Jennifer Puryear and Bacon on the Bookshelf
In Jennifer Puryear’s opinion, books are competing with television in a way they never have before. With the likes of Netflix and Amazon and HBO, excellent and artistic television shows are more prevalent than in years past. We get caught up in one series after another – everything from Game of Thrones to Homeland to The Crown. Many people need a very good reason to sit down with a book.
Several years ago, Jennifer wrote an occasional book column for a friend’s, now highly successful, Southern lifestyle website. Fast forward a few years, as her daughters grew older and her house became quieter, Jennifer started contemplating a project of her own. Inspired by a friend’s art blog and the pleasure and challenge of writing those book columns, the Harvard/UNC educated lawyer “began pondering a blog about books.”
You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. –Paul Sweeney
A delightfully easy person to talk with, Jennifer admits to overthinking her blog construction at the outset. An energetic friend stepped in to guide Jennifer through the initial website setup. “She knew I needed a hard push. She insisted I stop agonizing and start acting.” Jokingly, Jennifer fears she “would still be fretting over the layout and the fonts” if her friend had not encouraged her to move forward. “Our friends give us all kinds of gifts,” she says in her polite and gracious way. “She showed me it was absolutely fine to simply start, make mistakes, and adjust things later. I didn’t have to wait until I had everything all figured out.”
With Jennifer’s eloquent and compelling writing style, Bacon on the Bookshelf is smart and engaging. Launched only 3 years ago, Jennifer has an impressive following among book lovers, authors, agents, and publishers. Highlighting savory picks for the free range reader, she blends posts offering her opinions and views and also invites guest contributors into the mix. Pepper, Jennifer’s beloved border collie, lab, and spaniel mix (she’s guessing on the mix!), is the star of a separate series of posts in the blog. Pepper’s escapades and conversations with Jennifer offer wisdom in a caring and gentle way. Providing little life lessons in this fashion, it makes me wonder if Pepper may one day become the main character in her own book.
Sam Sacks, at the Wall Street Journal, is Jennifer’s favorite book critic. “I trust him and love his writing,” she says. Although she also turns to the New Yorker and New York Times book columns for inspiration, she finds People, Vogue, and Elle offer surprisingly good possibilities. The Raleigh native is quick to point out she “loves nothing more than a good book recommendation from a friend.” She reads, and sometimes reviews, books her women’s and couples’ book clubs are reading. And Parnassus, the charming and wonderful Nashville bookstore, is always a great source of material.
Finding it easier to take notes and mark pages as she reads, Jennifer prefers paper to electronic books. “Writing things down and processing is a true joy for me,” she smiles. When she does find time to read simply for fun, she enjoys literary fiction and “fantastical stuff” like the Harry Potter series. Admitting I’ve not been able to connect to the witchcraft and wizardry books, she suggests I try again – when I need a “palate cleanser” from my preferred historical fiction. Her rule of thumb? If she isn’t loving it, Jennifer gives a book three chapters before she moves on. “Too many good books in the world,” she declares.
Although quiet about her successes, Jennifer has built relationships with many publishing houses and author agents. Receiving an advance review copy of a book in the mail is a great deal of fun for her. “It’s like opening a birthday present!” she says. If she reads about an upcoming book of interest, Jennifer often writes a publisher requesting an advance review copy. When I ask her if it was hard to put herself out there the first time and make that request, her response is immediate and “definitely.” She says the bigger and harder thing is having the courage to publish her blog. “This is my opinion about a book, and here it is, world,” she remarks. “I may always feel a little fearful and unsure of that.”
When she isn’t reading or writing articles for Bacon, Jennifer now writes a regular book column for StyleBlueprint, the Southern lifestyle brand that kickstarted her journey. Her reviews also appear in Nfocus, a local magazine. She loves her quiet mornings, her time to reflect and warm up to the day. As her two daughters get older, family time at the beach is treasured. A tradition started when the kids were young, the family still plays “conversational questions” at dinner. Everyone, including guests, must bring a question – fun, ethical, or otherwise – to discuss at dinner. “It is so much fun,” Jennifer reflects, “but I don’t know how much longer my kids will let me do this!”
I asked Jennifer if she could think of a favorite book in the last year or so. Remembering my Texas roots and love of historical fiction, she launched into a beautiful, impromptu summary of News of the World by Paulette Jiles. The story, set in post Civil War Texas, is centered around an old man, a professional reader. Newspapers were in short supply after the war, and people got their news from readers who travelled from town to town delivering the headlines. As she continues, in captivating style and soothing voice, to describe the book and how it moved her, I am hoping she will read the book to me!
Photos of Jennifer and Pepper by Ashley Hylbert