Author Jeannette Winterson was adopted “out of the wrong crib” at six weeks of age. Mrs. Winterson, her adoptive mother, is deeply religious and given to staying up all night so that she doesn’t have to sleep in the same bed as her husband. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is at times a harrowing memoir of how Winterson’s deeply disturbed adoptive mother branded her as an unwanted cast-away — child abuse that left no visible marks but scarred Winterson for life.
After a tumultuous break-up with another woman, Winterson attempts suicide, saved only by one of her cats, clawing her face to wake her after she attempts to kill herself by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Winterson constructs a ladder of language of prose and poetry and emerges from her pit of despair mentally exhausted but alive. You can’t help but cheer her on as she fights for her own survival.
Author and journalist Ian Brown turned 60 and decided to keep a diary of his 61st year. Given that his anxieties, appetites, petty jealousies, and vanity is on display for all, Brown might not necessarily think he was aging with grace, but this book shows the exact opposite.
You meet a man who rues his decline, yet still has the presence of mind to embrace experience and the joys of the physical body in swimming, skiing, and cycling — albeit somewhat more cautiously than during the more reckless days of his youth. Laugh-out-loud funny at times, this book was a fun read on not just aging, but growing older — emphasis on growth, that is. It’s optimistic proof that with a strong attitude, there’s lots to look forward to.
Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election was decided, I’ve had trouble committing to books. This happens to me in times of turmoil; after 9/11, I wasn’t able to read fiction for a couple of years. I’m Canadian. I live in Canada. Neither Trump nor the Twin Towers affect(ed) me directly, but as a citizen of the world who works with American friends, you absorb the aftershocks and emotional upheaval of tragedy across the border. You can’t help but be affected, if only by proxy. It’s the times when I need books the most — as an escape, as way to reorient my perspective — that I can’t muster the attention required, it seems.
Nonfiction helps me ease back in and this time around, I turned to Jill Talbot and her memoir of love and leaving, The Way We Weren’t, to return to a reading groove. I was not disappointed; in fact, this slim volume, read in its entirety Sunday, was a lifeline back to the world of reading for pleasure. (Funny that I write about not being able to commit to a book — this is a memoir about two people who cannot commit to one another.)
Talbot excavates the aftermath of her relationship with Kenny, the man who left her and daughter Indie when Indie was four months old. Unmoored for years after the relationship dissolves, Talbot drank heavily, did a stint in rehab, and moved among seven states in fifteen years to find the right fresh start.
This book is far more than memoir-as-therapy. It’s the story of a strong woman who is still learning her own strengths. Talbot has a keen ability to examine her own fictions and actions; she’s a woman who writes to understand her past in order to embrace a better future. She’s the first to admit she doesn’t always get life right. Candour, honesty, and beautiful prose make this book one I’ll be thinking about for some time to come. In searching for her own way, Talbot helped me find mine. That’s the best gift any book can give.
January 15th, 2017
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