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

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  20,809 Ratings  ·  2,121 Reviews
In 1985 Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published. It tells the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents. The girl is supposed to grow up and be a missionary. Instead she falls in love with a woman. Disaster. Written when Jeanette was only twenty-five, her novel went on to win the Whitbread First Novel award, become an inte ...more
Hardcover, 230 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by Jonathan Cape Ltd (first published 2011)
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Denise I'm really enjoying listening to the audiobook version, at the moment, being read by the author. You really get a feel for the North of England when…moreI'm really enjoying listening to the audiobook version, at the moment, being read by the author. You really get a feel for the North of England when you hear it read in Winterston's own voice. She tells a great story.
PS I borrowed it online from my local library!(less)

Community Reviews

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Petra Eggs
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
Beautifully written, engrossing, and suffused with a love of the saving power of literature.

This is the truer, grittier, more analytical version of "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit" (, 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. Ther
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
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
Nov 26, 2012 Oriana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
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
Paul Bryant
This is about a girl who was adopted by a religious lunatic and who realised she was a lesbian.


Uh oh.

It's a squirmy, maddening, elusive, full-frontal, raging, psychonewagebabbly, moving, heartfelt, essential memoir. I was going to be cute and say that in 1969 The Beatles decided to release an album on which there were no overdubs, no studio tricks at all, but the resulting album Let It Be broke its own rule by containing overdubbed strings & harps & choruses; so many years later Paul
Iris P

I usually don't read lots of memoirs and biographies, in general I prefer fiction or non-fiction, but I must say thought that this is one of the most genuine and emotional memoirs I've ever read.

Jeannette Winterson was born in Manchester, England, and grew up in Accrington, Lacarshire after being adopted by Constance and John William Winterson in the early 1960's.

This book recounts her quest for her identity, origin, her (birth) mother and ultimately for love and acceptance.
It's a different kin
There is still a popular fantasy, long since disproved by both psychoanalysis and science, and never believed by any poet or mystic, that it is possible to have a thought without a feeling

I might have expected the audacity of this book, but the humility startled me. I expected the old trauma, but the fresh wounds caught me off guard. I was reminded of What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness which I didn't think much of at all; the trauma memoir is not a genre I get along with. I love t
Nov 19, 2011 ·Karen· rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.




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
Jan 04, 2016 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, arc, 2011-books, owned
Review by Zoe Williams, The Guardian - she says perfectly exactly how I felt about this memoir.

"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
Jan 27, 2015 Fionnuala rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
I haven't read anything by Jeanette Winterson before, and I had no idea that Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? was her memoir - the non-fiction counterpart to her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Having read it I think it was a great introduction to her person and writing, and would like to read more of her work.

Why Be Happy... begins with Jeanette being raised in the small English town of Accrington in the 1960's, and focuses on her relationship with her adoptive mother, Mrs. W
Jun 10, 2012 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Debbie "DJ"
May 04, 2014 Debbie "DJ" rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, memoir
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
James Barker
After a couple of rocky years I am back in love with Jeanette Winterson. Opening this book was a return to the universe of 'Oranges are Not the Only Fruit,' (albeit a parallel one, although as always the line between the author's fantasy and fact are blurred), a place made insular by a domineering, lonely mother and a religious community on the fringes of a bleak northern town.

How easy it is for parents to fuck up: to project on to their children, to over-compensate in love or despair, to long f
Megan Baxter
May 19, 2014 Megan Baxter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 06, 2012 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 29, 2012 Cate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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."
Apr 26, 2016 Wanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: CBC radio
"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. About a young girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night, and a mother waiting for Armageddon with two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the duster drawe ...more
Claire McAlpine
The book Jeanette Winterson wasn't ready to write back in 1985 when she wrote Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a title that bears a similar resonance to the normal/happy comparison.

In this book she allows the real life characters to show parts of themselves, in particular Jeanette and the woman who raised her, the one she refers to as Mrs Winterson (her adoptive mother), a telling detail in itself, that she reserves the title of mother for the woman who is a shadow for most of the book, not there
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
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".
Kāpēc būt laimīgai?
Man viņa bija tikai skaistā "Smaguma" autore. Tad uz pieres uzkrita šis, aizķēra nosaukums un neapstādināja "es taču autobiogrāfijas nelasu". Un te nu es esmu dažas dienas vēlāk, atzīmējusi citātos vai pusi grāmatas, lasījusi transportā, pusdienu pauzēs, ejot un guļot. Tā sen nebija bijis.
Vintersone, ģeniālā vārdu pavēlniece, šeit ir atklājusi tik daudz — atdota bērna sāpi, sevis apzināšanos un tā sekas, feminismu, grāmatu valstības mierinājumu, savus dēmonus, dzīves mīlestīb
Nov 24, 2012 Janet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 27, 2016 christa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 24, 2012 Laysee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why be happy when you could be normal? An intriguing question – it drew me compulsively to Jeanette Winterson’s memoir. But it was the question that catapulted her out of her home at age 16. The memoir is transparently honest, brutally human, and deeply touching. It was written in real time and that lent a sense of urgency to the personal narrative that was unfolding.

What is the chance of anyone becoming an award winning writer if s/he had an obsessively religious and controlling mother who made
" 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
Feb 05, 2016 Barbara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a 4.5 star book for me. The author is known for her first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit which is semi-autobiographical. In her memoir she describes her upbringing as the adopted child of a working class Pentacostal Christian couple. Her attraction towards the same sex was obvious in early adolescence and as might be expected, was not accepted by her mother. Jeannette spent many nights sleeping outside when her mother locked her out. A lot of the treatment her mother meted out wou ...more
Dec 16, 2015 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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...

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“Why is the measure of love loss?” 299 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.”
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