A fan of genre benders and home improvement

Dani Shapiro is the best-selling author of nine memoirs and novels. Her most recent memoir, last year’s “Hourglass,” explores the highs and lows of her longtime marriage. In “Inheritance,” due out in January, Shapiro writes about ancestry, identity, and, ultimately, a family secret that shakes her idea of who she is. Shapiro joins writer Victoria Redel and artist Bert Yarborough at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center for a free reading and artist talk. 

BOOKS: What books are you taking with you to Provincetown while you teach at the Fine Arts Work Center?

SHAPIRO: I always bring a pile of books when I go somewhere to teach; big, fat hardcover books, and then I never get to them. I will try to be realistic this year and take one book and come home having read it. My friend, the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who has a great literary sense, recently sent me Julie Otsuka’s “The Buddha in the Attic,” which I’ve always wanted to read. I’ll take that.


BOOKS: What are you reading now?

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SHAPIRO: I’m in the middle of “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh. I’m also reading Donald Hall’s last collection of essays, “A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety,” and I plan to read Amitava Kumar’s “Immigrant, Montana.” He refers to it as auto-fiction, a combination of memoir and fiction, the kind of genre-bending book I love.

BOOKS: What are your all-time favorites in that category?

SHAPIRO: Elizabeth Hardwick’s “Sleepless Nights.” It’s a writer’s writer book. Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation” and Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts.” Nelson’s book breaks a lot of rules.

BOOKS: What do you think of Moshfegh’s new novel so far?


SHAPIRO: The narrator takes to bed with a lot of drugs prescribed to her by a nefarious psychiatrist. A young woman going to bed wouldn’t usually compel me so much, but it has this kind of momentum that is really interesting. 

BOOKS: When is the last time you read something that wasn’t typically what you would read?

SHAPIRO: I have not particularly gravitated toward the graphic novel, but a while back I started reading Alison Bechdel’s “Are You My Mother?” That is just genius. I also read her “Fun Home” and went to see the play based on it, which blew me away. That got me on an Alison Bechdel kick. 

BOOKS: Do you read memoirs?

SHAPIRO: Probably not as much as you think. I gravitate more toward novels, short stories, and when I’m writing I often read poetry for the sheer excitement of the distilled language and maybe because I don’t have the bandwidth for narrative. I constantly dip into Anne Truitt. She was a painter and a sculptor who wrote “Daybook” and “Turn.” To call them journals is not right. They are beautifully crafted books about the creative life. 


BOOKS: How have you changed as a reader?

‘Now I’m more engaged by work that is super distilled.’

SHAPIRO: There’s a way of writing I used to find compelling, but now I have little patience for. It’s one as a young writer I fear I emulated, lushness for the sake of lushness. Now I’m more engaged by work that is super distilled, which brings me to Virginia Woolf. When I read her it’s like looking through water so clear you can see straight through to the bottom. 

BOOKS: Who else writes with that clarity?

SHAPIRO: She’s a dear friend of mine, but I would say Jennifer Egan. Also Tobias Wolff and Joan Didion. 

BOOKS: What is on your bookshelf that might surprise people?

SHAPIRO: I buy books that have to do with aspirational design and home improvement. I’m looking at this book I bought, “Remodelista: The Organized Home” by Julie Carlson. Ha! I want to be a person who not only reads this book but who implements it, who has a mudroom with places for mittens and boots. I buy these books, and they gather dust.

BOOKS: Do you ever laugh or cry at a book?

SHAPIRO: I was reading Tova Mirvis’s memoir “The Book of Separation” on an airplane. It’s about her leaving the Orthodox fold. It hit me in a very particularly personal way. The person next to me probably thought I was going home to a funeral. I was ugly crying. 

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