"The one good thing about being shut in a coal-hole is that it prompts reflection." So yeah, Jeanette Winterson had a rough childhood, but somehow managed to keep her optimism and sense of humor. Why Be Happy reminds me of Are You My Mother?, but without comics and run through a Joan Didion filter.
I think to Winterson this is a book about being adopted and finding her birth mother, but to me that was the least satisfying theme of the memoir. I was more interested in her childhood, working class Accrington, what got her to Oxford, and what it was like there. It's a pretty phenomenal book, nonetheless. Plus Winterson is a huge library fan.
So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language -- and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers -- a language powerful enough to say how it is.
The librarian was explaining the benefits of the Dewey decimal system to her junior -- benefits that extended to every area of life. It was orderly, like the universe. It had logic. It was dependable. Using it allowed a kind of moral uplift, as one's own chaos was also brought under control.
'Whenever I am troubled,' said the librarian, 'I think about the Dewey decimal system.'
'The what happens?' asked the junior, rather overawed.
'Then I understand that trouble is just something that has been filed in the wrong place. That is what Jung was explaining of course -- as the chaos of our unconscious contents strive to find their rightful place in the index of the unconsciousness.'