In the 20 minutes that I was delighted to spend talking with Jeanette Winterson recently, she offered enough beautiful off-the-cuff insights to fill an essential volume on writing, reading, love, and what it means to "reinvent the past."
Lucky for us, she has just such a new book out: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, the poignantly titled story of the author's relationship with her adoptive and biological mothers, her intellectual and sexual coming of age, and how reading became her salvation.
To whet your appetite for this "cover version" of Winterson's life (please don't call it a memoir) and our taped chat below, here's a sampler of the wisdom that she packed into her brief stop at Amazon during a very busy book tour.
Jeanette Winterson on...
"I always think about the rougher energy of love, that love is unsettling. It's the one thing that stops us being selfish. It's the one thing that allows us to actually see another person."
"[Fiction and poetry] are medicines, they're doses, and they heal the rupture that reality makes on the imagination."
"Books and doors are the same thing. You open them, and you go through into another world."
"Reading's not a luxury, art's not a luxury. It's about your soul, and it's about yourself. And if reading is a luxury, being human is a luxury."
"Writers are not here to conform. We are here to challenge. We're not here to be comfortable—we're here, really, to shake things up. That's our job."
"It's a symbiotic process, writing. What I am makes the books—not part of me, all of me—and then the books themselves inform the sense of what I am. So the more I can be, the better the books will be."
"I always say to people who want to write: Live life! Don't stand on the rim, don't sit on the sidelines. Make mistakes, make a mess, get it wrong. Read everything, and get out and be in life."