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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by…

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Jeanette Winterson

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1,330835,839 (4.07)202
Title:Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Authors:Jeanette Winterson
Info:Vintage (2012), Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:read in 2013, autobiography, 2010s, *GB literature

Work details

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (2011)

  1. 72
    Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (Anonymous user)
  2. 10
    Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron (librorumamans)
  3. 00
    Shimmer by Sarah Schulman (Philosofiction)
  4. 00
    Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day (sparemethecensor)
    sparemethecensor: Different subject matter but similar nonlinear styles and reflective prose.
  5. 00
    Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay (thorold)
    thorold: Scottish poet vs. Lancashire novelist in a race to discover their biological parents...
  6. 00
    Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Both writers survive fundamentalist childhoods and difficult young adulthoods to attain a measure of serenity in middle age.

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Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
My blog post about this book is at this link. ( )
  SuziQoregon | Jun 9, 2017 |
When love is unreliable and you are a child, you assume that it is the nature of love - its quality - to be unreliable. Children do not find fault with their parents until later. In the beginning the love you get is the love that sets.

Out of context, the above is a so-so quote, the prose beautiful but the sentiment unoriginal. In context, in the context of an abusive childhood, adopted by a virulently religious psychopath, in the context of trying to find love after being raised in such a toxic environment which inevitably damages your perception of healthy relationships, Winterson will crush you with this quote and many more in this memoir-of-sorts.

Prerequisite reading: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

Further readings: Woolf's Orlando and Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. ( )
1 vote kitzyl | Feb 25, 2017 |
A moving and raw story of abuse, relationships, and the lingering legacy of the past. Wonderful writing. ( )
  yvonnea | Jan 20, 2017 |
I love how she writes, and I loved hearing the stories behind her stories.


The pips – more money in the slot – and I’m thinking, as her voice goes in and out like the sea, ‘Why aren’t you proud of me?’
p. 4

I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.
p. 9

I asked my mother why we couldn't have books and she said, ‘The trouble with a book is that you never know what’s in it until it’s too late.’
I thought to myself, ‘Too late for what?’
I began to read books in secret – there was no other way – and every time I opened the pages, I wondered if this time it would be too late; a final draught (draft) that would change me forever, like Alice’s bottle, like the tremendous potion in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, like the mysterious liquid that seals the fate of Tristan and Isolde.
p. 33

I had no one to help me, but the T. S. Eliot helped me.
So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.
It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.
p. 40

A hatred made of coal, and burning low like coal, and fanned up every time there was another crime, another punishment.
p. 46

[S]he knew of a family whose youngest child had climbed into the fridge to play hide-and-seek, and frozen to death. They had to defrost the fridge to pry him out. After that the council took away the other children. I wondered why they didn’t just take away the fridge.
p. 55

Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home – they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and different kind of space.
There is a warmth there too – a hearth. I sit down with a book and I am warm. I know that from the chilly nights on the doorstep.
p. 61

I like it that pre-industrial societies, and religious cultures still, now, distinguish between two kinds of time – linear time, that is also cyclical because history repeats itself, even as it seems to progress, and real time, which is not subject to the clock or the calendar, and is where the soul used to live. This real time is reversible and redeemable. It is why, in religious rites of all kinds, something that happened once is re-enacted – Passover, Christmas, Easter, or, in the pagan record, Midsummer and the dying of the god. As we participate in the ritual, we step outside of linear time and enter real time.
Time is only truly locked when we live in a mechanised world. Then we turn into clock-watchers and time-servers. Like the rest of life, time becomes uniform and standardised.
p. 63

[The dress] had sweat pads sewn into the armpits the way they used to do before deodorant. You just washed out the pads along with your stockings at night.
p. 74

I am not a fan of supermarkets and I hate shopping there, even for things I can’t get elsewhere, like cat food and bin bags. A big part of my dislike of them is the loss of vivid life. The dull apathy of existence now isn’t just boring jobs and boring TV; it is the loss of vivid life on the streets; the gossip, the encounters, the heaving messy noisy day that made room for everyone, money or not. And if you couldn’t afford to heat your house you could just go into the market hall. Sooner or later somebody would buy you a cup of tea. That’s how it was.
p. 88

It seems so easy now to destroy libraries – mainly by taking away all the books – and to say that books and libraries are not relevant to people’s lives. There’s a lot of talk about social breakdown and alienation, but how can it be otherwise when our ideas of progress remove the centres that did so much to keep people together?
In the North people met in the church, in the pub, in the marketplace, and in those philanthropic buildings where they could continue their education and their interests. Now, maybe, the pub is left – but mainly nothing is left.
p. 90

The school song at Accrington High School for Girls was ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’, a terrible choice for an all-girls’ school, but one that helped turn me into a feminist. Where were the famous women – indeed any women – and why weren’t we praising them? I vowed to myself that I would be famous and that I would come back and be praised.
p. 98

The only time that Mrs Winterson liked to answer the door was when she knew that the Mormons were coming round. Then she waited in the lobby, and before they had dropped the knocker she had flung open the door waving her Bible and warning them of eternal damnation. This was confusing for the Mormons because they thought they were in charge of eternal damnation. But Mrs Winterson was a better candidate for the job.
p. 101

Reading things that are relevant to the facts of your life is of limited value. The facts are, after all, only the facts, and the yearning passionate part of you will not be met there. That is why reading ourselves as fiction as well as fact is so liberating. The wider we read the freer we become. Emily Dickinson barely left her homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts, but when we read ‘My life stood – a loaded gun’ we know have met an imagination that will detonate life, not decorate it.
p. 117

I was a woman. I was a working-class woman. I was a woman who wanted to love women without guilt or ridicule. Those three things formed the basis of my politics, not the unions, or class war as understood by the male Left.
The Left has taken a long time to fully include women as independent and equals – and no longer to enfold women’s sexuality into a response to male desire. I felt uncomfortable and sidelined by what I knew of left-wing politics. And I wasn’t looking to improve the conditions of my life. I wanted to change my life out of all recognition.
p. 133

I was so excited, so hopeful, and I was troubled too, by what had been said to me. As a woman would I be an onlooker and not a contributor? Could I study what I could never hope to achieve? Achieve it or not, I had to try.
And later, when I was successful, but accused of arrogance, I wanted to drag every journalist who misunderstood to this place, and make them see that for a woman, a working-class woman, to want to be a writer, to want to be a good writer, and to believe that you were good enough, that was not arrogance; that was politics.
p. 138

The more I read the more I fought against the assumption that literature is for the minority – of a particular education or class. Books were my birthright too. I will not forget my excitement at discovering that the earliest recorded poem in the English language was composed by a herdsman in Whitby around AD 680 ('Caedmon's Hymn') when St Hilda was the abbess of Whitby Abbey.
Imagine it... a woman in charge and an illiterate cowhand making a poem of such great beauty that educated monks wrote it down and told it to visitors and pilgrims.
p. 143

The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated. I wasn’t floating on my little raft in the present; there were bridges that led over to solid ground. Yes, the past is another country, but one that we can visit, and once there we can bring back the things we need.
p. 144

Until the 1950s half the suicides in England were gassings. Household gas came from coal gas in those days and coal gas is high in carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless and the enemy of oxygen-dependent creatures. It causes hallucinations and depression. It can make you see apparitions – indeed, there is an argument that the haunted house is the house whose vapours are not spectral but chemical. This may well be true. The nineteenth century was the century of frightful spectres and shadowy visitations. It was the century of the supernatural in fiction and in the popular imagination.
Dracula, The Woman in White, The Turn of the Screw, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the visions of M. R. James and Edgar Allan Poe. The rise of the weekly seance.
The century of gas lamps and ghosts. They may have been the same thing. The classic image of a man or woman sitting up late by gaslight and seeing a ghost could have been a case of mild delirium caused by carbon-monoxide poisoning.
When natural gas was introduced in the 1960s, the British suicide rate fell by one-third – so perhaps that’s why there have been fewer ghosts for us to see, or perhaps we are not hallucinating at home an more.
It is no longer easy to gas yourself. The oven won’t do it and modern cars have catalytic converters fitted.
p. 167

Creativity is on the side of health – it isn’t the thing that drives us mad; it is the capacity in us that tries to save us from madness.
p. 171

Over the next few weeks we wooed each other in fonts and pixels – an email courtships that couldn’t be happening, I thought, because Susie was heterosexual and I have given up missionary work with heterosexual women.
p. 180

But my other mother had lost me and I had lost her, and our other life was like a shell on the beach that holds an echo of the sea.
p. 223

Back in the days of Winterson-world we had a set of Victorian watercolours hung on the walls. Mrs W had inherited them from her mother and she wanted to display them in a family way. But she was dead against ‘graven images’ (See Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc.), so she squared this circle by hanging them back to front. All we could see was brown paper, tape, steels tacks, water-staining, and string. That was a Mrs Winterson version of life.
p. 224

I notice I hate Ann criticising Mrs Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster.
p. 229
  csoki637 | Nov 27, 2016 |
This has been on my shelf for a while and I thought I'd read it quickly and pass it on. But it was so moving, I found myself lingering over passages and copying parts in my journal. If you've read Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, then you know the basic outlines of the story - it's when Winterson talks about her decision to love and be loved, to pursue literature, to create a life that is worth living, that makes this such a powerful memoir. I also loved the way she she created a sense of place and what it meant to her to grow up in the North.

I was less interested in the search for her birth parents but that part of the memoir is also quite good and certainly well written.

Definitely a keeper. ( )
1 vote laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
Where Winterson's debut, a tragic-comic tale of a young girl who is adopted by Pentecostal missionaries in Accrington, offered us a semi-fictionalised version of her childhood, her latest describes the reality. And what a hellish reality it was. Winterson's story is one of abandonment, loneliness, madness and defiance. It is both inspiring and appalling, its cruellest details only made digestible by the restrained elegance of Winterson's prose.
This is certainly the most moving book of Winterson's I have ever read, and it also feels like the most turbulent and the least controlled.
added by thorold | editThe Guardian, Zoe Williams (Nov 4, 2011)

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To my three mothers:
Constance Winterson
Ruth Rendell
Ann S
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When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, 'The Devil led us to the wrong crib.'
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This memoir is a tough-minded search for belonging, for love, an identity, a home, and a mother by the author of "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit"--winner of the Whitbread First Novel award and the inspiration behind the award-winning BBC television adaptation "Oranges."… (more)

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