Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal - by Jeanette Winterson

"The trouble with a book is that you never know what's in it until it's too late" proclaimed Jeanette Winterson's Pentecostal mother (identified in this memoir as Mrs W), who kept only six books in the house (one of which was the Bible, and two others were "commentaries on the Bible"). While Mrs W finds her salvation in her faith, the younger Winterson ultimately finds it in the Accrington Public Library, where, ironically, her mother sends her each week to pick up her "stash of murder mysteries". It was in the library that Winterson discovered Jane Austen, Gertrude Stein, and T.S. Elliott. Throughout the book Winterson discusses classic works of literature, and how reading, and writing, changed her life. She talks of books the same way one might speak of a lover, using words such as "pain", "joy" and "betrayal", but also as safety and comfort
Books, for me, are a home. Books don't make a home - they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.
There is warmth there too - a hearth. I sit down with a book and I am warm.
Often her memories go back to the Accrington Public Library, with its Dewey Decimal System, and cubicles for "individual study" - right next to the large print book section - to which Winterson observes "Mrs W was nothing if not old-fashioned. She knew that masturbation made you blind....Presumably one thing led to another."

Winterson  speaks well of librarians saying they are "reliable" and even mentions thinking about becoming one herself, as the best, of the few choices, she sees for a young woman from  Accrington where "women couldn't be anything except wives or teachers or hairdressers or secretaries or do shop work....[or]librarians...[she] thought of doing that" but decided she would rather write her own books.

Books, libraries, bookstores, reading, and writing all play important roles in Winterson's life. She is quite philosophical about the way she was raised - book burning and all - as she recognizes that without that denial she might never have learned to appreciate reading, and the life of the mind, it helped her to develop.

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