time, of both sorrow and love.

Hourglass is an inquiry into how marriage is transformed by time--abraded, strengthened, shaped in miraculous and sometimes terrifying ways by accident and experience. With courage and relentless honesty, Dani Shapiro opens the door to her house, her marriage, and her heart, and invites us to witness her own marital reckoning--a reckoning in which she confronts both the life she dreamed of and the life she made, and struggles to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become.

What are the forces that shape our most elemental bonds? How do we make lifelong commitments in the face of identities that are continuously shifting, and commit ourselves for all time when the self is so often in flux? What happens to love in the face of the unexpected, in the face of disappointment and compromise--how do we wrest beauty from imperfection, find grace in the ordinary, desire what we have rather than what we lack?

Drawing on literature, poetry, philosophy, and theology, Shapiro writes gloriously of the joys and challenges of matrimonial life, in a luminous narrative that unfurls with urgent immediacy and sharp intelligence. Artful, intensely emotional work from one of our finest writers.

160 pages, Hardcover

First published April 11, 2017

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About the author

Dani Shapiro

22 books2,281 followers
Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of the memoirs Hourglass, Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History. She lives with her family in LItchfield County, Connecticut. Her latest memoir, Inheritance, will be published by Knopf in January, 2019.

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5 stars
1,545 (26%)
4 stars
2,273 (39%)
3 stars
1,488 (25%)
2 stars
379 (6%)
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85 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 815 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,006 reviews36k followers
December 8, 2018
I absolutely love Dani Shapiro more & more!!!

The AUDIOBOOK- read by Dani was great company while packing for Canada - cleaning my home-
walking - biking - packing again for Cancun - for this next get-a- way ... more cleaning- washing our sheets to come home to them....

This was the perfect book at the perfect time....
Many of the things Dani shared I’ve heard before - knew from other sources - but I could listen to her speak about her life - marriage - and family forever!!!

I sooooo highly recommend listening to ‘one’ of her memoirs - doesn’t matter which one
- she really has you thinking about what’s important and just how precious time is.....
and needless to say ... but we ought to say it anyway — how precious love is and the people we most share our lives with daily.

If time - maybe when settled in my seat on the airplane - chores & errands done -
I’ll come back here and write more about this book.

If you’ve missed it... it’s wonderful and worth reading. I’m the late one.

Dani has a new book coming out next year!!!
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,765 followers
August 3, 2017
Once begun, impossible to set aside. This delicate, graceful meditation on marriage is slim enough to read in one sitting, but it is Dani Shapiro's words and music that held me fast.

She writes of the small cracks that appear with time in even the strongest of relationships; the inevitability of disappointment, even as you can't imagine your life without the other. This memoir is an ode to the glory and madness of joining your life to another's. It is raw and sweet, tender, and rich with truth.

Shapiro is blunt when revealing what it means to make a living as an artist. She and her husband, M., a journalist and filmmaker, seem to have achieved remarkable success. He works with major Hollywood studios and A-list actors. She's an Oprah-endorsed bestselling author, leading writing workshops around the world. Both are outrageously attractive. A sprawling house in the Connecticut woods. Yet they have failed to save for their later years, which are now suddenly here; M. turns sixty toward the end of the narrative. Together they cram freelance project after project onto their docket, sometimes working together, other times holding each other up through failed individual projects. The house is need of extensive and expensive repair and renovation. M. forgets to tell her he let their health insurance lapse. They watch helplessly as parents age and celebrate as their son, whom they nearly lost to tragedy when he was a baby, grows into a man of character.

I was married for nearly twenty-five years, years that were happy and full of adventure, but perhaps more heartbreak that we could withstand. I celebrate the beauty of what we had and the wisdom in the letting go. Dani Shapiro speaks of "the third thing" that unites couples, whether it's a child, a Corgi, an avocation or hobby, and this idea resonated deeply. I had several "third things" with my ex-husband, but in my most recent, and recently-ended relationship, the third thing seemed to be a third rail of pain and codependency. Now, as I welcome a deep and gentle love, I have at last the third thing with a partner that I've been craving: art. The mutual understanding, celebration and commiseration of what it means to be an artist, whether it's creating with paint or with pen, is such sweet relief.

Ultimately, what makes one marriage last and another end is as mysterious as time and memory. None of us really knows. We live our own legends and mythology, endure our own slings and arrows, and make a choice each day as to what we will give and how much.
Years vanish. Months collapse. Time is like a tall building made of playing cards. It seems orderly until a strong gust of wind comes along and blows the whole thing skyward. Imagine it: an entire deck of cards soaring like a flock of birds.

And that is it, isn't it? Marriage is as fragile as a house made of cards, and as breathtaking as birds on the wing. If you're lucky, you'll tumble and soar in love. Whether it lasts or not hardly seems the point, for as Dani Shapiro writes
There is no other life than this. You would not have stumbled into the vastly imperfect, beautiful, impossible present.
Profile Image for Chris.
557 reviews
April 17, 2017
You know how they say books come into your life at the right time? This is one of those books. Read over my 50th birthday weekend, Shapiro delivers an sharp, honest, and powerful memoir that I didn't want to put it down. I recognized myself so many times in the pages. With this momentous (to me) birthday, time (and its passages), memory (so many of them), and marriage (well, a 20+ year relationship) were all present as I read. Lots and lots of quotes were written down. "The decades between fifty and eighty feel not like minutes, but seconds." Grace Paley.

Time to start living. A near-perfect read.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,466 reviews564 followers
December 21, 2018
A reflective memoir about "time, memory, marriage." Shapiro's writing is a marvel.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,823 reviews107 followers
November 23, 2018
My second book for Non-fiction November 2018.

"Years vanish. Months collapse. Time is like a tall building made of playing cards. It seems orderly until a strong gust of wind comes along and blows the whole thing skyward. Imagine it: an entire deck of cards soaring like a flock of birds."

This slim memoir is a lovely and poetical mediation of time, memory, and marriage.

For some reason I thought the husband dies so I kept waiting for that to happen. Maybe it's because so many memoirs I've looked at lately seem to have a dead spouse. Luckily, he's alive and well, so that's a relief. The writing in this is beautiful. These are the musings of a not so young woman, wife, mother, looking back at her life and the writing unfolds like memory, in a non-linear manner. Curving back on itself. All what could have happened, what did happen. Paths taken and not. We all weave a narrative for our lives and the author is a master weaver.

I listened to the audiobook, which is well narrated by the author, on long walks with leaves falling all around me. A perfect read for this time of year.
741 reviews
June 15, 2017
A memoir, meandering, self-indulgent, and not very interesting. It does have the virtue of being short, which was the only reason I finished it. She occasionally turns a good phrase, which lifts it from 1 star to two.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
September 30, 2018
Our recollections alter as we attempt to gather them.... If retrospect is an illusion, then why not attempt to tell the story as I'm inside of it? Which is to say: before the story has become a story?

I was a rather unlikely reader for Hourglass. I wasn't particularly enthused by the other Dani Shapiro book I'd read, and I'm a bit maxed out on books about marriage. Still, for some reason this called out to me in the bookstore and then again at home, where I picked it up and read it quite quickly, for me. I guess my instincts were right, because I thought this was great. It was about Shapiro's marriage, yes, and those parts of the book were good. But it was also about Shapiro as a young woman fumbling around and trying to make a life for herself, and most fascinatingly it was a book about writing and memory. I certainly wasn't expecting to be underlining a lot of passages in what I had thought was a straightforward memoir, but as I got deeper into the book I found I was constantly picking up my pen. Hourglass is genuinely smart and wise and blessedly free of platitudes. If this is the level Shapiro is writing at, I need to read some of her novels sooner than later.
Profile Image for Jana.
778 reviews89 followers
May 19, 2017
I know this couldn't have been easy to write, but she makes it seem as if we're just listening to her think. And I mean this as high praise. The story flows back and forth in time and place. And she seems oh so honest. How does she open up like that to share her soul? What does her husband think of this? Regardless, I am impressed and A) will look for her when she visits Seattle (soon I think?) and B) will find more to read from her.

Highly recommend.

I just heard her interviewed on the Lit Up podcast (check it out, it's wonderful). The interview reminded me how much I love the concept of the "third thing" between partners that she mentions in this book. It really made me think.
Profile Image for Kate Savage.
658 reviews114 followers
July 8, 2019
This book opens with a tale about trying to kill a woodpecker. Then it moves to fear of bees. Many scary bees. Then scary wolves, scary crime, scary diseases, scary storms, scary accidents. And above all, scary poverty. While friends are winning pulitzers and macarthur grants, her little family is "on the edge," "just getting by," "barely paying the bills." In between the trips to Europe, of course.

And more scary bees. She knows she's not allergic, but can't help herself. Like, once she's a writer-in-residence in Florida but get this: she thought she'd be relaxing on the beach, but there's no beach! There's only jungle! And bees! Snakes too. But it's the bees that keep her inside her cabin the entire time. She calls them "small flying fists."

There are actually a few lovely moments in this book. But over all, I felt like telling her that it's fine to write about First World Problems, but at least make them juicy First World Problems, you know? You can't just rely on bee-metaphor to move us to profundity.

At some point she gets a Jungian reading for her bee-fear. Here, unasked, I offer my own: mythically, bees are messengers from the gods. They bring you the message that you have more than you deserve. Instead of graciously accepting this message, or even enjoying the moment's abundance, you shut it out. You stop your ears and invent your own scarcity. Then you have only anxiety and fear and sleepless nights.

Buzz buzz.
1,131 reviews4 followers
May 22, 2017
Such mixed feelings about this book. She captures the push and pull of marriage and its complications. She writes well and weaves in the views of other writers and yet, even as a memoir, it was so self-referential. Shapiro didn't let you forget her fame, her opportunities and her enormous privilege without showing much awareness of it. She has a life of opportunity and writes breezily of trips afar and of her losses, that we all have, as if they are different. Not universal. It is funny that she teaches memoir and writes about what it takes to make it more than just one person's story. The book both succeeds and fails.
Profile Image for Sian Lile-Pastore.
1,190 reviews150 followers
July 2, 2017
I loved this so much! It's so beautiful.
It's a memoir about marriage, about starting out and feeling you're at the beginning and then being married for twenty years and realising you are in the middle somewhere - how all those years change things, change you, how you go through things as a couple and how that makes you change too.
It is tender and real and honest. It really is wonderful.
Thanks to my husband Bert for buying me this - if made me think of our marriage and the years we've had together and the years to come.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
748 reviews87 followers
June 12, 2017
There was a lot of food for thought in this slim narrative. What makes a marriage work? Who are we in relation to our past? I really enjoyed reading this even though it meanders and jumps around and basically has no plot. I read this expecting there to be some sort of revelation or change at the end (divorce? death? why does it have to be something bad?) but it's more like a slice of life and the end hasn't happened yet.
Profile Image for Sue Dix.
539 reviews20 followers
March 5, 2017
This was an ARC. It was a difficult book for me to warm up to. It is well written but just didn't grab me.
Profile Image for Carla (happiestwhenreading).
935 reviews115 followers
May 6, 2017
Fortunately, this book had parts that made it worthwhile. Unfortunately, it felt clunky and disconnected for me. There were no chapter breaks - just 150 looonngg pages of rambling. It was not cohesive or engaging. I found several snippets that were very beautiful writing and it just made me wish there were more. It was more like a scavenger hunt to find the parts that spoke to me. I know I'm in the minority here - many of my friends have read and loved this book - but it just never got off the ground for me, unfortunately.
Profile Image for Bree Hill.
791 reviews572 followers
July 10, 2019
Ladies and Gentlemen I finally listened to an audiobook from start to finish! I loved this. I need to get my hands on the physical copy because I want it on my shelf to revisit again.
Profile Image for Riva Sciuto.
215 reviews51 followers
August 17, 2018
"Change even one moment, the whole thing unravels. There is no other life than this. You would not have stumbled into the vastly imperfect, beautiful, impossible present."


If you're looking for an action-packed memoir, this isn't the one for you. But if you have a penchant for memoirs that are mostly reflective in nature, then grab a copy of Dani Shapiro's 'Hourglass' immediately. Unlike other contemporary memoirs I've read recently, the impetus for writing this book doesn't seem to have been something catastrophic or permanently life-altering; instead, it's more of an honest reflection on her own 18-year marriage. On its challenges, its realities, and its beauty.

I love so many things about this book -- particularly the candor with which Shapiro addresses the reality of marriage as it is forced to withstand life's myriad challenges: caring for children, surviving illness, burying our parents. Her reflections are a deeply personal testament to the passage of time: "A photo collage...I never tire of looking at it. Our now-teenaged son as a toddler, hoisted on the shoulders of a friend, a smiling, radiant man whose daughter will later fall to her death from a Brooklyn rooftop. My mother in a hat to cover her bald head months before she died. My mother-in-law, before Alzheimers set in. The three of us, my little family and I, on the steps of our Brooklyn townhouse; then older on the porch of our house in Connecticut. Alive, dead, lost. Like the names I refuse to cross out in my address book, I catalog those I have loved."

'Hourglass' will force you to reflect on the power of your own relationships to withstand life's heartaches, but it is also a beautiful reminder that our time here is fleeting, and that we should live with intention and love. I especially love the way she weaves in quotes and poems from some of literature's most prominent writers and memoirists: John Updike, Joan Didion, Elizabeth Alexander, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Yet her own writing is equally poignant: "...The stumbles and falls, the lapses in judgment, the near misses, the could-haves. I've become convinced that our lives are shaped less by the mistakes we make than when we make them. There is less elasticity now. Less time to bounce back. And so I heed the urgent whisper and move with greater and greater deliberation. We are delicate. We are beautiful. We are not new. We must be handled with care," she writes.

Told through the lens of scattered memories -- not chronologically -- Shapiro grapples with the sudden death of her father, her mother's sickness, her son's near-fatal illness, her own reflections about how we continue to carry those we love long after they're gone. "Moments appear like scattered puzzle pieces. What belongs to what? Where are the corners? I can hold only bits and pieces in my hands, and even these are suspect. I can’t bring my parents close. It’s not possible to sit them back down again and ask them: What happened? Did you ever love each other? When did you stop? Your legacy is a daughter who tries and tries to remember you."

This book is a short but powerful testament to a marriage that is challenging but real. The ending, which recollects Dani and M's vows, is one of the most beautiful conclusions to a memoir I've read: "'Dani, I treasure the way you say to me, 'This is just the beginning.' I want to hear you say it in ten years, in twenty, and thirty.' But I can no longer say to M that we're just beginning. Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. That solid yet light thing - our journey - is no longer new. He identified my mother's body. We took turns holding our seizing child. We have watched his mother disappear in plain sight. We have raised Jacob together. We know each other in a way that young couple couldn't have imagined. Our shared vocabulary, our own language, will die with us. We are the treasure itself: fathoms deep, in the world we have made and made again."
Profile Image for Holly.
1,007 reviews220 followers
May 8, 2017
I recently listened to one of Dani Shapiro's earlier memoirs, Devotion, in which she chronicles her early life, relationships with her parents, her marriage, experience of motherhood, writing life and the freelance career, yoga and meditation practice, but above all (or underneath all) her Jewishness and relationship to the tradition of Judaism. This new memoir seemed like a supplementary chapter to that earlier book, but without the religious theme. Hourglass is quite short, which contributed to it feeling like a new chapter, and it's told in the same writing voice (and of course, speaking voice of the author herself because I listened to the audio). The ostensible subject is her marriage to Michael Maren. I liked this book but I didn't think there was anything new or especially exploratory about her marriage that wasn't hinted at or explained outright in Devotion.

Two observations on Shapiro as I know her from her work:
1. For a practitioner of yoga and Buddhist meditation she comes across as an incredibly neurotic, obsessive worrier. The two books are almost page after page of her worries - that is her way of telling her story. What must it have been like to relive every anguished concern while writing her books?! This constant focus on what could go wrong even began to affect my own outlook while listening to the two books.

2. I realized after listening to Hourglass what is missing from Shapiro's life as portrayed on the page: laughter and humor. That's not a criticism of the writing, or of her as a person, and it may well be that her life is filled with joy. But if so, she doesn't express it in her personal writing.

I gave this one 3 stars rather than 4 only because by itself it feels a little slight or parenthetical.
Profile Image for Rima.
Author 4 books30 followers
June 10, 2017
Some beautiful sentences (Shapiro's skill with language is evident here), but not very satisfying. It feels too short, lazily written from her notes, without a serious attempt at developing a coherent narrative like she did in "devotion" or "still writing."
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,531 reviews11 followers
October 19, 2017
Shapiro gives a look into her marriage of eighteen years. This is written in vignettes, so it isn't a linear narrative highlighting each milestone.

I liked the jagged snapshots. We get snippets of life in the present and then the past and back again.

A quick, but thoughtful read.
Profile Image for Annette.
674 reviews7 followers
April 18, 2017
Insightful writing by one of my favorite writers- Dani Shapiro.
Marriage, middle age, unfulfilled dreams, plans gone astray.
How do we hold on to the one we love, when time begins to rub us until there is bare soul?
How do we stay true to ourselves, our art and each other when life doesn't go as planned?
Shapiro offers deep reflections on these themes and the words are worth savoring.

Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 57 books564 followers
July 21, 2017
The word beautiful suddenly seems completely inadequate and approximate.
Profile Image for Claire.
651 reviews278 followers
March 23, 2019
I've not read any of her previous works, this was a book passed to me by a friend, so not a book I deliberately chose. I enjoyed reading it, though I couldn't say I related to it in any way. As the title shows, it's a reflection on time passing, on memory and on marriage.

It's full of nostalgia for moments passed, brought back to life as she picks up journals from girlhood and her earlier life and quotes from them, in particular, from her honeymoon spent in France. She wonders about the woman she was then.

She worries about the lack of a plan, despite being in her fifties and her husband almost sixty. She shares these anxious moments, as she begins to lose a little faith in the words her husband has uttered in the past, that gave her reasurrance "I"ll take care of it". Anyone who has ever lived with that kind of reassurance might relate, but inherent within that is a deep vulnerability, a fear of loss.

It's that undercurrent of misplaced fear that concerns me, for there is no resolution, there is no evidence of a desire to go within and face that fear, to heal it, she remains focused on that which is external, and therein lies the problem. Maybe that is the memoir still to come, when she embarks on the inner journey, and learns to listen to her own guidance, to the whispers of her soul, that can reassure her more than anyone or anything on the outside.

Profile Image for Sonya.
793 reviews144 followers
July 21, 2017
This is a memoir about time and marriage. About how people at the beginnings of their union hope and dream, and how realities of life sink in as time is distorted and compressed. If you're in the mood for moody and melancholy and truth, this might be for you. I don't know that I'd relate to it as I have if I hadn't myself been in a marriage that's lasted my entire adult life. What that 20-year-old woman (girl?) couldn't foresee upon getting married is everything that has shaped me since, all the good and certainly all the bad.
Profile Image for Antonia.
Author 6 books31 followers
September 28, 2017
A wonderful book that I read much too fast. I couldn’t stop myself. But I will read it again. And I highlighted liberally. There’s so much to savor and think about. I especially enjoyed the musings on marriage over the long term, and the parts about the many selves within us, how they all contribute to the present moment. I love to think about the tricks that time and memory play, how memories evolve, how a life is shaped and lived and relived. A glorious read. Below are just a few of my many highlighted passages.

“How do you suppose time works? A slippery succession of long hours adding up to ever-shorter days and years that disappear like falling dominoes? Near the end of her life, Grace Paley once remarked that the decades between fifty and eighty feel not like minutes, but seconds. ”

“I've become convinced that our lives are shaped less by the mistakes we make than when we make them. There is less elasticity now. Less time to bounce back. And so I heed the urgent whisper and move with greater and greater deliberation.”

“Years vanish. Months collapse. Time is like a tall building made of playing cards. It seems orderly until a strong gust of wind comes along and blows the whole thing skyward. Imagine it: an entire deck of cards soaring like a flock of birds.”

“You know,” my aunt says, “I once had a terribly difficult period that lasted twenty-four years.” Wait. Twenty-four years? “And it was so important to realize that I didn’t know what was on the other side of the darkness. Every so often there was a sliver of light that shot the whole world through with mystery and wonder, and reminded me: I didn’t have all the information.”
Profile Image for Liina Haabu.
318 reviews267 followers
September 20, 2017
Dani Shapiro is a good writer. "Hourglass" flows. You don't wan't to put it down. There are writers who can write about anything and get away with it, because the writing itself is so good (James Salter and John Williams are my personal favourites among "Writer's writers". I am by no means categorising Shapiro among them though).
So why did this book, well written and on subjects that most people can relate to (relationships, career, ageing) , didn't move me nor left a lasting impact?

I think due to a very personal preference. Namely, I can't stand "White Privileged Female Making Sense of Life" type of books. But then again I can, because I adore Diana Athill (privileged could be put under question here but she did come from a "good family" and mainly writes about her own life). So what's the problem with Shapiro? I have a suspicion that it might be the tone, the undercurrent. It is not detectable in any singular sentences or even in paragraphs but clearly felt when you have read the whole book. It is a bit whiney, a bit self - pitying and a bit "If my husband does not succeed in Hollywood then all the years of work add up to nothing". I feel that her world revolves around herself so much that she has trouble seeing the big picture. Or maybe it's me who isn't seeing the big picture.
Profile Image for Kate.
821 reviews48 followers
October 30, 2017
Dani Shapiro is a gifted writer who has written several memoirs. I was going to attend a pop-up book group with her in NYC so I picked up a copy of her latest. Work intervened and I was unable to attend which is really okay. She writes honestly and intimately, but her anxieties and irritations are different from my own. Despite being born in the same year and loving The Bridge on Sirius XM, I was unable to connect with her. This, of course says more about me than her and my lack of affection for most memoirs. I believe she discusses her marriage honestly and this is a worthwhile read, but just not for me.
Profile Image for Nic.
646 reviews15 followers
April 29, 2017
Sigh...that this beautiful whisper of memoir had to end.

I learned of the passing of a young woman - whom I once shared time with - on the morning I started this book. A most fitting read, as I worked through the emotions that her death stirred in me.

An honest and thoughtful meditation on the nuances of life.

"Time is like a tall building made of playing cards. ... Pick a card. Any card." (p144)
Profile Image for Kathleen King.
7 reviews
June 21, 2017
I couldn't stand her pretentiousness -- why can't she use her husband's name? The tone drove me crazy, her writing style was sloppy and I found it hard to believe she could sustain a career. It turned into a revenge read for me -- I bought it I'm going to finish it but never again for this self-absorbed, whiny pretend writer.
Profile Image for Neal.
Author 14 books125 followers
March 16, 2017
A lovely, intimate look at a couple sustaining a life together. Blasted through the first 100 pps, and then had to force myself to take it slow, to read a few pages at a time, like poems. Inspired me to dig back a read Dani's first memoir, SLOW MOTION. Such a beautiful, honest writer.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 815 reviews

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