Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? 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 in a Pentecostal household, and how this upbringing impacted her life as an adult. If that sounds familiar, she drew greatly from her life to write Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, but her reality was harsher with no mediator.

The memoir has some of what I expect from Winterson - some beautifully expressed thoughts, and even an explanation of why she writes in fragments and poetry (it is actually an amazing explanation, but I'll save it for the reader). There is also a lot of sadness and imperfection here. Her journey to learn about what love actually is hasn't been easy, and she might not be there yet. I think it is rare to have someone tell their actual story so openly, including the parts that don't necessarily put them in a good light. Winterson, like always, is not afraid. I think the impression that I'm left with is this incredibly isolated, lonely, angry woman; who somehow fueled all of that into beautiful and universal writing.

Some favorite bits:
"Why should a woman not be ambitious for literature? Ambitious for herself?"

"When we write we offer the silence as much as the story. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken."

"I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven."

"I was a miracle in that I could have taken her out of her life and into a life she would have liked a lot. It never happened, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there to happen."

"Books...are a home... you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space."

"Doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it."

"Love is vivid. I never wanted the pale version. Love is full strength. I never wanted the diluted version. I never shied away from love's hugeness but I had no idea that love could be as reliable as the sun. The daily rising of love."

"The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated."

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