Saturday, July 16, 2016

Terry Tempest Williams: When Women Were Birds

It happened again; I found an amazing book. When I picked it up I had no idea it was such a treasure. And it wasn't.

When Women Were Birds:
Fifty-Four Variations
of Voice

By Terry Tempest Williams

I am leaving you all my journals, but you must promise me you won't look at them until after I'm gone.

This is what Terry Tempest Williams' mother told Terry just a week before she died. Terry's mother left her three shelves worth of personal journals. When Terry's mother died Terry discovered that the shelves of journals were all blank. This memoir is Terry's exploration of voice and what it means to have voice.

While I was reading I couldn't stop highlighting. The beautiful words, the contemplation, the questions, the poetry, the lyrical meditation on what it means that her mother's journals are empty, what it means to have a voice, what it means to find beauty in the world.

As it happens, we all have to fight for our voices, men and women. This book is a call to finding your own voice. You won't be able to help yourself. You will be drawn in for many of the fifty-four chapters and you will be grateful for it. Terry Tempest Williams truly has a voice worth listening to.

I highlighted hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of words in the first half of this book. Words, voice, speaking out. Terry Tempest Williams is a woman who learned that speaking out was essential, and so she spoke out in this beautiful book.

The beginning of the book, Tempest's writing is like poetry or prose. Lyrical and stunning and meaningful and personal, clean and pure, philosophical. It is like a delicious buffet of ideas and rich flavors. If only she had stuck with the subject of her lessons and relationship with her mother.

Somewhere part way through the entire feel of the book changed and I started wondering what I was reading. About half way through I realized that I was reading a memoir of a woman with an ecological message, and that she was trying to combine her  emotional processes of her relationship with her mother and the struggle to protect millions of Utah acres. This is when the confusion came for me...and when I realized that the book was a bit of a scrapbook. It became uneven, meandering, a bit too much. At times, I felt as if her voice veered off as the book would weave into pompous effluent feminist, ecological and political issues and falls just short of becoming too false to me. Although I personally agree with the some of her opinions (who wouldn't want to protect the beautiful topography of Utah) the writing loses it's compelling key. 

The cry for the National Parks in Utah almost killed the book for me, truly felt like an entirely separate book. But I stuck with it for the beautiful parts. And that is why I give this book a very strong seven stars.

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