My copy of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
is fat at the upper-right-hand corner from all the pages I folded down, the margins penciled with brackets and stars and notes. I read this book as a dialogue with myself - myself as a child, as a mother, as a lover, as a reader and as a writer. As someone who struggles with happiness, with depression, with purpose, with narrative. What is the meaning of happiness? How do we learn about love? What is the purpose of poetry? What is memoir? Big questions, any one of which could serve as a ripe subject for a hefty book. Yet in just 260 pages, Jeannette Winterson pens a road map through some of our largest life questions, and re-frames conventional ideas about the purpose of literature and its many forms - all the while shaping a chilling portrait of an adoptive mother who believed that "'The devil led [her] to the wrong crib,'" and...
Beyond the Book
In a passage on suicide, Winterson remarks that "when natural gas was introduced in the 1960's, the British suicide rate fell by one-third." I thought that perhaps she was using some creative math for dramatic effect, but a little research revealed that she wasn't exaggerating at all. Here's a summary of the way things were in Great Britain before the introduction of natural gas, from the New York Times
For generations, the people of Britain heated their homes and fueled their stoves with coal gas. While plentiful and cheap, coal-derived gas could also be deadly; in its unburned form, it released very high levels of carbon monoxide, and an open valve or a leak in a closed space could induce asphyxiation in a matter of minutes. This extreme...