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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  33,314 ratings  ·  3,012 reviews
Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging, for love, identity, home, and a mother.

Jeanette Winterson's novels have established her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most admired books of the past few decades, including her internationally bestselling first novel, Ora
Hardcover, 230 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Knopf Canada (first published October 25th 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 y…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)

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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  33,314 ratings  ·  3,012 reviews

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Sean Barrs
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sean Barrs by: Cecily
Books mean a great deal to me. Are you surprised to hear me say this? I think not. As a consequence, I really enjoy reading books about people who really enjoy books. It’s just how these things work. And Jeanette Winterson really, really, likes books. When she had nothing, she always had her books: they gave her courage and strength. This is a book for those that love reading and writing; this is a book for those that understand why someone would spend their entire life doing such things: it is ...more
Petra-X Off having adventures
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 (my review HERE), 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 significan
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, recs
Resolute and unsentimental, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal reckons with the legacy of childhood neglect. In the memoir’s first part Jeanette Winterson reflects on her experience of growing up gay in Accrington, England, inside the household of her adoptive mother, a Pentecostal fanatic prone to abusive tendencies. In matter-of-fact prose, with great wit, the author confronts the harrowing conditions of her childhood; narrates the social history of her working-class hometown; and recounts ...more
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a remarkable memoir, honest and very moving; beautifully written and there is a passion for reading and books that runs through it. Winterson describes books as her hearth and home and I know exactly what she means. As well as being a moving memoir, it is a memoir that will resonate with every lover of books. This is also a follow up from the fictionalised version of Winterson’s childhood: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. The first half of the book outlines the real story of Winterson’s c ...more
Andy Marr
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the humour and the occasional glimmer of hope, there were times when I found this book almost too hard to read. I imagine writing about it will prove equally traumatising, so I'll say only that this memoir was superbly written, and heartbreakingly honest, and will remain with me for a very long time. ...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
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that will remain in my memory and soul forever... I had absolutely no idea what I was going to read, I took this book by chance thinking it was a woman’s story and the discovery of Winterson's homosexuality. Instead this book is shocking, it's a bomb, it enters in your bowels leaving the reader ( to me surely) often unable to go on the reading for the trauma and psychological violence written there. I didn’t even know I would be a witness reading of a woman with a very serious psy ...more
Jeanette Winterson is certainly one of my favourite female writers. Her words speak to me, and they linger, long after the book is closed. She causes me to cry, with a mere sentence, but most of all, I feel that she would understand me.

This book is all about Winterson, and her quest for identity. She was adopted in the early 1960s, and by reading her other book, called Oranges are not the only fruit, one realises that she hasn't had the easiest of childhoods. When one is told that they are adopt
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 McCartn
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Laura Anne
I'm very glad I read this - I wasn't going to - I put it down at page 8, thinking it was going to be a glorifying, self-referencing re-write of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. I was wrong.

Sometimes I think, books come into your hands - not by accident. I was in a reading rut; I could not settle to anything after Villette - but here I am rescued by a Northener, and my mind slips easily to Hilary Mantel, Wendy Cope - there is something about being Northern. It is very much part of our identity.

There are authors who continually write and rewrite the same story, continually sand down the same hard facts, continually polish and repolish until they arrive at the final version which 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 childhood in many and var ...more
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
Sophie Carlon
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, 2017
Read this if you want your heart broken. Read this if you need it healed.
Diane Barnes
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have read three of Winterson's books; The Gap of Time, a retelling of Shakespeare's Winters Tale, The Passion, and Christmas Stories. In each case, the prose outweighed anything I might have felt about the story itself, because there is some indefinable quality there that defies description. In this, a memoir of her childhood as an adopted child of a Pentecostal woman who was mentally ill, and her search for her birth mother in middle age after she had become a celebrated author, the same thin ...more
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I do not know why I haven’t picked up a Jeanette Winterson book earlier. I loved this a whole lot and cannot wait to read more of her books. Jeanette Winterson tells the story of relationship with her mothers; both her biological mother and her adopted mother. I listened to her tell this story on audiobook and I cannot recommend this highly enough. Winterson infuses the story with her wry tone and wit and it was just a wonderful listening experience.

The family she is adopted in are conservative
Nov 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, arc, memoir, 2011-books
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
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
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
When Jeanette Winterson tried to tell her adoptive mother, always in this autobiography referred to as Mrs Winterson, that she loved her girlfriend, that she made her happy, Mrs W’s response was ‘Why be happy when you could be normal?’

This book has lain on my bookshelves unread for years. I don’t know why except that, possibly, it’s because I have never managed to engage with JW’s fiction, with the exception of Oranges, the book that she hates to be defined by. I don’t think you have to have rea
Rakhi Dalal
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Home and Happiness are two words that my mind has always been fraught with. At times I have wondered whether these two words aren't highly overrated. But then we do spend a considerable amount of our lives looking for a place we can call home and in doing things we suppose can bring us happiness. Yet, is home really only a place? Or does happiness means a continuous state of feeling content with everything you have in life? I am sure the definitions of these words aren’t the same for everybody. ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Very funny and well written. First Person. British novelist who is adopted by working-class evangelical parents who never loved her.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself. (page 9)

Prior to this, I’d only read Winterson’s Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles. Laura’s review prompted me to read this now rather than later.

I was engrossed by Winterson’s account, including her depictions of her mentally ill adopted mother and, later on, her own mental illness. Her descriptions of her own depression a
Debbie "DJ"
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, favorites
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
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of great writing
This memoir published in 2012 covers pretty much the same territory Winterson wrote about in her first novel, the semi-autobiographic Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit, which was published in 1985 and which was made into a BBC TV movie. Winterson is adopted as an infant by a couple of middle-aged working-class evangelicals who live in Accrington, a grim industrial town about twenty miles north of Manchester, England. Throughout the book, she refers to her adoptive father as Dad and her adoptive moth ...more
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Firstly, a confession: I have not read 'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit', which is the fictionalised account of Winterson's early life, so I came to this memoir with no prior conceptions.

As I wrote in my interim report, my pleasure of discovering this author's work is doubled by hearing her read her own story, the prose poetry of which is greatly enhanced when expressed in the authentic cadences of the northern English accent.

"Why be happy when you could be normal?" is the real-life question of h
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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

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