Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Narrated by: Jeanette Winterson
Length: 6 hrs and 7 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (582 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Jeanette Winterson’s bold and revelatory novels have established her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most acclaimed books of the last three decades, including her internationally bestselling first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents that is considered one of the most important books in contemporary fiction. Jeanette’s adoptive mother loomed over her life until Jeanette finally moved out at sixteen because she was in love with a woman. As Jeanette left behind the strict confines of her youth, her mother asked, “Why be happy when you could be normal?”

This memoir is the chronicle of a life’s work to find happiness. It is a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser drawer; about growing up in a north England industrial town in the 1960s and 1970s; and about the universe as a cosmic dustbin. It is the story of how a painful past, which Winterson thought she had written over and repainted, rose to haunt her later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also a book about literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can guide us when we are lost. Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging - for love, identity, and a home.

©2011 Jeanette Winterson (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"To read Jeanette Winterson is to love her. . . . The fierce, curious, brilliant British writer is winningly candid in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? . . . [Winterson has] such a joy for life and love and language that she quickly becomes her very own one-woman bandone that, luckily for us, keeps playing on." ( O, the Oprah Magazine)
"Moving, honest . . . Rich in detail and the history of the northern English town of Accrington, Winterson's narrative allows readers to ponder, along with the author, the importance of feeling wanted and loved." ( Kirkus Reviews)
"Raw . . . A highly unusual, scrupulously honest, and endearing memoir." ( Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

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  • Overall
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The Title Says It All

I wanted to read this book from the moment I read a review in the New York Times. The title grabbed me by my inner truths and would not let me go, and I relate because my mother had the same philosophy, if she could even be said to have a "philosophy". It's the overall general sense of being "happy" vs being "normal" that got to me - not the specifics of Winterson's life. My mother, too, was big on being "normal" and also felt that being happy was an offshoot of arrogance - like "who are you to deserve happiness?" I am not attempting to define happiness here, just saying the idea was always presented as an unreachable ideal, only given to a privileged few, with the rest of us required to trudge along, suffering and miserable.

Anyway, the narration took some time getting used to - I initially found Ms. Winterson's voice to be a bit strident, with an accent I couldn't quite place, but I gradually acclimated and found a receptive space where I could listen with more peace. The accent and patterns of speech actually work to help create the ambience of mid-20th century Manchester, England.

I like that Winterson's description of the renaissance-like evolution and development of Manchester - from its dark days as Britain's foremost manufacturing town into a prosperous arcade of high-end consumer pleasures such as restaurants, art galleries, new housing created from vacated mill buildings - parallels her own journey of self-dicovery and reclamation.

The memoir proceeds chronologically, but sometimes it's not quite clear where we are in Winterson's life. Not a problem though, as things eventually do clear up, and the surface randomness of the story does not devolve into confusion for the reader; due to the beauty of the writing, sometimes it does not really matter. WInterson herself admits to not writing in a linear style, preferring a less structured way of selecting her scenes.

Although this is another story about growing up with a mother who is very odd in so many ways, unwilling and unable to show love, perhaps even to feel it, this narrative has its own animus, and I, as a reader, never tire of this subject nor of this genre. Winterson's rise from her very inauspicious and soul-destroying roots into triumph like the Phoenix from the ashes is a story that can be told again and again.

56 people found this helpful

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Beam Me Up

Jeanette's use of humor is her way of handling often difficult situations with grace and candor. I am enjoying her very interesting although sometimes painful story of growing up "odd" in a time when it was considered...uncool. Her autobiographical story of a an adopted girl who was deprived of books and ended up going to Oxford, brilliantly shining, the shine tarnishing, and somehow developing even now, a new patina. Love her conversational style of writing and bright wit.

13 people found this helpful

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A Slow Rollercoaster, chugging up towards the end

I'm not sure what drew me to this book, the other reviews I think.
Ms. Winterson tells us at some point (I loved that she was the narrator BTW) that she is writing in real time. As soon as I heard that, the flow of the book all made sense to me. Up until that point, more than half of the book, I was having trouble staying engaged. This makes prefect sense because Jeanette was having similar trouble staying engaged...... in her life.
Then a major shift happened for her, the memoir became alive just as her life became worth living... fully.
Taking this journey with this author/narrator was an eye opener for me. Jeanette struggled with love and passion and work and deep depression and rejection and finally redemption but not thank goodness, in the Hollywood way.
I felt redeemed by listening to this book. Thank you Ms. Jeanette Winterson for not being normal. Best wishes on your journey to find happiness.

12 people found this helpful

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Loved this book

This book takes time to get into, but once I did (after the first couple of hours) I was gripped. This is a powerful 'story', - her real life story. It is a journey of self discovery which she shares with the reader, she also shares poems, literature, and psychology that she has read, and that have brought insights to her experience. I felt as if I was being 'told' and 'taught' at the same time and came away with many reflections and insights about my own past, as well as hers. Most of all the book left me thinking about how we all have conflicting feelings about our history, and everyones journey is about trying to integrate these. What an amazing story of survival - respect to your Ms Winterson.

5 people found this helpful

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Not to be missed for Winterson fans or adoptees

If you are a fan of literary tour-de-force Jeanette Winterson (like I am), this memoir is not to be missed. Winterson's command of the English language and her literary accomplishments juxtapose sharply against her strong north-of-England, working class accent as she narrates her own story. Adopted by a religious fanatic, her story is a powerful example of personal and psychological self-reliance and triumph over adversity. And as a later middle-aged writer reflecting on her past, she charts a path to sanity and love. As readers we celebrate with her. This witty and wry narrative is superb, and superbly read by Winterson herself. Makes me want to go back and re-read Oranges are not the Only Fruit, the Passion, and Sexing the Cherry.

4 people found this helpful

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Important

Winterson's writing is honest, straightforward, and heartfelt. Her performance is engrossing. This is a beautifully contextualized memoir that is about coming to terms with one's self in every way possible and the transformative power of reading and writing.

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

This woman is a brilliant, dear woman. I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I started this book, but it turns out that she and I have a couple of key things in common. So, this story really hit home with me.

Beyond that, she has a knack for processing and interpreting events in such a lovely, poignant, and *true* way. One of the critics said "To read Jeanette Winterson is to lover her," and I really could not agree more.

I love that she narrated this book. I listen to a lot of audio books, and I can be critical of narrators, especially authors that don't have a good voice for it. She has a GREAT voice for it, though, and the content was made all the more compelling by hearing it directly from her.

1 person found this helpful

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Now read A Gap of Time

Be sure to read A Gap of Time, her adaptation of A Winter's Tale. It's a fantastical modernization of Shakespeare's adoption story, and a good read all on its own.

1 person found this helpful

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Powerful...

After listening to Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal in its entirety, I had to purchase the physical book as well. There are so many notes I want to make and passages I want to see and reread. As a woman, as someone who hopes to adopt and aspires to write books, as a human with emotional pain and traumas, as someone who may be a bit mad, this has been one of the most important reads of my life. Jeanette Winterson told her story with searing honesty, reflection, and provocation. I cannot wait to read Oranges.

1 person found this helpful

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Enjoyed this book.

Easy to listen to. Interesting perspective of an adopted and abused child's grownup perspective. Reminds me of a simpler time when most of us were abused and didn't know it.

1 person found this helpful