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When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374288976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374288976
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“The writing of Terry Tempest Williams is brilliant, meditative, and full of surprises, wisdom, and wonder. She’s one of those writers who changes peoples’ lives by encouraging attention and a slow, patient awakening.” —Anne Lamott, author of Imperfect Birds

“Much more than a brave and luminous memoir, When Women Were Birds is a set of blueprints for building one of America’s most impassioned and audacious writers, as well as a transcript of the moment when she stepped determinedly into the full power of her own voice. In Terry’s magical equation, rage + confusion + grief + accountability = love. At some point I realized I was reading every page twice trying to memorize each insight, each bit of hard-won wisdom. Then I realized I could keep it on my bedside table and read it every night.” —Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted

“Somehow, miraculously, Terry Tempest Williams has done it again: written a book that no one else could have, that tells the truth about our lives. If you want to understand how a writer finds her voice, read this gorgeous book.” —Sue Halpern, author of Can’t Remember What I Forgot

When Women Were Birds is a wise and beautiful and intelligent book, written for the women, men, and children of our times. It vibrates with the earned honesty of a great soul. It is a gift, passed on to readers with the same spirit of love and generosity with which it was first given to the author by her mother. A remarkable journey, a remarkable story.” —Rick Bass, author of The Wild Marsh

“Williams narrates stories that range wide and run deep . . . Here, readers get a Terry Tempest Williams who is at the top of her game, the master of her craft . . . a gift from a writer who knows how to split the world open.” —Cheryl Strayed, Orion

About the Author

Terry Tempest Williams is the award-winning author of fourteen books, including Leap, An Unspoken Hunger, Refuge, and, most recently, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. She divides her time between Castle Valley, Utah, and Moose, Wyoming.

More About the Author

She is the award-winning author of Leap, An Unspoken Hunger, Refuge & most recently Red - A Desert Reader. She lives in Castle Valley, Utah.

Customer Reviews

This book should be read slowly and more than once.
Lana Book
Ms. Williams reads them by imbibing her mother's spirit into the blankness, by living her own life in her mother's empty journals and rewriting them.
Bonnie Brody
This book is extremely well written, thought provoking, and inspiring to me personally as a writer.
Poet's Pen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Westword on April 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a guy who loves women, I hesitated a bit before diving into this book. But once I did, there was no turning back. The idea of blank journal pages (and actual blank pages in the book) forced me to think about my role in silencing women and what I may have missed as a result. I also wondered about the self-silencing I've done in order to toe the line, be 'part of the team', or not make waves. The full spectrum of settings for Terry's use of voice, not using her voice, or having her voice squelched, misinterpreted, or ignored--from the most intimately personal to the halls of congress--suggest that this issue is multidimensional and epidemic. In fact,the current 'war on women' being staged during the republican primaries seems to be one more (hopefully, last ditch) effort to silence women as a means to more power and control. The depths to which our country seems to be plummeting (pulling the entire planet along with us) suggests that we try something new: let women run things. When Women Were Birds, what were men?(Trees? Rivers?) Letting women be birds once again may be our best hope.
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78 of 90 people found the following review helpful By David Seaman VINE VOICE on March 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it does it make a sound?

What does it mean to have a voice?

Terry Tempest Williams has delivered a testament with "When Women Were Birds." It's a tiny little book; very subtle; very polite; very powerful. This is non-fiction. This is not a memoir yet we travel through her life with her; this is not religious, though we are given a cat's eye view of the Mormon home; this is not a love story, though it overflows with love. This is an edict. This is a decree; a proclamation. Finally this is a manifesto. I have never come away from a book feeling so filled, fulfilled, fiercely powerful and fiercely empathetic. Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth" is a spiritual book for which I've never seen or heard a harsh or even ambivalent review, professional or otherwise. "When Women Were Birds" is more powerful than that. (Williams quotes Campbell at one point. In fact, she quotes poets, philosophers and authors throughout). It falls to me now to summarize this book and then to urge you with the power of my words to buy this book. Yet I feel less than equipped to do this because my writing is to Terry Tempest Williams as Roseanne's singing is to Barbra Streisand or Audra McDonald.

See my problem?

Part of solving my problem is that I shall write in first person. An atypical book requires an atypical review: an essay is needed. Chapter one begins: "[Mother] was dying in the same way she was living, consciously. `I am leaving you all my journals but you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone.' I gave her my word... A week later she died."There were three shelves of beautiful clothbound books. "The spines of each were perfectly aligned against the lip of the shelves.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful By emmejay VINE VOICE on April 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"In Mormon culture, women are expected to do two things: keep a journal and bear children. Both gestures are a participatory bow to the past and the future."

So what did it mean when Williams -- a writer, "in love with words" -- took custody of her mother's 35 journals upon her death ... and found them all completely empty? Williams reels from the discovery ("her blank journals became a second death"), and 24 years later, processes it via vignettes here.

I should have loved this book. I'm the age of the author and of her mother when she died. My own mother recently died. I love explorations of voice and stillness, I love narratives structured as vignettes (e.g. Touch, Einstein's Dreams, The Incident Report). So I began slowly, savoring the passages and giving them time to arrange themselves. When little seemed to accumulate, I read them without breaks.

In the end, I liked the book more than loved it. There's evocative language; family, feminism and nature; being heard and being silenced. But while I was interested enough to finish, I never much grew to understand or care about Williams. I suspect readers already familiar with her (e.g. via Refuge) will have a much different, better reading experience. Perhaps I'll read that, and come back to this in a year.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Yours Truly VINE VOICE on February 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
More than two decades have passed since Terry Tempest Williams wrote her master work, Refuge, about her mother's death from cancer and the movements of the Great Salt Lake. As a mature woman, she revisits the themes that have shaped her writing: women's connections with one another, her fascination with birds that began with one grandmother's tutelage, her long marriage to a fellow Mormon reprobate, the ways in which we parent and nurture, her exploration of the world's broken and sacred places, the Utah wilderness, danger, mortality.

This work, begun with the gift of her mother's journals, which Terry opened after she died, is about claiming one's voice and sustaining it. It is sparse, poetic, and, at times, mystical. I loved it! She is a prophet for our times.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Diane Kistner TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have tried to get into this book; really, I have. But there is too much of a creative-writing-class "writing prompt" quality to it that prevents me from becoming engaged: "What would you write if you inherited a bunch of empty journals from your mother? Fill up the first ten pages for the next class."

The make-book style of writing is not my cup of tea. I can't help but imagine the author sticking index cards into Scrivener, writing a bit into each of them while multitasking the rest of her life, then spending a few hours shuffling the sequence before generating—voila!—a book. Alas, it's not the kind of book that encourages my attention, much less interest. Maybe that's just me.

I think another reviewer's suggestion to read other works by Terry Tempest Williams before reading this one is a good one. Coming into When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice already feeling a connection to author might make for a more significant reading experience.
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