Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thoughts on Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

I had mentioned the other day about my train ride, how absorbed I was in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson upon the recommendation of Beth Kephart. When I sat down to write about the book, I didn't know how to begin. The arc of Winterson's tale and, by virtue of the fact that it is memoir, the arc of Winterson's life, is, in a way, linear but, like any life, it meanders through back roads and tramples over thick brush.

It's an easy book to read (I flew through it) but not an easy book to take apart.  So, if I were to give you directions to this book's home, I would not be able to give you street names.  I would not be able to point you North, then West, because it's not as simple as that.

And that's what I loved about this book.  As Winterson reaches through memory to understand her 'real' mother, her adopted mother, her 'real' self, and the self she has assumed (in the way you might assume an identity) she doesn't take a straight and narrow path.  But it reads as if she has.  She might look for answers. But she doesn't claim to have them.  And all of this makes perfect sense while I'm making none.

What I mean to say is: read this book.    

My favorite moment:

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.

I think, at the heart of it, this book is about navigating the story of our lives, as well as the stories we read or write, and seeing it all through.


  1. It sounds like one I'd like. I'm a fan of the memoir. Thank you for this review!

  2. Thanks for the review, Melissa. As I said before, I'll be getting this one for sure. :)

  3. I love a well written introspective memoir :)

  4. This sounds a very interesting book. I'll add this to my TRB list!

  5. I love that line about "not a hiding place. A finding place." Profound!

  6. I haven't read a good memoir in a while, so I'll definitely put this one on my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. I love books that ask tough questions without easy answers, and this definitely sounds like one of those. I'm not familiar with the author, but sounds like I need to be! Thanks for bringing it to my attention -- will be adding this to my wishlist, too!

  8. I loved this, not just for the story she tells but for the hard, smooth, glittery quality of her immaculate prose. It feels as if Winterson is crafting her words to convey maximum truth.