Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Women Rowing North


I’d been feeling a little shaky and dizzy for a few days for no apparent reason. Did I have – the CORONAVIRUS? It didn’t seem likely…

 A friend suggested that I was instead suffering from a “Vulnerability Hangover.” I think she was right.

A couple of weeks ago – I still can’t believe this – I made a low-tech music video with the help of a few friends and applied to be Reese Witherspoon’s “Resident Librarian” at Hello Sunshine. You don’t have to live in LA for this job. My friend Carrington Fox describes the fun and anguish of the application at (she also explains how you might help – I’d be so grateful!). The whole experience made me think about a book I read not long ago – Women Rowing North, by Mary Pipher.

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Let me back up a minute. To a visit that took place before the big hangover.

As you know, getting ready for visitors who are coming to stay for several nights – even low-maintenance, non-demanding family members – can be a tiny bit taxing. 

I straightened the house and bought flowers. I stocked the fridge, made dinner reservations, and freshened my lipstick. I was browsing at the G.J. Ford bookstore on St. Simons Island – looking for welcoming gifts for my mother and mother-in-law – when I happened upon Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age, by Mary Pipher. I hadn’t read any reviews, but I liked its cover. And I was familiar with the author’s blockbuster from 1994, Reviving Ophelia.

I took a chance and bought three copies of Women Rowing North. Honestly I thought the book would be most helpful for my mom and mother-in-law, each facing big challenges. My mother-in-law recently lost her husband of 25 years after caring for him for 7 years as he declined. My mother and father are dealing with significant health issues together – and alone. They’re on different journeys in the same home, married for 55 years.

As it turns out, I’d love to share this book with most of my girlfriends – those of us in our 40s and 50s and 60s who still feel pretty young and who also feel like life is serving up some pretty serious demands and provocations. I gulped down this book as if I were dying of thirst in the desert.

“The core concern of this life stage, with all of its perils and pleasures, is how to cultivate resilient responses to the challenges we face… We can go deep and face truth squarely. We can learn the skills that allow us to adapt to anything. Yes anything,” Mary Pipher begins.

That’s a great place to start. Pipher continues by relating the stories of women she’s worked with as a psychologist – composite sketches – over the years. She distills lessons from their lives. It’s self-help/self-care offered up by your smart, energetic, kind next door neighbor with the silver hair. Piper is honest and friendly, a straight-talker. 

“Even though we all suffer, we don’t all grow…,” she reminds us. “We don’t become our wisest selves without effort. Our growth requires us to become skilled in perspective taking, in managing our emotions, in crafting positive narratives, and in forming intimate relationships. We develop the skills of building joy, gratitude, and meaning into every day. By learning these lessons, we cultivate emotional resilience,” Piper writes.

There are a few moments when I wish Pipher’s editor had given her some better guidance, as when she wades into some hippy dippy sh*t about a retreat at Ghost Ranch, Arizona, after the 2016 election. These political and new-agey asides undermine her voice and add little. But – those passages didn’t ruin the book for me.

Women Rowing North inspires and encourages. “Perhaps the book’s core lesson is simply ‘Everything is workable,’” Pipher writes. “Over the years [of traveling together], my friends and I have discovered many empty, wild places. Invariably, when we get lost or something goes wrong, one of us reminds the others, ‘Remember the first rule of the wilderness: don’t panic.” Those are messages I want – and need – to hear. 

(My mother and mother-in-law really liked the book, too.)

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To help with my job application: Please send Reese a message at I would love to represent for Nashville and the greater Bacon community! I would love to represent for women of a certain age who are caring for children – and parents – and finding blessings and having their hearts stretched in ways they could never have imagined.

I’m sorry I can’t share the job application video with you here on a public platform. I used a song as background music and don’t have copyright permission for that in a public space. I wish I could! Except that then I would suffer from an even greater vulnerability hangover, and possible legal liability. 🤭😂

Jennifer Puryear (Photos by Ashley Hylbert)



  1. A lovely blog post to wake up to this cold Sunday morning! Mary Pipher’s book sounds inspiring — and you would be the ideal “Resident Librarian” for Hello Sunshine! It’s tailor made for you, Jennifer! A letter of recommendation is headed Reese’s way from me!

  2. I can’t wait to check out this book AND send a message to my buddy (!) Reese. Can’t imagine a better librarian.

  3. Thank you for reviewing this book, Jennifer, it sounds fabulous! I will vote for you on Reese’s Hello Sunshine page. Good luck and best wishes!

    • I am grateful for good books and good friends no matter how this application works out, dear Melinda!! Of course the chances feel so small that I might get an in-person interview. But – it still feels like the right part of the journey. Thank you so much for being in touch, I hope you love the book – xoxo

  4. Go Jennifer! You would be an AWESOME librarian for Reese! Hope you are well after the tornadoes up there.

    • Dearest Margaret (Maggie) – Please forgive slow response! Somehow your comment got filtered out for a minute. All is ok here! We were spared. The community is greatly impacted – and a there has been a tremendous community response. Thank you for your vote of confidence. It means so much to me. No word yet from Reese. xoxo

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