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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Audiobook, by Jeanette Winterson Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Jeanette Winterson Narrator: Jeanette Winterson Publisher: Brilliance Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: March 2012 ISBN: 9781469201962
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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 an audiobook 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 an audiobook 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is raucous. It hums with a dark refulgence from its first pages…Singular and electric…[Winterson’s] life with her adoptive parents was often appalling, but it made her the writer she is.”

    New York Times

  • “Stunningly lovely and fearlessly reflective, Why Be Happy is a reminder of what the project of remembering and recording can—and should—be.”


  • “As compulsively readable as Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett’s great memoir of friendship…A tribute to the salvation of narrative.”

    Shelf Awareness

  • “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 but 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.”


  • “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 band—one that, luckily for us, keeps playing on.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Magnificent…What begins as a tragicomic tale of triumph over a soul-destroying childhood becomes something rougher and richer in the later passages…Winterson writes with heartrending precision…Ferociously funny and unfathomably generous, Winterson’s exorcism-in-writing is an unforgettable quest for belonging, a tour de force of literature and love.”


  • “Jeanette Winterson’s sentences become lodged in the brain for years, like song lyrics…Beautiful…Powerful…Shockingly revealing…Raw and undigested…Never has anyone so outsized and exceptional struggled through such remembered pain to discover how intensely ordinary she was meant to be.”


  • “Bold…One of the most entertaining and moving memoirs in recent memory…A coming-of-age story, a coming-out story, and a celebration of the act of reading…A marvelous gift of consolation and wisdom.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Unflinching…That Winterson should have survived such a terrible early immersion in darkness at all is a kind of miracle. That she should have emerged, if not unscathed then still a functioning human being and a creative artist, is an even greater accomplishment.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “With raw honesty and wit, Winterson reveals how she fought her way to adulthood, finding success, love—and ultimately forgiveness.”

    People (starred review)

  • “There’s always been something Byronic about Winterson—a stormily passionate soul bitterly indicting the society that excludes her while feeding on the Romantic drama of that exclusion…Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? restores Winterson to her full power…This is a book that will inspire much underlining.”


  • “[Winterson’s] novels—mongrels of autobiography, myth, fantasy, and formal experimentation—evince a colossal stamina for self-scrutiny…[A] proud and vivid portrait of working-class life…This bullet of a book is charged with risk, dark mirth, hard-won self-knowledge…You’re in the hands of a master builder who has remixed the memoir into a work of terror and beauty.”


  • “Exquisite…About survival and triumph, but also about deep wounds.”

    LAMBDA Literary Review

  • “[Winterson] is piercingly honest, deeply creative, and stubbornly self-confident…A testimony to the power of love and the need to feel wanted.”

    Seattle Times

  • “As beautifully crafted as any of Winterson’s fiction.”


  • “A moving, artfully constructed piece of writing that sustains tension until the last sentence.”

    Globe and Mail (Toronto)

  • “Winterson pulls back the veil on her life as she really lived it and shows us that truth is not only stranger than fiction, but more painful and more beautiful as well…Searing and candid…Winterson holds nothing back…Written with poetic beauty.”


  • “Riveting…Beautifully open…Why Be Happy is a meditation on loss, stories, and silences.”


  • “There’s a lot of flinty humor here, a lot of insight into the emotional legacy of adoption—and a generally refreshing admission that understanding life is as hard as living it.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Arresting and suspenseful…Offers literary surprises and flashes of magnificent generosity and humor.”

    Washington Post Book World

  • “[Why Be Happy] very possibly [contains] the most honest writing Winterson has ever done: bone-hard, bone-naked truth that hides nothing about the discovery process of finding her biological mother, and going mad…Her observations read as verses of the King James Bible: bold, beautiful, and true.”

    Los Angeles Times Review of Books

  • “Captivating…A painful and poignant story of redemption, sexuality, identity, love, loss, and, ultimately, forgiveness.”

    Huffington Post

  • “Shattering, brilliant…There is a sense at the end of this brave, funny, heartbreaking book that Winterson has somehow reconciled herself to the past. Without her adoptive mother, she wonders what she would be—Normal? Uneducated? Heterosexual?—and she doesn’t much fancy the prospect…She might have been happy and normal, but she wouldn’t have been Jeanette Winterson. Her childhood was ghastly, as bad as Dickens’s stint in the blacking factory, but it was also the crucible for her incendiary talent.”

    Sunday Times (UK)

  • “Compelling, in fact, perhaps even more so when compared to the fictionalized version written by Winterson as a twenty-five-year-old. Then, passion and anger seemed to burn off the page…Now comes [an] emotional excavation as a fifty-two-year-old looking back with a cooler, more forgiving eye…The specifics of [Winterson’s] early abuse are vivid, violent, and no less horrifying for their familiarity…If the memoir was begun as a final exorcism of the monster mother, it ends with a moving acceptance of her.”

    Independent (UK)

  • “Clarion, courageous, and vividly expressive, Winterson conducts a dramatic and revelatory inquiry into the forging of the self and liberating power of literature.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Provides a vivid picture of the grotesque behaviors of the lunatic mother she refers to as ‘Mrs. Winterson.’ This is a detailed portrait of a life that saved itself. The hard work Winterson did to find her place in the world after growing up as an outsider’s outsider is not exaggerated. We are lucky she survived to tell the tale.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “Unconventional, ambitious…The experience of reading Why Be Happy is unusually visceral. Winterson confronts her actions, personality quirks, even sexuality, with a kind of violence, as if forcing herself to be honest…The prose is often breathtaking: witty, biblical, chatty, and vigorous all at once.”

    Financial Times

  • “An extraordinary tragic-comic literary autobiography.”

    Guardian (UK)

  • “Raw…A highly unusual, scrupulously honest, and endearing memoir.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “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

  • Selected for the March 2012 Indie Next List
  • A New York Times bestseller
  • A 2011 Guardian Best Book of the Year
  • An Entertainment Weekly “Must Read”
  • Globe and Mail (Toronto) Best Books, 2011
  • New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction, 2012
  • Winner of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir/Biography
  • A 2012 New York Times Editor’s Choice

Listener Reviews

Write a Review
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Susan | 2/5/2014

    " This was a notable book with the American LIbrary Association. It has a great title and the photo of a cute little girl on the front, but it left me lacking. I wanted more facts about her life and less musings and literary reference. I wanted to know more about what happened to her adoptive mother and her father's new life. So many references to another book "Oranges Aren't the only fruit" made me think I should have been reading it instead. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Karen | 1/31/2014

    " This wasn't just another story of a bad childhood. Winterson tells her story with humor and depth. She gives lots of credit for her survival to librarians, writers and poets...about which she spoke in detail. And I appreciated her philosphical meanderings and search to understand her pain. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stacey | 1/29/2014

    " Audio book, read by the author. More like 3.5 than 4, but I always love her language and intelligence. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nathalie | 1/22/2014

    " I cheated and listened to this as an audio book, I don't think I would have got through it otherwise but glad I listened as it was very informative about the author. I thought it was going to more like a novel, a sequel to 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit' but its not, it's more like a documentary. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Claire | 1/7/2014

    " Amazing book, left me wanting more, will be reading more of her work. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Rae | 1/6/2014

    " I found this difficult to follow however the story was very touching. I enjoyed her sense of humor. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tracyfood | 12/26/2013

    " Wow. This book is intense. There's something profoundly quotable on just about every page, and the author is incredibly brave in that way that suggests writing this book was utterly terrifying to do. More thoughts later maybe? "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Angela | 12/17/2013

    " This was a very sad tale of a woman's quest for happiness by finding her birth mother. This memoir left me feeling sad and rather unfinished somehow. Probably not too far unlike the author herself. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Debra | 9/14/2013

    " Wow! I think anyone who has had an 'unusual' upbringing or an interest in the human psyche as unconditional 'loving' beings, will enjoy her insightful writing. Love me some Ms. Winterson "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Alice | 8/3/2013

    " Greatly recommended! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cwelshhans | 7/8/2013

    " I love Winterson's fiction so much that it is hard to separate what I feel from her fiction from this memoir as a stand-alone book, but it does contain her usual amazing phrases that cut right to the heart of love and loss. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jovita | 5/8/2013

    " I was expecting this book to be hysterical and I kept waiting to laugh out loud. It never happened. It was slow and kind of boring. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stacy | 5/7/2013

    " I'm a total Winterson fan, so reading a memoir was really intriguing. This one felt like two books, and it almost feels like some of the issues she wrote about near the end were still too present to gain any reflection/insight; however, this closeness also gave it a rawness. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Torieqwq | 2/3/2013

    " The descriptions of depression and how the author came through the same were detailed and enlightening. I felt like I had gone with her int the Valley of Despair and I cheered her when she came through. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cathy | 12/11/2012

    " Started reading and realised that it's an autobiography. Not for all but I liked it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Anna | 11/6/2012

    " I'm finally reading this---so far so good! Love her writing style "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Eugenie | 8/29/2012

    " Exquisite. Seriously...go read it now. You're welcome. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Faith | 8/19/2012

    " Marvelous memoir of a difficult upbringing. Books saved her, and it shows. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sarah | 5/20/2012

    " Heartbreakingly honest. Raw, real & vulnerable. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Colin | 4/19/2012

    " Nice enough and easy reading, if not awfully easy subject matter. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Marietta | 3/27/2012

    " Sweet and beautiful and funny with a dash of salt(y tears). "

About the Author

Jeanette Winterson, born in Manchester, England, is the author of more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestseller Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? as well as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and The Passion. Her work 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. She is professor of new writing at the University of Manchester.