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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  23,269 Ratings  ·  2,345 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 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

(showing 1-30)
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Bookdragon Sean
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Bookdragon Sean 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
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
Petra X
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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
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
Saleh MoonWalker
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Onvan : Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Nevisande : Jeanette Winterson - ISBN : 307401243 - ISBN13 : 9780307401243 - Dar 230 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2011
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
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.
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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
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
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
Debbie "DJ"
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Ilenia Zodiaco
Peccato per il quid non necessario di retorica di cui la Winterson si serve per interi paragrafi, suonando un po' troppo banale, per i miei gusti. L'uso eccessivo della prima persona plurale e qualche frase che sembra uscita direttamente dai manuali di autoaiuto non sono, però, bastati a rovinare un'autobiografia sviluppata in maniera non lineare, intermittente, con ironia e audacia. Il rapporto con la madre labirintica e vendicativa è la chiave che l'autrice usa per analizzare la sua storia e s ...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
Dec 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very funny and well written. First Person. British novelist who is adopted by working-class evangelical parents who never loved her.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
¡La he leído casi del tirón! Me apetecía leer algo optimista, esperanzador, y este libro autobiográfico de Jeanette era perfecto para ese momento. La autora es magnífica narrando. Ya la conocía por «Espejismos» así que su talento narrativo no me ha pillado por sorpresa (a Winterson se la ama o se la odia, no deja indiferente y yo soy de las primeras). Lo que sí me ha sorprendido ha sido ese ritmo tan intenso. Maneja los tiempos maravillosamente, profundiza, cuenta lo que quiere contar y lo que n ...more
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Megan Baxter
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Na prawie, że sam koniec czerwcowego czytania na Pride, trafiłam na coś, co zupełnie mnie zaskoczyło. Bardzo lubię Jeanette Winterson od lat, choć były takie momenty, że mi się przejadała. Ale zapomniałam, jak bardzo potrafi do mnie trafiać. Może jednak przeczytanie tych kilkunastu powieści--niektórych więcej niż raz--na swój sposób mnie to zaprogramowało.

Ta autobiograficzna historia najmocniejsza jest w opowiadaniu o traumach i radościach dorastania na angielskiej północy. Winterson pięknie (t
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Un libro es una alfombra mágica que te transporta volando a cualquier sitio. Un libro es una puerta. La abres. La cruzas. ¿Volverás?"

Autobiografía muy sincera, muy humana y contada con mucha franqueza en la que la autora acepta lo que le ha tocado vivir y sabe que es la persona que es gracias a esas vivencias. Está llena de buenas reflexiones y de un gran amor por los libros.
De todas maneras creo que si hubiera conocido de antemano a la autora y sus libros habría disfrutado más con la lectura.
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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."
I listened to the audio book of this, read by Jeanette Winterson.

Parts of this book spoke to me very deeply. There were parts that I found profoundly affecting. As if Winterson knew my life and the things that are happening in it, and was speaking directly to me. Not necessarily what you're meant to feel when reading an autobiography, but nonetheless, I felt it.

This was an interesting insight into Jeanette Winterson's life. You truly felt like you knew her by the end. She laid her soul bare. I'l
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Nov 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
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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?” 310 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.”
More quotes…