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READERS GUIDE

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Hourglass by Dani Shapiro, an enlightened and searching meditation on the nature of marriage, the passage of time, and life’s inexplicable turns that emerge in a brilliant kaleidoscope as the author takes inventory of her life.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Shapiro describes the process of decluttering her life and house at the outset of the memoir. How does this listing and parsing of ordinary household objects allow readers to enter her world and relate it to their own?

2. When reading her old journals from her honeymoon, Shapiro acknowledges the oddness of her writing about herself in the third person. What does this suggest about how she thought of herself as a young woman, and how she thinks of herself now, in midlife?

3. What does the memoir suggest about the nature of hindsight? Does Shapiro speculate about how she’d make different choices if she already knew the outcomes, and how did reading about this make you think about your own choices?

4. Although Shapiro takes comfort in her older (and mostly analog) ways of recording experience and communication, she is a creature of modern technology as well, and brings it into her narrative. What does the juxtaposition of older and newer ways of making memories say about our human impulse to connect? What are we gaining or losing in the shift from privately writing in journals to posting on social media?

5. What’s particularly shocking for the family about the incorrect online “fact” that she and M. are divorced? Do public “truths” like this have a way of tend to have an impact on reality?

6. The woodpecker and coy-­wolves pose literal conflicts—­fear and disturbances to the couple’s daily lives—­but more figurative ones as well. What does Shapiro internalize about these animals, and how do her observations of them help her glean more in the process of reviewing her past?

7. What are some of the more haunting memories of the couple’s life together? How do the gradually revealed details about her son reflect the pain of those particular times? And how do those painful times serve to strengthen the couple’s bond?

8. Does M. appear in the memoir as an individual, separate from Shapiro’s interactions and past with him? How does his character in the book reflect the ultimate subjectivity of any narrative, and the dependence on a person’s point of view? Discuss the parts of his life and job that stood out to you as most formative in Shapiro’s understanding of her husband.

9. The couple are both writers. What do you think Shapiro is conveying about two artists who make a life together? What are the benefits and the challenges? Each of them has multiple projects and assignments in drama/TV that require them at times to adopt personas. Does that performative aspect of art seep into their lives and into these pages?

10. Discuss Shapiro’s tonal equanimity in describing major life events. What about her profession as a writer allows her to arrive at a voice that is more densely poetic than confessional?

11. How did Shapiro’s process influence your own understanding of your past? Have you ever undergone an exercise like the one in this book—­of cleaning house in an attempt to clear your mind? Are there things in your past that you’ve consciously or unconsciously hidden away in “closets,” and how do you go about unearthing them?

Suggested Reading

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
Andre Dubus III, Townie
Dennis O’Driscoll, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney
Dani Shapiro, Still Writing
Peter Matthiessen, In Paradise
Grace Paley, Just As I Thought
Ann Patchett, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Patti Smith, M Train
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
 
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