Women Rowing North: Book summary and reviews of Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher

Women Rowing North

Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age

by Mary Pipher

Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher X
Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2019
    272 pages
    Genre: Advice

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Book Summary

The instant New York Times bestseller from the author of Reviving Ophelia--a guide to wisdom, authenticity, and bliss for women as they age.

Women growing older contend with ageism, misogyny, and loss. Yet as Mary Pipher shows, most older women are deeply happy and filled with gratitude for the gifts of life. Their struggles help them grow into the authentic, empathetic, and wise people they have always wanted to be.

In Women Rowing North, Pipher offers a timely examination of the cultural and developmental issues women face as they age. Drawing on her own experience as daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, caregiver, clinical psychologist, and cultural anthropologist, she explores ways women can cultivate resilient responses to the challenges they face. "If we can keep our wits about us, think clearly, and manage our emotions skillfully," Pipher writes, "we will experience a joyous time of our lives. If we have planned carefully and packed properly, if we have good maps and guides, the journey can be transcendent."

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The book's title, Women Rowing North, evokes the common metaphor of life as a stream and also the visual of navigating the current, both as a single kayaker and in community as a larger crew of supportive women. Before beginning this book, how would you have described your life? What does your vessel look like, your stream's current, your crewmates? A lone dinghy on the open sea? A river cruise in full swing? Has that view changed by the conclusion of this book?
  2. Each chapter starts with a small collection of quotes. Which, if any, provoked strong emotions of agreement or disagreement, and why?
  3. In the introduction, Dr. Pipher discusses the extended life expectancy in various countries, the difference between being young-old and old-old, and how the shift from one to another is based on life experiences rather than chronological time. How would classify yourself and why?
  4. In the introduction, Dr. Pipher shares what she considers to be the core foundation for happiness, such as emotional resilience, positive attitudes, gratitude, and intentionality. Do you agree? What else would you add?
  5. The author describes an experience where she finds a cholla cactus with branches dying even as new growth flourished and compares it to the experience of growing older. In looking at your own life, what new offshoots are flourishing?
  6. Dr. Pipher quotes a seventy-year-old friend as saying, "I'm invisible now. I could take off all my clothes and walk through the courthouse and I'm not sure anyone would notice." Do you feel this is true? Why or why not? In thinking back through your own life, who were the visible older women in your life, and what did they do to make themselves seen and heard?
  7. In early chapters, Dr. Pipher talks of crucible moments and of the transformations that can come from defining events. What crucible moments have defined your life, and how have they changed you?
  8. In Chapter Eight, the author tells her niece, "You can't navigate from there to here if you don't know where you are." She then ties that advice to knowing ourselves before we chart our course.  Each woman's path is unique, but which of the women in the stories most resembled you?  Independent Kestrel? Accommodating Emma? Career-driven Willow? Overburdened Sylvia?
  9. The same chapter also discusses the difficulty in saying no and the freedom in using that word judiciously. Do you find it difficult to say no? How can you set reasonable limits for yourself?
  10. Chapter Nine discusses intentionality, especially intentionality in wealth, whether that be financial wealth or an abundance in other resources. One definition of wealth Dr. Pipher offers  is "the number of people I am in loving relationships with." How do you define wealth?
  11. In discussing how to build a good day, Dr. Pipher explains the difference between a minimizer and a maximizer. A minimizer is happy with "good enough" while a maximizer, always wants a little more. Which category do you fall into? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both categories?
  12. On page 149, Dr. Pipher writes "We can slowly train ourselves to think in stories that allow us to flourish. We hone our skills in perspective taking, emotional processing, and reframing. Stories of joy, kindness, and courage empower us in ways that the culturally stereotyped narrative never does." Think back to a difficult time in your life. What narrative did you craft in the moment? How did it affect how you reacted? And, in looking back, has that narrative changed over time?
  13. Dr. Pipher looks at the different kind of happiness, from joy to contentment to excitement to deep-rooted meaningfulness. When evaluating your own happiness, which of these (or another kind you define) are you most focused on? Has your definition changed over your lifetime, and if so, what's changed it?
  14. Part of who we become is rooted in our experiences from childhood onward, in the people we have met, and in the choices we've made. Few of us have become who we set out to be. Think of who you were in a crucial time of life—as a young child, as an uncertain adolescent, as an independent young adult, or as a middle-aged woman. What would that version of you think of who you've become today? What would she like? Be surprised by? What are your proudest areas of growth?
  15. Near the end of the book, the author's friend Sally exclaims, "Getting old is a freaking privilege!" Do you agree or disagree, and has that view changed at all while reading Women Rowing North?

Recommended reading
Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher
Seeking Peace: The Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World
by Mary Pipher
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron
Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir
by Diana Athill
Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time
by Penelope Lively
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite

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Media Reviews

"A work chock-full of wisdom and consoling messages ... While a must-read for its target audience of women moving into old age, Pipher's engaging book is an ought-to-read for their daughters and sons as well, as it sets forth the universal message that 'happiness is a choice and a set of skills.'" - Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This is bound to become the bible of baby boomer women." - Library Journal, starred review

"Thoughtful, wise, and humane." - Kirkus Reviews

"This positive, affirming book will inspire and guide women facing these challenges." - Booklist

"An enlightening look at how women can age joyfully." - People

"Both practical and inspiring." - New York Times "Inside the List"

"[Pipher's] 'quest for joy and happiness' is sincere, as is her commitment to helping other women achieve theirs. Some readers will treasure the book. All readers will admire her unadorned but wise summation that answered prayers are 'a surcease of worry.'" - Washington Post

"Pipher offers warm, empathetic guidelines for navigating aging and for recognizing its unexpected gifts." - BookPage

"A wisdom-filled guide ... Pipher's mindful tips act as a map to joy and remind us that we can flourish through all of our years" - Woman's World

"Think of Women Rowing North as a GPS for navigating your later years. And while Pipher, 71, says she wrote it specifically for women crossing from middle age to old age, there is much in the book that is useful for any of us." - Considerable

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Reader Reviews

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Susan S. (Salida, CO)

Navigating into the BEST YEARS!
Mary Pipher first caught my attention when she wrote about girls and STEM education. Her words rang so true to my daughter's experience. And her newest book about women and aging is also spot on. Her sections on Challenges, Travel Skills and People on the Boat were full of references that resonated with my current life. Even that daughter I mentioned above, who is now 30 years old, found things to inspire, to learn, to reach for and to imagine for her future. Thanks again, Mary!

Candace B. (Grand Island, NY)

Women of "a certain age".
Generally I don't care for "self help" books so this one is an exception. Packed with information on women as they age and tips for embracing these changes in our lives, this book led me to really think about living life fully.
The author discusses challenges faced and limitations that arise as we age. It could have been a depressing topic but with all the strategies for embracing and enjoying life, it was instead uplifting and positive. Packed with stories about women and how they dealt with aging and enhanced their lives, it's easy to feel positive about getting old and enjoying the inevitable changes physically and mentally. This would be an excellent book club selection for "women of a certain age".

Nancy M. (Bernardsville, NJ)

Women Rowing North
A very meaning full book with wisdom and depth. Inspires us to remember one's joys, foibles and stories, and feel self-forgiveness. Fondly, forgotten memories of the past became clear again. Following the experiences of the women in the book became difficult as they kept reappearing. Keeping notes would have helped! This book is a keeper, but perhaps not a great book club book.

Gigi K. (Lufkin,, TX)

What are you waiting for?
A must read for all women as their children leave the nest. Such a good read for women wanting to be the best they can be until their last breath. My husband's Kiwanis club even discussed the book informally and men found it helpful, too. (especially the last two chapters).

Bettie T. (Johns Island, SC)

Overcoming Challenges and Finding the Gifts as We Age
I had never read anything by Mary Pipher, though I know she is well-respected. WOMEN ROWING NORTH called to me, perhaps because I am starting to notice the aging process and wondering how I will survive myself. Pipher shares a lot of wisdom and encouragement, interspersed with the stories of women she has interviewed who have faced many different challenges. It is a very readable book. I finished the book thinking that although my challenges may be different from the ones she illustrates, I, too, should be able recover from whatever comes my way and "flourish" as I age. She doesn't try to make it sound easy, but she points out that with the right attitude, we can overcome these challenges, and make use of the gifts that age has given us (perspective, patience, and joy, for example).

Helene M. (Sarasota, FL)

Ladies, Get Your Paddles, We're Rowing North!
This may be one of the most important books I've ever read - particularly for women like myself, of a "certain age," whose lives have been affected by the loss of important markers - husbands, careers, family relationships that change as one grows older.

In compelling prose, May Pipher challenges us to explore questions that many of us avoid as uncomfortable. But, she reminds us, those questions are also unavoidable, if we wish to live fully for as long as we are able.

Aging is difficult, and while Pipher has no magic wand to change that reality, she does provide guideposts. These come in the form of questions and challenges to which we alone have the correct answers for ourselves.

I heartily recommend this book for women ages 45 and up, and especially for those over 65. If there was one thing I wish Pipher had done, it would have been to craft a series of workshops that could use this book as a reference point.

Get it; read it; you won't be disappointed.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Mary Pipher Author Biography

Mary Pipher is a psychologist specializing in women, trauma, and the effects of our culture on mental health, which has earned her the title of "cultural therapist" for her generation. She is the author of several New York Times bestsellers, including Reviving Ophelia, The Shelter of Each Other, and Another Country. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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