When Women Were Birds



This little treasure arrived to me in the mail. Unless some magical bird delivered it, I believe it was from my book swap buddy. This was the first time I participated in the mail version of book swap. If it weren’t for the emailing and exchanging of addresses, it’s a surprisingly anonymous process. I don’t think my sender’s name was anywhere on the package…which gives me so many exciting ideas of mailing surprises to people.

I actually finished this book last week, but hadn’t had a chance to share. This book as an object is quite inviting. It’s compact size, a smaller paperback, was more than manageable. As an artist I am somewhat of a paper snob, so admittedly sometimes I get turned off by the poor tactile quality of rough paper. These pages were nice, the jagged sized edges made it seem softer, imitating the feathers of a bird, and her use of negative pages was an effective storytelling device.

To backtrack, the author writes,

“My mother left me her journals, and all her journals were blank.”

What continues is more than 200 pages of musings of what her mother’s blank journals could be. As I flip open a random page, some examples listed:

“My Mother’s Journals are

…a transgression

…a scandal of white

…a harmony of silence.”

Each reflection is tied to a personal story of the author or as with the above case comparison to art. The blankness of the journals are akin to the whiteness of a series of paintings by Robert Rauschenberg and the seemingly silent piece 4’33 composed by John Cage. Where Rauschenburg discussed the ever-changing shadows on the canvas as the work of art, and Cage talked of the atmospheric sounds/audience stirs as the music, Terry Tempest Williams has her mother’s blank journals as a framework for her memoir. Interwoven with her love of nature and bird watching, she recounts memories of her life and of her mother’s life. If I had to categorize this book, I would call it a “poetic memoir”, a departure from my usual reading of “humorous memoir”, but enjoyable just the same.

Thank you Nadia for this great book!

4 comments on “When Women Were Birds”

  1. I love your appreciation for the physicality of books– I find myself the same, but am bothered by hardbacks often, especially for longer reads. I find them so cumbersome and bulky (this really refers to novels or nonfiction– anything that you read ‘cover to cover’ let’s say). I will even wait for a softcover to come out sometimes!

    And aside, sounds like a provocative find– from the arrival to the reading!


  2. This is such a great book, I actually own two copies- I have the one with the nice paper that you mention, and also a regular hardcover that I could not resist snatching up at a used book sale. I have not read the hardcover version (I know it is the same content!)- and wonder if the experience might shift reading it an a physically different format….. In any case, I picked up the extra copy in case I ever came across someone that I thought might appreciate it- for now, it is still on my shelf- but I am sure I will find a happy recipient at some point!

    And I love your description of this as a “poetic memoir”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s