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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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951629,132 (4.05)99
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, european lit-GB

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

Recently added byabbeyhar, BCTG, thaumat, CantuQueerCenter, marxones, private library, staatsl, sungene
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This spare memoir is about the author's formative years from 1960 to 1980 and then skips to 2007. When she was young her life was often harrowing, sad, and frightening, but she tells it in beautiful language and with a feeling of hope and forgiveness. Jeanette Winterston was adopted at six months old in Accrington, England by a couple whose marriage was hardly ideal and continued that way until her mother's death. Her father was barely literate, but her mother apparently had finished high school and although her reading with Jeanette was primarily the Old Testament of the Bible, she was well versed in Shakespeare and some of the classics. She and her husband were fundamentalists and everything in their lives revolved around the church. Jeanette's only escape was in reading the books she had to keep hidden from her mother. She read voraciously and it gave her a place to hide in her mind when her life was at its most difficult. Jeanette's explanation of how she became educated at Oxford is both amusing and amazing, but reminded me of another writer who had a similar path to Harvard.

This book was beautifully written, but sometimes not an easy read. It is not written in a linear fashion, but hops around a little. It does give the reader a wonderful view of working-class England in the 1960s and 1970s, which is one I've not often been privy to.

Until the author mentioned Lighthousekeeping, I had not realized that I'd read another of her books. I'm sorry that I no longer own a copy of it, because I would like to re-read it now with this new knowledge of her formative life as background. I believe it would have added immeasurably to the reading experience of that book. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Jul 7, 2014 |
This is a book about the damage that parents (both real and adoptive) can inflict on children, and how that damage is carried through in adult life. It is full of insight, sadness, wit and surprises. It is also profoundly moving, particularly towards the end. Winterson manages again the difficult trick of making her very specific situation reach out to the universal. There are many clever ways in which form matches content here and the structure is well thought out. It is a book to be read aloud and with care. ( )
1 vote freelancer_frank | Feb 23, 2014 |
Read this for book club. So many things to think about, but such a sad life as a child. ( )
  EllenH | Jan 25, 2014 |
Writers like Jeanette Winterson understand that reading, or poetry, is more than just something to do. It's a coping mechanism, an escape, a way to distract yourself from the unpleasantries of daily life. In Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? Winterson explores her difficult childhood.

Winterson was adopted by a mother who banned most books, saying, "you never know what's in [them] until it's too late," and who, learning of Winterson's sexual orientation, asked, "Why be happy when you can be normal?"

The memoir touches on the difficulty of living in a family where even your deepest sense of self is rejected. Her adoptive mother, cutting and often sadistic, caused Winterson to be isolated. When she falls in love with a local girl, she becomes even colder to her adoptive daughter and the relationship between them is further strained.

For those adults actively seeking their birth families, organizations like the American Adoption Congress offer support and advocate on their behalf. Unfortunately for Winterson, that resource was not available to her. Years after the death of her adoptive mother, Winterson goes on a quest to find her birth mother. Although her childhood was documented in a previous memoir, OrangesAre Not the Only Fruit, this is the first memoir to explore Winterson’s decision to find her birth mother, the long and stressful process of actually doing so, and their eventual meeting.

The memoir, while well-written and emotional, fell flat for me. Most likely, it was because I can’t identify with the adoptive process. There were moments when I was truly touched, or empathized with her feelings of isolation, but overall I felt like I was always an arms-length away from truly understanding. But that is my failing, and not Winterson’s.

The verdict: worth the read, but not a favorite.(less) [edit] ( )
  amanda.mustafic | Jan 24, 2014 |
Good book. Well written, brutally honest, funny (in places). And that mother! ( )
  meredk | Jan 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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