When a woman author is wedded to words, the result is a thing of beauty. When Women Were Birds is the best book of any genre that I’ve read in the past five years. I was captivated from the very first page. The reading experience was like taking a tour through nature and lurking within the depths of an artists imagination all at the same time.
I’m not a big reader of the memoir or auto biography genre, but I was inspired to read Terry Tempest Williams after hearing an interview she did with travel journalist, Rick Steves. The interview started out with Ms. Williams thanking Rick for the advice to young adventurers, that they should keep a journal while traveling. This opened the door for a well thought out discussion of this book.
In the opening chapter, Williams, having grown up in a Mormon family, reveals that Mormon women are raised with two responsibilities; to bare children and to keep a journal. Ms. Williams’s discovered that the journals her mother had left for her on her passing were mysteriously empty. She believed the mystery to have been a message from her mother to seek her voice. Each of the fifty-four chapters of this work touches on the main theme of finding ones voice. Williams structured this memoir in a series of vignettes that explore this theme. Woven into them is the relationship the author has to the environment and she bares her soul while sharing her thoughts on finding voice. She grew up with a field guide to birds and throughout this work relates the birdsong and the quiet in between, to her personal experiences of learning to listen while discovering what it is to become empowered.
Though Ms. Williams did not read from When Women Were Birds, during her interview with Mr. Steves, I could hear her voice throughout each of the chapters as I read them. Beginning with the first chapter after sharing her discovery of the empty journals, she offers, “Empty pages become possibilities.” In another of the early chapters she shares her thoughts on marriage and the different roles of men and women. She states “If a man knew what a woman never forgets, he would love her differently.” These sentences are brief but thoughtful and evoke unexpected emotions.
This book is not a work to rush through, it is a short work you’ll want to think about as you read each passage. I’m eager to read the other works by Terry Tempest Williams and am also pleased to find that there is an audio version of When Women Were Birds, narrated by Ms. Williams. I’m anticipating that hearing Ms. Williams sharing her journey of finding voice will be even more beautiful than reading about it.