Customer Reviews


136 Reviews
5 star:
 (94)
4 star:
 (25)
3 star:
 (10)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (4)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


108 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Women Were Birds, What were men?
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...
Published on April 10, 2012 by Westword

versus
50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Get to Know Williams Before Reading This Memoir
"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...
Published on April 3, 2012 by emmejay


‹ Previous | 1 214 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

108 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Women Were Birds, What were men?, April 10, 2012
By 
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


86 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most powerful book in decades, March 16, 2012
By 
David Seaman (New York and Boston) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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. I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It, too, was empty, as was the fourth, the fifth, the sixth--shelf after shelf after shelf, all my mother's journals were blank." Then there are twelve blank pages before Chapter Two begins.

What does it mean to have a voice?
"In Mormon culture, women are expected to do two things: keep a journal and bear children."

The physics of sound are such that three elements are required to make sound: something must create a vibration which creates a sound wave. The sound wave must then be picked up by a receiver, such as an ear or a recording device. If a tree falls in the woods and there is nothing there to hear it, there will be no sound at all. There are many loud voices in our world but none of them are heard. (All of my Mothers' journals are blank.) "When Women Were Birds" is, in part, a book about a woman's quest to find and define her voice. Ms Williams does this with a whisper. There is no blame; the experienced pain has been weighed, applied as a spiritual lesson and expressed so as to benefit our experience. Alice Parker once said, "To be certain that someone will listen you must sing softly with intensity." This is just her voice, years in the making, using our own history and human experience to suggest the ways in which we can find our own voice.

Where women are concerned, and in Williams' case, a Mormon woman, finding her voice was a quest because All of her mothers' journals were blank; This was a message, of some kind, directly from her mother to her. All of the fifty-four variations on voice speak of just about any issue. We join Williams in jail, incarcerated but still human. We join her as the victim of a violent crime. Still, we move on. We join her in the choice to break from Orthodoxy by taking birth control, and the pain that this choice would bring. We join her in serious, life threatening illness, the downs within a four decade marriage, the fight against the system and a male dominated board room. All of these elements of life lead to the voice.

What does it mean to have a voice?

Williams writes, `In my remaining days in the Sawtooths I wanted to tell someone, anyone, what had happened. I wanted to speak. I wanted to say how scared I was, how I was almost murdered... and it wasn't my fault, but I didn't believe it. I believed it was my fault. I betrayed my instincts. My body tried to warn me. The owl tried to warn me. But I ignored them all and walked past my intuition. When one woman doesn't speak, other women get hurt."

When one woman doesn't speak, another woman gets hurt. This is something to which we can all connect. Men and women alike, though most of us are intruded upon in regard to sexual abuse, but we all know what it means to stifle our own voice as we weigh the horror of what has occurred with the horror of what talking about it will be; we will relive the trauma and we will place ourselves and our humiliation upon a stage, lit brightly enough so that we will have no shadow and the opinions and voices of anyone who chooses can be sent our way, like a flaming arrow. This is why we battle the age old fear of using our voice in this manner. And Terry Tempest Williams is right: When one woman [or child or man] doesn't speak, another woman [or child or man] gets hurt. Williams takes responsibility for her own actions and does not judge those of us who made the same choice (and statistically that's one out of five of us) though as we think about her choice, we feel a little less alone in our own place. This is possible only because Williams choice, at last, to use her own voice.

What does it mean to have a voice?

It unites us it breaks down the walls between us; it allows us to see inside the world of another culture (it does not have to be the Mormons); it forces us to think about our own voice while respecting the voices of others. But there is no book that will help you understand your voice. You will need to take your own journey. And as a 25 year old you looked ahead at your life: the world was a blank page of possibility (just like her mother's journals) but at 25 we do not realize how quickly that life and that page will fill itself. Whether you are fifteen years old and looking ahead or sixty five and looking back, "When Women Were Birds" is a book that you must read. It's almost an obligation as a member of the race, a member of our country, a member of your gender, a member of your family and a piece of the chain of life that extends from before we know in our past all the way into the future of what is a mystery.

Our voice is important because it's a piece of the mystery that connects us. We are part of a chain of life that seeks to improve the quality of life for those who are in their present. Our voices are our legacy to them. Our obligation to our children, whether we chose to have our own or not: the unknown child who swings in the park on your street is also your child.

See? I promised you that I didn't have the words to convey the message behind this remarkable book. In part that is because each of us will have a different message. It is my prayer that I was able to convey the importance of this book so that you will read it yourself because why take my word for it? Read her words yourself. I choose to use my voice to encourage you to experience an emotional and spiritual journey more important than any of your life. This journey includes the way that her book turn into a flip book where a single bird approaches you then flies away over the two hundred pages; it includes many blank pages throughout for us to fill ourselves. These tools are there to make us stop and slowly ponder. We cannot find our voice or listen to the voice of others when we are moving as fast as our lives make us believe we need to move. We will not find the voice of God in heavy traffic.

James Lapin and Stephen Sondheim opened their musical, "Sunday In The Park With George" with these words and remarkable music, "White. A blank page or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole. Through design. Composition. Balance, Light, and harmony." And a Pulitzer Prize winning musical blooms like a flower beneath us.

Williams uses her voice both literally and as a metaphor. I was reminded of an important piece by the quintessential voice, Robert Frost, in his poem, "Choose Something Like a Star." "And steadfast as Keats "Eremite'/ Not even stopping from its sphere / It asks a little of us here / it asks of us a certain height / So when at times the mob is swayed/ to carry praise or blame too far / we may choose something like a star / to stay our minds on / and be staid."

Sometimes the only way to find our voice is to remain perfectly silent and listen to the voice of others: our parents, our grandparents, our children, the wind, the birds, the very voice of God. To do so, one must be very silent, still; /one must be staid. And then one can hear the multitudes of voices and be able to add ours to it. It won't be with trumpets blaring and canons blasting, but rather with a whisper. I would like nothing more than to learn that Terry Tempest Williams' book, "When Women Were Birds" is as big as Stephen King's "Carrie", Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code" or Jacqueline Suzanne's "Valley of The Dolls." This would mean that so many people will have lived the experience that I did. Should that not happen, it was with full sincerity and gratitude that I offer my thanks to Terry Tempest Williams as her book, with its power to change the world, has certainly changed mine.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Get to Know Williams Before Reading This Memoir, April 3, 2012
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favorite Mormon, February 29, 2012
By 
Yours Truly (New York, New York USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate writing prompt, June 1, 2012
By 
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Scattering, June 7, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice (Paperback)
Frankly, I don't know how to describe my feelings about this book. I knew how I felt at the beginning. I fell in love with the poetic and philosophical first steps, the empty pages reflecting the silence of the journals of the author's mother. How daring, how true, I thought. How whimsical. What an adventure this is going to be. And in a way, Williams does take me into some epopee. From one chapter to the next, I don't know where I am going to go or where I am going to land. While the language is always clean and simple--and when at its best, pure-- the author's mind travels from the abstract and complex to the tactile and familiar, and back. There are descriptions of nature, of difficult and/or colorful personalities as well as references to thinkers like Barthes and Cixous. It is a bit like a buffet of tastes and ideas. It reminds me somewhat of Rousseau and his mind wanderings, for When Women Were Birds is also impregnated with ecology. Unlike Rousseau, however, Williams puts her money where her mouth is.

Although it is presented with numbered chapters, its eclectic content reads like a journal. And I wish it had been called so. When Women Were Birds, A Journal by Terry Tempest Williams. Or: When Women Were Birds, A Mind Voyage by Terry Tempest Williams. When Women Were Birds, Fifty-Four Variations on Voice leads to confusion. I'll tell you why in a moment.

Here and there, Williams attempts to unify the book with two basic themes: giving women a voice; extracting the meaning of her mother's empty journals. In her attempts to give women a voice, she fails because that's not what the book is about. Furthermore, these returns, as in the recapitulations from the movements of a sonata (and she refers to music as well), are occasionally discordant. Her variations are not so much variations as they are separations.

This is a book not so much about giving a voice to others as it is about re-defining one's own. Her own. In her attempt to fill out her mother's blank pages, to give these pages a reason to be, she has spent time in the desert, somewhat lost. This is a book about seeking, not finding. We all face empty pages, existential pain. And Birds is ultimately a treaty about existential pain--albeit accompanied with a very real, brain related angst, as the author explains. Even the title reflects a wound, a damaged --or broken?--wing.

Although the prose is in itself highly pleasurable as well as profound for the most part, I wouldn't recommend this to the confused person trying to find her way and her voice, for this might confuse her further. Like the bird who skips here and there, flies from one tree to the next, sings now and stays quiet a minute later, the writing is graceful, beautiful scattering. But it is still scattering.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Like It Enough to Love It Nor Dislike It Enough to Hate It, March 19, 2012
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams begins with the author discovering that the fifty-four journals her mother collected in her lifetime, bequeathed to the author when her mother was dying, are all blank. Pages and pages of white, empty, wordless journals.

From here, Williams begins a poetic meditation on the meaning of words, of voice, of what it means to be a mother, a daughter, and upon what it means that her mother collected these blank books, left these books blank, and then made a point of leaving them to her daughter. There is an incantatory quality to the text, which is strongest when it is a meditative memoir, weaving from moment to moment, leaning heavily on metaphor in searching for meaning.

Unfortunately, there are parts of the memoir which are less meditative and feel almost dumped into the book. The tone is wrong, evocatively different from the over-riding theme. What starts as a personal reflection strives to become universal with Williams interjecting ecological and social issues. Because they are not infused into the text, not given a tighter context, the connections are loose and I felt left adrift by the promise the author made in the first few chapters. Although she does return to the more poetic even mysterious incantatory rhetoric, the faith I had was lost. It was as if she promised to fill the pages of her mother's journals and decided to leave them blank and then invited me to read over her shoulder as she wrote.

Perhaps that is her intention, to offer so many different "voices" that the reader is bound to find one they like. I think that the author would have done herself and the idea a greater service if she had waited, written more, many more, too many more variations so that when it came time to find the fifty-four she would commit to producing a single volume of text, she would have been able to maintain an emotional and spiritual integrity which this book simply lacks.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blank Journals That are Filled by a Daughter's Love, February 24, 2012
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Terry Tempest Williams is one of my favorite writers. I've heard her speak in Alaska and her love and advocacy for the wilderness comes across in every book of hers that I've read. When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice is no exception.

After Ms. Williams' mother died at 54, she bequeathed her journals to Terry. When Terry looked at these years of journals, all of them were empty. Being a Mormon, her mother had two distinct obligations as a woman - to bear children and to keep a journal. "Both gestures are a participatory bow to the past and the future. In telling a story, personal knowledge and continuity is maintained." "I am her daughter and I am in love with words." What is to be made of the fact that these journals are all blank? As Ms. Williams says, "In the emptiness of this beloved landscape that has embraced me all my life, I hold my mother's journals as another paradox, journals without words that create a narrative of the imagination. My mother's gift is a mystery." Ms. Williams' book tries to rewrite these journals and fill in the mystery of the blank pages, living out her life and her mother's in a wilderness of creativity, love and healing.

Like the other women in her family, Ms. Williams' mother died early of breast cancer at the age of 54. She was diagnosed with the disease at 38 and given two years to live. Ms. Williams calls her family 'down-winders', catching the wind from the Nevada nuclear experiments that caused heavy radiation fall-out in Utah. Ms. Williams' mother lived until her youngest son was 20, using her strength, tenacity and will to prove the doctors' claims false.

Ms. Williams is a writer. "Mormon women write. This is what we do, we write for posterity, noting the daily happening of our lives. Keeping a journal is keeping a record. And I have hundreds of them, hundreds of journals filled with feathers, flowers, photographs and words." "Yet the emptiness of my mother's journals carries the weight of a question, many questions. My Mother's Journals are an interrogation."

Ms. Williams describes her words as birds flying out of her mouth. She lives to write. She writes about the landscape, the wilderness, her advocacy work for the wilderness and her family. She puzzles constantly over her mother's journals trying to make peace with their emptiness. "My mother was a great reader. She left me her journals, and all her journals were blank. I believe she wanted them read. How do I read them now?" 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.

This is a beautiful book, both memoir and essay, showing the values of Ms. Williams' life and her attempts to live her life with her values as her priority. She is a genuine person of deep beliefs and passions, someone for whom the world is a spiritual place of beauty and horror. It is in wilderness and nature that Ms. Williams finds her spirituality and love for life. This is a book that is a must-read for its beauty and wealth.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Women Were Birds, April 8, 2013
This review is from: When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice (Paperback)
This is a gem of a book, so small it can fit in the palm of your hand. But the size is deceptive, given the depth and power of its words.

Written by Terry Tempest Williams at age 54, the age her mother was when she died, the book was prompted by a single statement: "I'm leaving you my journals - but don't read them until after I'm gone." In Mormon culture, it was mandatory to keep a journal. I'm not sure why - perhaps writing was seen as a form of religious experience? But Williams' mother was a renegade because - get this - she left every single one of her journals blank.

As Williams turns blank page after blank page, she struggles to understand what her mother meant by it. After all it's not just one journal in question but shelves of them! She stares at the books, spines facing out, devoid of words, and begins to deliberate the possibilities. Her soulful meditation on the subject is a rhapsody of prose - some of it stream of consciousness, some of it blunt and deliberate statements, all of leading back to the mystery of her mother's intent.

In these pages you will find thoughts on womanhood, autonomy, motherhood, feminism, democracy, writing, love, marriage - yes, the entirety of our life experience. In some parts the author does seem to come on a little strong - part of me feels like she never emerged from 1960s feminism, still as militant and resentful as ever. And it was off-putting. Not because I didn't agree with her views but because her opinion reads as fact. Still this is a book about voice, so it's no surprise that Williams overly asserts hers. And if it empowers other women to reach inside themselves and live more purposeful lives, then in fact this book has made a difference.

I know for a fact that it made a raw and lasting impression on one reader - who was so awed by the book she read it three times in a row! The woman is Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot, on the power of whose recommendation I read the book myself. Click here to read about her transcendental experience with When Women Were Birds. Her eloquent, deeply felt words will send you to the bookstore!
~Kelly Massry
[...]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy on the words, December 17, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I really wanted to love this book, but I found it over-wrought. Ms. Williams clearly loves words and clearly has a lot of outstanding and important ideas to communicate. However, sometimes it felt like toiling through molasses - too much richness, too many words, too self-indulgent (although that last fault was rare and may not be felt at all by other readers.) I will try some of her other writings, though, as she is indeed a voice.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 214 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams (Paperback - February 26, 2013)
$15.00 $12.21
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.