Friday, March 30, 2012

Jeanette Winterson

Living in New York, I now have the opportunity to easily attend hundreds of book signings as authors tour their latest titles. I've always found it amazing to hear authors read their work aloud, so I love attending these types of events and do it as often as possible, especially for authors whose work I particularly enjoy. In fact, last night I made compiled a list of all the readings taking place over the next couple of months so that I don't accidentally miss any more (the night I missed the cast of The Hunger Games less than five minutes from work was particularly painful).

 Anyway, as I said, I love hearing authors read their work aloud, as I feel that often it can give me a better sense of the tone they intended to convey through their writing. For Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, I found this to be particularly important.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Jeanette Winterson's writing through a course called "Queer Plots" my junior year, where I read her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. When I saw that she had written a memoir and would be doing a reading at McNally Jackson, I was so excited. I went, of course; I laughed, I nearly cried. I didn't faint (although one woman did! It was really hot in there!), I bought the book, braved the line, and nervously thanked Jeanette for reading as she thanked me for coming and signed my book.

Before the reading, an employee came into the children's section a few feet from where I was standing, leading a small, older woman behind her, looking for a stool. Not seeing any stools or chairs in the crowded basement of the store, the woman declared, "We'll take the mushrooms!" and picked up a large wooden mushroom from the children's toy reading house and made her way to the front of the crowd. The woman, Jeanette Winterson, put the mushroom down and stood on top of it, where she began to speak. It was not the last hilarious thing she did, but it was a mark of character. Many other authors might have demanded more of a "celebrity treatment," but Jeanette was more than content to stand atop the mushrooms and read; she said at the end that she wished she'd had them throughout the tour (New York was her last stop). The entire reading was wonderful. As I said, it was very hot, but I really did not want it to end. Luckily, when it eventually did, I bought the book and was able to come home and enjoy it a little longer. It was, without a doubt, the most honest memoir I have ever read. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal has been described as "witty," "fierce," "heartbreaking," "chatty," "moving," and "raw," but the best part of these reviews is that while they are all accurate, still none do it justice. "Powerful," might be the best catch-all, but I recommend you see for yourself.

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