I was always a bookworm.

Baby bookworm Sheree reading on couch - Keeping Up With The Penguins
This is me, bookworm from the start.

And yet, I made it to my 25th year feeling like I’d read nothing at all. Despite completing a standard Australian secondary education, I deftly – if unintentionally – managed to squirm my way out of having to read The Great Gatsby for a book report, or The Catcher in the Rye for an essay. I’d started Pride and Prejudice at least six times, and never once made it more than a third of the way through. My bookish friends and lovers would talk about what they were reading, and I’d nod along blankly, wondering how they found all these books I’d never heard of, let alone read. I hadn’t been keeping up with the Penguins.

It felt like a problem that needed tackling, and I got to thinking… I can’t be the only one, right? My efforts to correct this grave error wouldn’t even really count if I didn’t start to document them, right? Here, on this site of book reviews and commentary, I detail my adventures in literature so that all the other would-be booklovers might benefit, too.

I crafted a reading list: 109 books that I’d never read (even though I really should have). It was a motley crew, a cross-breed of the Dymocks 101, the Guardian’s top 100 books written in English, and a handful of personal recommendations. Many were classics, some were a little more obscure – so it was quantities known and unknown. I figured this would be the best opportunity I’d ever have to force-feed myself books I wouldn’t normally choose, and expand my literary horizons.

Keeping Up With The Penguins might be for you if:

  • You’re scared your Tinder date will ask you about your favourite book, and you’ll be forced to confess you haven’t read anything new since Harry Potter
  • You quickly excuse yourself to the bathroom when people start talking Brontë (you’re pretty sure there’s more than one of them, but you’ve got no idea which is which)
  • You want to give classic literature a go, but every time you Google “which classic book should I read first” it returns a bunch of results you’ve never heard of and you feel overwhelmed
  • You’ve been stuck reading the one genre for years, and you either need to find something new or download your 800th poorly-formatted $0.99 Kindle e-book
  • You don’t mind having a laugh at a millennial’s attempt to wade through the literary canon of popular and classic fiction

How can I afford that? Books are expensive!

I do buy most of the books I review on Keeping Up With The Penguins myself, so it adds up quickly! I’ve got to spin a dime out of this somehow, just to break even (or close to it). That’s why I run a few ads, here and there, but it should be pretty clear what comes from the networks and what comes from me. The site also contains affiliate links: every time you buy a book I’ve recommended by clicking through a link here, I get a teeny-tiny cut of the purchase price without any extra cost to you. How awesome is that? Win-win! (The official/legal declaration: Keeping Up With The Penguins is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)

If you really want to help – and earn my eternal gratitude into the bargain – you can hit the button below to make a donation, in any amount, to Keeping Up With The Penguins. Special readers like you keep this project alive, and anything you can chuck my way helps keep it going! Click the banner:


How long is this going to take?

I considered giving myself a timeframe: could I do this in a year? That’s what smarmy bloggers do, isn’t it? “The Year Of Doing A Thing That Completely Changed My Life”. But then I did some quick maths and realised I’d have to average at least a couple of books a week, and – considering that Ulysses and Crime & Punishment are among them – I quickly re-evaluated. After all, I can’t be hemmed in by petty rules like timeframes (especially if there’s any risk of them forcing me to stay at home to read instead of going to the pub).

I also realised, as I read my way through what I now call the original reading list, that this was only the start. Since I undertook this project, I’ve discovered hundreds and hundreds of new (and old!) books that I really should read as well. Good news for my band of merry Keeper-Upperers who have followed this project from the start: my efforts to Keep Up With The Penguins will continue into perpetuity. There are between 600k and 1 million books published each year, and I’m going to keep pace as best I can.

What will readers get out of this?

Keeping Up With The Penguins will give you a taste of classic and popular books – from Victorians to vampires, from memoir to military, from horror to hipster philosophers. Best case scenario, you’ll find something new or something you hadn’t considered before, and you’ll fall madly in love (in which case, tell me all about it!). Worst case, you’ll at least have an insight or two that you can drop into conversation instead of chuckling along blankly at a book club. There’s no pretense here. My commentary on these works won’t help you in your graduate degree or inform the committee for the next Pulitzer: I’m just a loud-mouthed Aussie girl combing the secondhand bookstores of Sydney’s inner west, and telling you all about it.

And, P.S., let this serve as a universal spoiler warning. I don’t really care if I’ve ruined the twist ending of a 100-year-old novel for you, don’t @ me.

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