Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  12,931 ratings  ·  1,498 reviews
Heartbreaking and funny: the true story behind Jeanette's bestselling and most beloved novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

In 1985, at twenty-five, Jeanette published Oranges, the story of a girl adopted by Pentecostal parents, supposed to grow up to be a missionary. Instead, she falls in love with a woman. Disaster.

Oranges became an international bestseller, inspired an...more
Hardcover, 230 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Knopf Canada (first published 2010)
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Ms Bubbles SockieP
If you read Oranges are Not the Only Fruit then this just reads like an early version before the editor said to the author, "You can't write that, no one will believe you." The cliché goes that truth is stranger than fiction and this book is definitely stranger than Oranges. It is hard, for instance, to believe that the author, as an adult, never addressed her mother as anything but Mrs. Winterson.

Small personal anecdote that has nothing whatsoever to do with the book other than it's a bit about...more
Moira Russell
This book came in the mail today, I opened the package, opened the book and looked at a few pages randomly, started reading, and about half an hour later turned back to the beginning so I could start reading it properly. That's as good a star ranking as anything, I think.

This book isn't really a memoir, (but then again, if you expect linear storytelling from Jeanette Winterson....): it skips twenty-five years of her life in an "Intermission" and the end is so open-ended a great breeze might com...more
jo
this book is a broken elegy to the north of england and a world of small shops, small communities, and simple habits that no longer exists. it's also a tribute to a hardy working class people who knows resilience, pluckiness, no-nonsensicality, and making a life out of what you are given. surprisingly, it's a vindication of the values of faith, which keep people under the direst circumstances out of the clutches of despair and of the feeling of being trapped. these are winterson's words. this tr...more
Cecily
This is the truer, grittier, more analytical version of "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), with an update of Winterson's very recent attempts to trace her birth mother, and interspersed with thoughts on words, writing, literature and a dash of politics of family, class, feminism and sexuality. It is better if you are familiar with Oranges, but not essential. There also seem to be significant autobiographical aspects to "Lighthousekeeping", as explained i...more
oriana
I finished this book on a frigid Sunday afternoon, lying lazily on my too-deep couch, covered in a ridiculously soft blanket, with my boyfriend cackling in the other room while watching "news fails" on YouTube and my little dog curled up by my side, lending me his warmth.

I have had such an easy life, it is sometimes difficult to fathom.

Jeanette Winterson has not had an easy life. Or anyway she had an almost impossibly surreal / awful childhood (adopted by a frighteningly inconsistent and extrem...more
Jennifer D
By Zoe Williams, The Guardian

Jeanette Winterson's memoir is written sparsely and hurriedly; it is sometimes so terse it's almost in note form. The impression this gives is not of sloppiness, but a desperate urgency to make the reader understand. 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. In the end, the emotional force of the second half makes me suspect that the apparent artlessness of the first hal...more
·Karen·
What a fierce child young Jeanette must have been. A small warrior, blazing with desire for life, battling the sheer bloody awfulness of her upbringing and the narrowness of her surroundings, protecting herself from further rejection by preventive strike. Spiky.


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SPOILERS!!

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The first half of this book feels raw; but this can only be the illusion created by the rough language, the short sentences, the baldness, the bleakness of her...more
Fionnuala
There are some authors who are continually writing and rewriting the same story, continually sanding down the same hard facts, continually polishing the remainder until they arrive at the final version when it has the perfectly smooth shape of an egg, newly laid. And at whatever angle you choose to view that egg, it remains perfect, impossible to add to or take away from. I'm thinking here of John McGahern in particular, who worked on the hard facts of a lonely, repressed, religion dominated chi...more
Megan Baxter
When a memoir starts with a title like that, it's apparent it's not going to be all sweetness and light. Particularly when it's fairly quickly on the table that it is Jeanette Winterson's adoptive mother who said the titular line. With that established, this is obviously not a slight read, slim though the book may be. But more importantly, I felt like it was interesting but not anything more than a fairly straightforward memoir until about halfway through - and then the book was elevated to anot...more
Melissa
It pains me to give Jeanette Winterson's memoir a poor review. It pained me so much more to read this book. This, from a writer who is absolutely without peer in storytelling, language and the details of excruciating heartbreak.
To be fair, I did really enjoy the first 2/3 of the book. She writes in a frank and conversational style describing her early life and referencing her early books. I recognized her voice immediately and I settled in, catching up with an old friend.
Unfortunately as her s...more
Jessica at Book Sake
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? More like, Why Be Happy When You Could Feel Sorry for Yourself: All the Time? This memoir just did not resonate with me and there are definitely some aspects of it that I really should be able to relate to. I appreciate that the author occasionally had a sense of humor when discussing her horrible adoptive mother because it made parts of this book more bearable, but unfortunately her jokes cannot compensate for the other ninety-five percent of this memoir....more
Judy
Mar 06, 2012 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: women

The title of this compulsively readable memoir is a direct quote from Jeanette Winterson's adoptive mother. Though I am sure my mother wanted me to be happy and certainly she was a good deal more sane than Mrs Winterson, the motherly quote felt like something that lurked behind my mom's parenting rationale.

I've not read Jeanette Winterson's fiction. Her novels are on a list I never seem to get to; a list that includes Octavia Butler and early novels by Jane Smiley and Hilary Mantel. Like many vo...more
christa
I read memoirs because it is more polite than staring at people, which doesn’t mean I do the latter any less. I like the what-has-it-been-like-for-you-ness of seeing someone’s bullet points and knowing it must all turn out reasonably okay, because they were able to pop a squat and push out these thousands of words afterward. Most memoirists -- except Annie Dillard -- have lived through some sort of circus and that’s why they get to make a book about it.

In Jeanette Winterson’s memoir “Why Be Hap...more
Cate
This isn't just a clever title. It's what Jeannette's adoptive mother says to her when Jeanette tells her mother that being with her girlfriend makes her happy.
My favorite quote, "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 a different kind of space."
Ellie
" We were like refugees in our own lives."
"I assumed she hid books the way she hid everything else, including her own heart..."
"Love between us was not an emotion; it was a bomb site between us."
These are just a couple of my favorite quotes from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? a memoir by one of my favorite authors, Jeanette Winterson. Her, as always, beautiful prose and poignant faith in the power of the word and story makes this painful story almost inspirational.

Winterson, adopted at...more
Brian Robbins
This book was a fascinating read, which I found very difficult to put down. The early part of the book is very much a re-run & expansion of "Oranges ...", but no less interesting for that, detailing particularly her relationship with her adoptive mother. The portrayal she gives of "Mrs Winterson is at times hilarious, at times horrifying, but ultimately is filled with pity for this woman who could see life only as a burden to be suffered, rarely as a source of any joy.

In her attitude to man...more
Sally Whitehead
"Oranges are not the Only Fruit" is easily one of my all time favourite books. I read it as a young adult when literature was a new and exciting discovery and it was incredibly influential. As a result, despite having never read any other Jeanette Winterson, she has always interested me, and I can't help but feel an affection towards her.

"Why be Happy..." is much more than an autobiography, and it doesn't simply rewrite a more honest account of the fictionalised semi-autobiographical "Oranges"....more
Peter
Brilliant! There is a lot of story here that is similar to Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, revolving around her youthful battles with her headstrong (possibly insane) adopted mother Mrs Winterson. However, the shockingly weird Dickensian-Religious childhood that Jeannette Winterson endured is endlessly interesting to read about and so it didn't bother me that I had read many of those episodes before in a different fictional incarnation. Here it feels more real as its not cut with the fairytale a...more
Jayne Rogers
Honest, painful account of the effect maternal mental illness has, it's tendrils grip you for life. Winterson says of her adoptive mother 'Mrs Winterson' her mode of referring to her 'She was a monster but she was my monster' baulking at criticism made by her birth mother to Mrs W.
Winterson's examination of her own breakdown is stark, without pity for her position she says 'Going mad takes time. Getting sane takes time. There was a person in me - a piece of me - so damaged that she was prepared...more
Janet
I prefer the fiction to the prose... very hard to see the thing naked. I'm one of those people who would rather see what an artist does with the shattered self.
tee
So many mixed emotions. Jeanette Winterson is my favourite author. I'm not exactly sure why this is so. Mostly because I adore her writing and her words punch me in the stomach and make me feel things that not many other authors have. I also think I love her because she connects me to other people who are like-minded. I generally always love someone if they are a Winterson fan. It ties me to an era in my life where I was besotted with somebody who read her books also. Jeanette makes my heart pal...more
Riya
I am rating this as 4.5 out of 5 stars

I'm not sure how cohesive this review will be, partly because I never thought I'd be writing this and partly because my thoughts and emotions are still jumbled up even though I finished reading this several hours ago.

So here we go:

Jeanette Winterson is the author of the famous Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, a book that I expected to love but surprisingly didn't. I read this a few years ago and I honestly felt very disconnected from the story and although I...more
Michael
I'm supposed to stick with the facts of the matter at hand: offer the relative merits and shortcomings (as I see them) of Ms. Winterson's deeply moving and highly recommended memoir, about which it's reasonable to assume you must be fairly curious -- either to find out if this particular book might be a pleasurable use of your time -- or to siphon off some affirmation, some validation, some articulation of your own reaction, be it positive or negative, after having read it. But fair warning to y...more
Joey Diamond
My mum came to visit and bought me this book.
She said, "I want you to think of me while you read it."
I said, "It's about a horrible crazy mother."
She said, "Then think about how lucky you are to have a lovely wonderful mother who's not like that."

Anyway, I feel uncomfortable with memoirs that are a bit like sitting in on someone's therapy sessions. But why? Do I think all emotions and trauma should be repressed?

There is a lot about overcoming a pretty abusive family situation through reading. An...more
Debbie Wilson
This is my first experience reading Jeanette Winterson. WOW! I love her style of writing. This felt like a conversational memoir. Like the author was speaking directly to me about her life. The book starts with her early life, being adopted, living with her adopted mother, who is not only a religious nut, but abusive, and tells Jeanette she is from the wrong crib. This is her journey out of this life, where loving books from an early age, she talks about reading English Lit from A - Z. I was ama...more
Alistair
Absolutely brilliant ! At last a proper book by a proper writer .
This is supposedly the real story behind her autobiographical novel " Oranges are not the only fruit " but it is much more than that .
The world of her northern poor childhood and her adopted mad baptist depressed mother and father is painfully recreated and is Dickensian in its character creation . What suprised me was that it is a world of living memory barely forty years ago
Although her childhood sounds awful and Winterson leave...more
Sam
It's difficult to find memoirs like this sometimes, pages of a person's life told in a honest way without resorting to typical descriptions, emotions or events.

What I love about Winterson is that she doesn't shy away from anything; these are difficult memories but she goes for it and with incredible balance. It's not a matter of being on her side or the side of her mother(s), but is rather a carefully considered meditation on a life that has so many interpretations, it'd be easy to reduce it do...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite authors, possibly my favorite, depending on what day it is. When I heard she was publishing a memoir, I knew I'd want to read it. It focuses on her relationship with her adoptive mother, known as "Mrs. Winterson" throughout the book. It tells the story of growing up as an isolated in a Pentecostal household, and how those things impacted her life as an adult. If that sounds familiar, she drew greatly from her life to write Oranges are Not the Only Fruit,...more
Mark
Apr 22, 2012 Mark rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
“I was born in Manchester in 1959. It was a good place to be born.”

The author was only a few weeks old, when she was adopted by a Pentecostal couple. Her adopted father was meek and indifferent and her mother tyrannical. Here’s an early description: “She was a flamboyant depressive; a woman who kept a revolver in the duster drawer, and the bullets in a tin of Pledge. A woman who stayed up all night baking cakes to avoid sleeping in the same bed as my father.”
Mrs. Winterson was a big looming woma...more
Ruth
The saddest thing about this book is that even though she says she understands that her adoptive mother was mentally ill, that she could not help what she did, she still refers to her throughout the book as "Mrs. Winterson."

It's also clear to me that she's quite conflicted about her origins. Unfortunately, something makes her draw back when she should be open, so I was left with not as much understanding as I think I could have had. Or maybe it was just the writing, which was not particularly me...more
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Novelist Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959. She was adopted and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire, in the north of England. Her strict Pentecostal Evangelist upbringing provides the background to her acclaimed first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published in 1985. She graduated from St Catherine's College, Oxford, and moved to London where she worked as an assi...more
More about Jeanette Winterson...
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Written on the Body The Passion Sexing the Cherry Lighthousekeeping

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“Why is the measure of love loss?” 235 likes
“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 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.” 88 likes
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