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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
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October 2012 > Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?: First Half

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message 1: by Jill (last edited Oct 05, 2012 06:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Guccini Since this book is much shorter than Tipping the Velvet, I figure it's only necessary to break it into halves for discussion purposes as opposed to thirds. While there is an actual "Intermission," it happens later on in the book, so by going just pure numbers wise, I'm considering the "First Half" Chapters One through Eight, with the "Second Half" Being Chapters Nine through the Coda. I'll post a discussion post for the Second Half halfway through the month.

That said (and hoping that made sense)--this book has already elicited so many emotions in me that I'm not even sure what questions to ask. What moments have seemed most cruel--and which ones most hopeful? Is there a chapter that's stuck out as your favorite? Do you enjoy Winterson's style--or not?


Amy (folkpants) (Folkpants) | 50 comments This book also elicited tons of emotions in me as I was reading, and even now after finishing it days ago.
Although it's not until the second half of the book you see Jeanette as an adult trying to come to terms with the potential long-term damage of her early life, I will try to stick within the confines of the first half and answer a few of Jill's questions.
There are so many examples of cruelty and hopefulness in the book it is hard to narrow it down. Aside from the exorcism, which is beyond horrible to believe if you grew up in any kind of loving environment, I think for me, one of the most cruel moments was when Mrs. Winterson found Jeanette's stash of books and set them on fire.
To put yourself in Jeanette's mind and realize that at this time in her life, books were the only escape she had. Books were her lifeline: a way to forget the cruelties and horrors of her everyday life with Mrs. Winterson, but also an escape plan for her future. It was with the books that Jeanette learned how important words were to her and that she had an outlet to speak. This is how she became a writer. To have all of that literally ripped from your grasp and burned in front of you is such an emotional blow.
But also, there seems to be a great deal of hope that comes from this action as well as others by Mrs. Winterson. Jeanette learns (as many abused people do) to be defiant. Along with this defiance, Jeanette learns that she no longer needs those physical books that were destroyed because what they contained and gave to her is still within herself and can't be destroyed. I think it was one of the most important things Jeanette learns, as well as hopeful, that what she needs to survive is all within herself and she can carry it with her.
As to Winterson's writing style, I personally love it. There is something so beautiful about the matter-of-factness in describing something like Mrs. Winterson's abuses and then following it with a bold statement that Jeanette herself could be a killer. You know this, beyond doubt, because Jeanette knows it. To describe a horror and then follow it with the lesson learned. And not in a preachy way, but a this-is-how-it-is way. This is how you survive these things and this is what they make of you.
I love how in this book, Jeanette points out that you are a product of all the things that happen to you. You can't remove any of the fingerprints your past has left on you. That life is a contradiction. That you will always struggle to balance the past with how you want the future to be. And that even from the darkest places, you can emerge with the capacity to love.


Cassandra (kurainokoori) | 4 comments I regret picking this one up in my native language rather than English, because I can't share my favourite quotes. It also makes for rather awkward translation sometimes. For instance, when she discusses the etymology of happiness and the word in my language definitely don't have the same origin.

I was actually worried that she would feel the need to fall back on a more conventional style to write her autobiography and was very relieved when I discovered that it was not the case. Ever since I read The Powerbook, I've been in love with her style. I love how she builds a lot upon literary references and on historical facts. The historical facts in this one, particularly, give a feel for the city. I've never been to Manchester, but she paints such a vivid image of it and gives me a sense for the city just with a few lines.

So many moments are cruel enough to make me emotional. All from the burning of her books to the exorcism. Both incidents elicited rage in me, but I think the cruellest thing is that she has to learn to love. That it doesn't come easy for her to love other people, but that it is something that she has to learn. Since it seems to stem from her never having felt like she's loved, that seems to me one of the cruellest things you could ever do to a child – letting them feel unloved.

I think the most hopeful moment for me is when after the books have been burnt, she realises that she can write her own. That she can carry the books with her in her mind. They may be physically lost, but they are still a part of her and they can still help her heal.

That’s all I had to bring to the table. I have some very disjointed thought on the way Jeanette views Mrs Winterson – as a deeply unhappy person who hates herself most of all – that I’ve tried to put down in words for the last few days but I just can’t. Perhaps I’m not eloquent enough. I love the line about her mother’s eyes – that they are cold stars of another sky.

It's a bit of a roller coaster, isn't it? It just makes you feel so many things, it's hard to put a name to them all.


Karen A. | 13 comments I am way behind my reading this time.
But so far, there's this phrase that has caught my attention "...our contradictions are never so to ourselves" (When talking about Mrs. Winterson sending Jeanette over to the Public Library to collect her stash of murder mysteries)


Karen A. | 13 comments Exactly! That's what I thought too.


Xejx | 5 comments I was very wary about reading this although I can now say it was unfair of me to stay away having never read any of her work before. I saw Oranges a couple of years ago and really hated it. I couldn't understand the fuss. After reading most of this book, I'm learning to appreciate/respect Oranges more.

I love her style. How freely and naturally everything seems to flow even though it is all disjointed. I really like that. Some lines are pure genius, going down in my list of best quotes

There were a few parts where I felt I was back in 1st yr sociology class at uni being made to sit through a lesson which I didn’t enjoy. But I do see why she does that and once we're back to concrete life I'm completely hooked again.

Definitely glad you guys picked this book, otherwise I never would have done it myself and that would have been a great shame.


Melissa Nestor (melissanestor) | 5 comments I have to admit, I started this one a little late. Im only on page 40, but so far its only been about how much she loves books and how she wasnt allowed to read fiction. Nothing is grabbing my attention quite yet. I agree with Heather how I thought it was strange that Mrs Winterson sent Jeanette to the library without expecting her to read anything. Im going to continue to read this book and cross my fingers in hoping that it will get better as I go further.


green-earth | 1 comments I agree with Xejx, I love her style too! I've never read anything by her, and look forward to reading her other novels now. I really enjoy the flow of her words, and her insights into life. Her mother was soo crazy, so tightly wound. It's sad but slightly comforting since I had a strange relationship with my mother too. I can't wait to read more.


Lori | 1 comments I enjoy the author's style as well although it can be difficult to follow at times. I'm just amazed that no matter how mean Mrs. Winterson is to Jeanette, she still loves her. It's as though she truly understands throughout her entire life that Mrs. Winterson is sick and Jeanette tolerates her. I'm really enjoying the book. Thanks for selecting this author as I have never read any of her work.


Melissa Nestor (melissanestor) | 5 comments Lori wrote: "I enjoy the author's style as well although it can be difficult to follow at times. I'm just amazed that no matter how mean Mrs. Winterson is to Jeanette, she still loves her. It's as though she ..."
I agree. The author's style is a little diffficult to follow sometimes. I didn't like that about the book at first either but then I realized that her way of writing really shows her personality and Im starting to like her phrasing.


Melissa Nestor (melissanestor) | 5 comments Melissa wrote: "I have to admit, I started this one a little late. Im only on page 40, but so far its only been about how much she loves books and how she wasnt allowed to read fiction. Nothing is grabbing my att..."

After I got through the first few chapters, its starting to get interesting.. I just think some of what she wrote seemed a little pointless and almost came off as "space filler." Im really enjoying it so far after I got through the beginning.


Melissa Nestor (melissanestor) | 5 comments I just finished the first half of this book, and I am officially addicted. So many things that Jeanette experienced hit so close to home for me. I had a mother that when I was younger, she was unable to accept my sexuality because she said it was a sin. I grew up with strong headed Baptist parents. Although my mother did not go to such extremes as to perform an exorcism on me, alot of things the mother in this book said, I can very well relate too. I can also relate to te experience of what it feels like to be in love for the first time. I think that Jeanette does a wonderful job of portraying her emotions and that is what has me so smitten with this book. Its nice to read something that I can relate to and feel sympathy for the events that this woman experienced. I know how people can make you feel that loving someone is wrong. I also know it can make you feel confusion and make you second guess yourself and your relationship.
I think its funny how Mrs Winterson keeps contradicting herself. She thinks sex is wrong yet she owns a "how to please your husband" book. She doesn't approve of Jeanette reading books yet she can read murder mysteries. HAHA


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