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Cover of Violation

Sallie Tisdale


  • nonfiction / essays
  • ISBN 978-0-9904370-8-6

Sallie Tisdale is the author of seven books on such varied subjects as medical technology, her pioneer ancestors, and Buddhist women teachers. Her many essays have appeared in Harper’s, Conjunctions, The New Yorker, Antioch Review, Threepenny Review, and many other journals. This first collection of work spans thirty years, and includes an introduction and brief epilogues to each essay.  Tisdale’s questing curiosity pursues subjects from the biology of flies to the experience of working in an abortion clinic, why it is so difficult to play sports with men, and whether it’s possible for writers to tell the truth. She restlessly returns to themes of the body, the family, and how we try to explain ourselves to each other. She is unwilling to settle for easy answers, and finds the ambiguity and wonder underneath ordinary events. The collection includes a recent essay, never before published, about the mystery of how we present ourselves to each other and whether it is possible to know even our own inner lives.


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Praise for Violation

I’ve long admired Sallie Tisdale’s essays, and this collection brandishes her impressive strengths: she’s complicit without being woebegone, she’s philosophical without being windy or airy, and she’s empathetic without being hand-wringing.

David Shields
Author of Life Is Short --Art Is Shorter: In Praise of Brevity

Sallie Tisdale possesses one of the most companionable and inquisitive voices in contemporary American nonfiction. She is guided by a restless, humane intelligence.  And her range!  Who else can write about Moray eels and obscene phone calls, about the harrowing work of firefighters and the dreamy effects of laughing gas, all the while unearthing the deeper meanings of the world around us?  Mortality, desire, love, loss: these are Tisdale’s underlying subjects, and in Violation, she brings them to life with bracing clarity and unfailing insight.

Bernard Cooper
Author of The Bill From My Father

In essay, memoir, and literary journalism, Sallie Tisdale writes with fierce and finely-tuned attention to what she calls “ordinary things, the journey of grime and wonder through the world.”  Abortion, elephants, female identity, family history, eating and dieting, her Buddhist view of living and dying, her work as an oncology nurse, the ethics of writing nonfiction—whatever her focus, she is never content with an easy resolution or anything less than the most nuanced, most honest, most finely-crafted account she is capable of.  Readers may not always agree with her, but they will know they’ve been in the company of an articulate intelligence thinking out loud in graceful and incisive prose.

John Daniel
Author of Rogue River Journal and Looking After

That Sallie Tisdale’s a treasure comes as no secret to lovers of the essay, and yet this happy gathering that spans the decades is revelatory, a fascinating look at the epic wanderings of a life mapped by curiosity. Here we get elephants and houseflies, diets and fires, birth and the debris of death, all the mixed and messy vitality of family life. We travel far and we travel wide, but in the end we circle home to Tisdale herself, vulnerable and available, intimate and encouraging, our guide and our friend, her questioning presence lighting the way and celebrating it all, every little step in life’s saga, one lovely sentence at a time.

Charles D'Ambrosio
Author of Loitering: New and Collected Essays

Sallie Tisdale’s Violation is a writer’s bible and a reader’s best friend. Bold and wise, galvanizing and grounding, Tisdale’s essays are propulsive and frightening in their poignance and content. This is the essay collection you’ll want to have with you on that hypothetical desert island.

Chloe Caldwell
Author of Legs Get Led Astray and Women

Sallie Tisdale is the real thing, a writer who thinks like a philosopher, observes like a journalist and sings on the page like a poet; in other words, the consummate and perfect essayist. She knocked my socks off when I first discovered her decades ago and now, reading this collection, I realize I haven’t found them since. Violation contains important work from an important writer. I’m so glad it’s out in the world.

Meghan Daum
Author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

I read Sallie Tisdale and within a few sentences I am under her spell. It matters not whether she’s writing about the tyranny of weight loss, the startling lives of blow flies, or what it’s like to work in an oncology ward (she is a dedicated nurse as well as a brilliant writer), I’m all in, all the time. I will go anywhere she wants to take me. An alternate image—climbing into a submarine with Tisdale at the controls and diving down down down, into her singular sensibility, her genius for language, her love of our deeply imperfect world.

Karen Karbo
Author of Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life

Compassion and empathy inform these gracefully wrought essays.


Throughout the collection, an ethos of self-effacement and clear-eyed commitment to her subjects seems to embody this tenet, even though Tisdale knows that writing and self-effacement are mutually exclusive. Nothing is objective, no matter how hard she labors to make it seem so. She is haunted by her failures of truth and objectivity. “Only I know how carefully I’ve held the light so that the shadows fall just so,” she says. “Artlessness is one of the most difficult effects of all.”

Katie Pelletier, The Portland Mercury

Sallie Tisdale’s lovely essays shouldn’t exist given that they perfectly capture the impossibility of writing.

Katy Waldman, Slate

The “perfume” of Sallie Tisdale’s work will be enticing to all readers enamored of the essay form.

Lee Polevoi, Foreword Reviews

Groundbreaking essays… A career-defining book.

Laura Marsh, The New Yorker

Violation, a career-spanning essay collection…this is a goldmine, a windfall of finely-tuned essays that manage to maintain a certain spontaneity. The title essay, and the book’s centerpiece, is perhaps among the greatest essays about truth in nonfiction ever written.

Joshua James Amberson

Her sentences are astounding, somehow elegant and earthy both. An essay is a place to spend time in somebody else’s head listening to their thoughts, and Tisdale’s mind is a fascinating place to be.

Rebecca Hussey, Bookriot

Portland writer Sally Tisdale is one of Oregon’s true literary treasures.

Oregon Public Broadcasting, Think Out Loud