Book Review: Women Rowing North

Women Rowing North Book
Rowing North as We Age

Women Rowing North not only focuses on women over the age of 50, but actually targets women, in my opinion, who are over 70.

I have to admit I loved Mary Pipher’s book Reviving Ophelia that was published back in the 1990s and looked underneath the surface of what adolescent girls experience during this time in their lives. Back then, I was closer to adolescence and had barely settled into young adulthood and so it felt like a thunderbolt to have someone take interest and speak truths about what I and my friends had experienced. It was ground-breaking and revolutionary in many ways for me.

So, when Pipher followed up this book with her new book published at the beginning of 2019, Women Rowing North, I was interested as I was now firmly in middle age and rowing north toward old age myself, but not quite there yet. I also bought a copy for my Mother, who is in her late 70s. I was curious to hear her take on this book as she was living this time in her life and I was still gazing at what is to come for me from a distance.

Pipher, in all honesty, paints a rosy, upbeat picture for women over the age of 60 who are still looking to find joy and happiness in their lives. I am taken aback that the target audience for this book is women over 60, because as I read the book it felt more like women over the age of 75. For me, gazing down the path toward old age, I was struck by how small life becomes and where we must look to find our joy and pleasure.

I remember one passage from Women Rowing North encouraging women to take time during their days to look at their pictures and play music that takes them to happy times in their lives. For some reason this idea depressed the heck out of me. That as I row north, it will be more about recalling memories rather than creating new ones during this phase of my life. When I discussed it with my Mother she agreed that it is pretty bleak in that way — that life becomes smaller, especially with health considerations on board. Hmmm…the ideas Pipher came up with seemed to overwhelm me.

For my Mom, not so much. She found it interesting, truthful, held some solid ideas for how to manage one’s time, but all-in-all she felt that it was a little too pollyanna even for her. It can’t all be rosy days as you age. So, she felt, at her age, Pipher was painting somewhat of an optimistic look at this stage of life. For me, squarely in middle age, what Pipher speaks to scared me beyond belief.

Is this a book I would recommend given all of this? Well, I respect the author and what she is trying to provide to elderly women, but I am not at all sure she really hits the mark and speaks to their experience. For those of us not in this stage, I would just keep it on the bookshelf for a few decades and pull it out around the age of 65 to 70 for some hopeful anecdotes that surely will be tempered as we row north.