Browse all of the exceptional memoirs that made our list.
This is the funniest sad book I have ever read. Winterson’s mother — always referred to as Mrs. Winterson — was an abusive, cigarette-smoking, Pentecostal giantess who never let her adopted daughter forget that she was taken from “the wrong crib.” Despite a childhood filled with apocalyptic pronouncements and terrifying mistreatment, Winterson emerges as a writer of startling self-awareness, humor, and empathy for the unhappy woman who made her life miserable. Less a life history than an exploration of a life in process, Why Be Happy captures the writer in her 50s, still trying to figure out how to love and be loved in the absence of a maternal model. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Jeanette Winterson’s bold and revelatory novels have earned her widespread acclaim, establishing 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 best-selling first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents, that is now often required reading in contemporary fiction classes.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir about 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, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in a north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; 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 other people’s literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life raft that supports us when we are sinking.
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.
"She's one of the most daring and inventive writers of our time—searingly honest yet effortlessly lithe as she slides between forms, exuberant and unerring, demanding emotional and intellectual expansion of herself and of us. . . She explores not only the structure of storytelling byt the interplay of past, present, and future, blending science fiction, realism, and a deep love of literature and history. . . . In Why Be Happy, [Winterson's] emotional life is laid bare. [Her] struggle to first accept and then love herself yields a bravely frank narrative of truly coming undone. For someone in love with disguises, Winterson's openness is all the more moving; there's nothing left to hide, and nothing left to hide behind." A.M. Homes, Elle
"Magnificent . . . A tour de force of literature and love." Megan O'Grady, Vogue
"Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is raucous. It hums with a dark refulgence from its first pages. . . . Singular and electric." Dwight Garner, The New York Times
About the Author
Born in Manchester, England, Jeanette Winterson is the author of seventeen books, including the national bestseller Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and The Passion. She has won many prizes including the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the E. M. Forster Award, and the Stonewall Award.