When Women Were Birds

Fifty-Four Variations on Voice

by Terry Tempest Williams

Paperback, 228 pages, St Martins Press, List Price: $15 | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
When Women Were Birds
Subtitle
Fifty-Four Variations on Voice
Author
Terry Tempest Williams

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Other editions available for purchase:

Hardcover, 208 pages, Farrar Straus & Giroux, $23, published April 10 2012 | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
When Women Were Birds
Subtitle
Fifty-Four Variations on Voice
Author
Terry Tempest Williams

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Book Summary

After her mother's death, Terry Tempest Williams was shocked to find that, of all the journals her mother had left her, three shelves' worth were blank. Williams meditates on the meaning of that strange legacy in When Women Were Birds.

Read an excerpt of this book

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: When Women Were Birds

Chapter 1

I AM FIFTY-FOUR YEARS OLD, the age my mother was when she died. This is what I remember: We were lying on her bed with a mohair blanket covering us. I was rubbing her back, feeling each vertebra with my fingers as a rung on a ladder. It was January, and the ruthless clamp of cold bore down on us outside. Yet inside, Mother's tenderness and clarity of mind carried its own warmth. She was dying in the same way she was living, consciously.

"I am leaving you all my journals," she said, facing the shuttered window as I continued rubbing her back. "But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone."

I gave her my word. And then she told me where they were. I didn't know my mother kept journals.

A week later she died. That night, there was a full moon encircled by ice crystals.

On the next full moon I found myself alone in the family home. I kept expecting Mother to appear. Her absence became her presence. It was the right time to read her journals. They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful clothbound books; some floral, some paisley, others in solid colors. The spines of each were perfectly aligned against the lip of the shelves. I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It, too, was empty, as was the fourth, the fifth, the sixth—shelf after shelf after shelf, all my mother's journals were blank.

From WHEN WOMEN WERE BIRDS by Terry Tempest Williams. Copyright 2012 by Terry Tempest Williams. Excerpted by permission of St. Martins Press.