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When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice | [Terry Tempest Williams]

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

Terry Tempest Williams's mother told her: "I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won't look at them until after I'm gone." Fans of Williams's iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was a member of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams that her mother had kept journals. But not as much of a shock as what she found when the time came to read them.
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Publisher's Summary

The beloved author of Refuge returns with a work that explodes and startles, illuminates and celebrates.

Terry Tempest Williams's mother told her: "I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won't look at them until after I'm gone."

Fans of Williams's iconic and unconventional memoir, Refuge, well remember that mother. She was a member of a large Mormon clan in northern Utah who developed cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in nearby Nevada. It was a shock to Williams 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.

They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful cloth-bound books.... "I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It too was empty.... Shelf after shelf after shelf, all of my mother's journals were blank."

What did Williams's mother mean by that? In 54 chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother's journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question "What does it mean to have a voice?"

©2012 Terry Tempest Williams (P)2012 Wind Over The Earth

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  •  
    E CHICAGO, IL, United States 07-03-12
    E CHICAGO, IL, United States 07-03-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Amazing Story, Amazing Voice"

    This book is amazing, and even better when read in the author's own voice. From the opening chapter, which introduces the haunting image of the dozens of blank journals the author's mother left to her after her death, to the final chapter as Williams finally comes to terms with this act, the book is a tour de force which leaves the listener breathless. Williams delves into her life with a kind of courage few people possess. From her family's proud Mormon pioneer history, to her own bird watching childhood, from the early days of her marriage to her later years as an environmental activist, Williams reveals powerful scenes from her life, seamlessly laced with her own musings, which all add up to a portrait of a remarkable woman.
    Though the book is intensely personal, it is not a memoir; the title, Fifty-four Variations on Voice, is very appropriate. What binds its fifty-four chapters together is the issue of voice: What does it mean to have a voice? What does it mean to lack a voice? How does someone find their voice? How do women find their voice? How does one speak for the people or places or things which cannot speak for themselves? Every anecdote, every fact, every philosophical reflection eventually relates back to these problems. With her mother's blank journals as a focal point, Williams dives into this issue of voice with an openness and passion.
    Given this emphasis on voice, it is highly appropriate that this book become an audiobook. The considerations of voice become all the more meaningful when one hears them read in the author's own voice.
    What's more, Williams's voice as she reads is positively mesmerizing. Commanding yet soft-spoken, at times she sounds like Scheherazade, spinning a forbidden tale; other times she is the voice of a wise elder sharing deep secrets; at some moments she even takes on the role of an activist raising a call to arms. Yet throughout the book she maintains a tranquility, a thoughtfulness, that invites the reader to join her in the private meditations of her soul. Her calm, measured voice makes it seem as though she is weighing each word again before she speaks it aloud, and this gives each word a weight and a magical quality that makes the whole book come alive. In this way, her rendition becomes a towering example of what can happen when a person sets out to find a voice, and the audiobook becomes evidence of the success of her own quest.
    As Williams says in Chapter 9 about her experiences in speech therapy as a child, "My task was to honor the power of each word by delivering it as beautifully as I could." Listeners to this audiobook will find she has more than succeeded.

    22 of 23 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P. Bergh NH 03-24-13
    P. Bergh NH 03-24-13 Member Since 2004

    There's always time for reading

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    "A story for all daughters"

    I read this as a fan of TTW, not expecting much... after all, it was a book about women and I am a guy. Within minutes, I was drawn in deeply. Ms. Williams shares what it means to be a daughter, a woman, a wife, a child of LDS upbringing, a writer, a birder in a way that is magical. Her writing, as always, is lyrical and thoughtful--improved on this audio version by her own reading. I plan to buy copies of this book for the women in my life for mothers day.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deborah AVONDALE ESTATES, GA, United States 11-02-12
    Deborah AVONDALE ESTATES, GA, United States 11-02-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Following her voice in flight"
    What did you love best about When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice?

    Vast and yet compact story of a Utah naturalist who writes like a poet.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The writer, storyteller and narrator--all Terry Tempest Williams--shares that world of birds and wilderness. And humanity's place within this realm.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The entire book is indivisible. The entire book is compelling, written graciously though at times irascible--cranky even while still engaging.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I realized at the end of this book that I would love to read it again.


    Any additional comments?

    Have already secured copies as gifts for friends.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donna Golden, CO, United States 04-09-14
    Donna Golden, CO, United States 04-09-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Listening is not enough"

    After listening to the beginning of this book on audio, I bought a copy to reread at night. The prose are so beautiful, many pages more like poetry, that I needed to hear and see the words. I plan to buy multiple copies of this book and audio to give to friends.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B. Benson Boulder, CO 09-17-12
    B. Benson Boulder, CO 09-17-12
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    "Awesome book!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice to be better than the print version?

    I did not read the printed version - although I plan to. This is a book I want in my library - to have it handy to look at and refer to when I want to. There are so many passages that I want to remember - this book has impacted my life in ways that I'll be unpackaging for a long time.


    What does Terry Tempest Williams bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Having an author read their own work is so wonderful - you feel the heart and passion as they read the words. It's like sitting across the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a good friend - a very wise friend.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I would have loved to listen to it in one sitting, but there is also joy in putting it down and delighting in the anticipation of beginning the story where you left off. I looked forward to getting back to the book. When the end of the story came, it felt like a perfect ending. I sighed and appreciated the heartfelt prose. But started looking for the next Terry Tempest Williams book to explore.


    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Twin Falls, ID, United States 09-11-12
    Michael Twin Falls, ID, United States 09-11-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Every Women should Read this!!!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    A lovely book. read by the author. Williams weaves her love of nature, her family history and the power of women together into a story that anyone who love, especially if you live in the West, have been touched by cancer or want an inspiring listen to make your day.


    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary Hodkins Paonia, CO 09-10-12
    Mary Hodkins Paonia, CO 09-10-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Riveting and Provacative"
    What made the experience of listening to When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice the most enjoyable?

    Listening to Terry narrate the books was as enjoyable as the story itself. Her voice is velvet, and her intonations enhance the whole experience, which is almost dream-like. The repetition of her line "My mother's journals are..." became almost a mantra as she gave voice to the many shades of meaning of the journals. I listened to this book on a road trip of 2 days, and it made the many miles just melt away with her deep explorations of self and metaphor.


    Any additional comments?

    This book is a deep meditation, as well as a many-layered exploration of women's issues and relationships. It is a must-read for any woman contemplating the meaning of her life. After hearing the audio book, I want to sit down and read the book myself for further understandings. This will be one of my permanent additions to my library.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeannie Holden Virginia 12-19-12
    Jeannie Holden Virginia 12-19-12 Member Since 2011

    Jeannie

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    "compelling and creative"
    Would you consider the audio edition of When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice to be better than the print version?

    I am a big Terry Tempest Williams fan, this audio was excellant. In fact, I just bought the book so I can savour the words and read it slowly with more contemplation. Her ability to describe her life, her mother's journals are exquisite. I highly recommend this audio and thoroughly enjoy Terry as the narrator.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The realism. The flow of the book. The use of the written word to "make me see and feel".


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    This book made me think about my relationship with my mother and my relationship with my daughter. In many instances I could stand in her shoes as if they were my own.


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matt Anchorage, AK, United States 10-15-12
    Matt Anchorage, AK, United States 10-15-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Terry does it again"
    Would you consider the audio edition of When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice to be better than the print version?

    Yes. Terry's voice and emotion moves you to tears at times. It feels as if she is speaking to you


    What about Terry Tempest Williams’s performance did you like?

    Her presence in itself. Her voice, her honestly, her pace,... Everything about the way she reads captures your heart and keeps you hostage until the end. Two days later I'm still under her spell in the best way possible.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I cried


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommend it.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Desiree KNOXVILLE, TN, United States 09-16-12
    Desiree KNOXVILLE, TN, United States 09-16-12

    Love to read memoirs and tales of life's many journeys. Words have the power to transform our lives!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A wonderful story, the truth behind women!"
    Which scene was your favorite?

    I placed so many bookmarks throughout it is impossible to pick a favorite!


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I wanted to sit and listen to the whole thing at once but this isn't a book to read while performing everyday activities. It requires thoughtful insight and reflection. I have a better understanding of self and women around me after reading this. Thank you Terry Tempest Williams!


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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