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When Women Were Birds

When Women Were Birds

Fifty-four Variations on Voice

Book - 2012 | 1st ed
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The author's mother told her that the journals she was leaving must not be opened until after death. Her mother was one of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Utah. It was a shock to the author to discover that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as what she found when the time came to read them. In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, the author creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals, and what it means to have a voice beyond a selfless existence informed by children and a husband.
Publisher: New York : Sarah Crichton Books, ©2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374288976
Call Number: 508.0922 W7276w 2012
Characteristics: 208 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm


From Library Staff

In chapter 7, a praying mantis makes it way down the author's glass, across the table and onto this book.

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Jan 07, 2021

Amazing book, definitely worth a read!!

LPL_IanS Jan 07, 2020

Tempest Williams wrestles with stories her mother chose not to tell in this meditation on grief, womanhood, and voice. Told in fifty-four “Variations” that are usually no more than a few pages each, the book is well thought out and beautifully written.

Read if you like: deep dives into a topic, thoughtful and poetic writing

Jan 02, 2020

This quasi-memoir, quasi-nature writing, quasi-philosophical ruminations on her family history and female experience is made up of fifty-four (you could probably guess that part) vignettes of varying length. The thread throughout is the journals Williams inherited from her mother, a refrain: “My mother left me her journals, and all her journals were blank.”, a mystery Williams spends the book not necessarily trying to solve—she knows from the start that she won’t find a cut-and-dried answer—but perhaps make some sense of. Though that’s the thread she keeps coming back to, she weaves in a number of other recurring themes, including her lifelong fascination with birds, her relationship with her husband, and the importance of introducing children to environmentalism with joy and nuance. All the themes build and rest on each other, and the complete book is a masterpiece.

AnnabelleLee27 Nov 15, 2017

Williams' haunting memoir exploring voice, silence, and relationship written across 54 essays. Her prose is poetic and evocative as she moves elegantly across a range of topics and through time and space; sometimes poignant, sometimes shocking, but always insightful and rich.

Aug 27, 2016

Terry Tempest Williams is a beautiful writer. I love her style of writing.

Aug 17, 2012

I can't think of an author with more heart evident on the page than Terry Tempest Williams. Beautiful prose, as expected.


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Sep 08, 2013

My Mother's Journals are theatrical. [...] My Mother's Journals are a transgression. My Mother's Journals are a scandal of white. My Mother's Journals are a "harmony of silence.

Sep 08, 2013

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.


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