Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Features & Discussion (page 1 of 11)

Best Of The Keeping Up With The Penguins Reading List

Long before I even thought of starting this blog, I sat down and made a list: a hundred-and-nine books I felt I “should” have read already. A lot of them were classics, some were more contemporary best-sellers, all of them were pretty much unknown quantities. I took notes as I read about what I liked and what I didn’t, and those notes became reviews, and those reviews became Keeping Up With The Penguins. Now that I’ve finished reading my way through that original list (never fear, the blog will continue and more reviews are coming!) I’m feeling all nostalgic and shit. I thought I’d take a look back at my greatest hits: the best of the Keeping Up With The Penguins reading list.

The Best Of The Keeping Up With The Penguins Reading List - Text Overlaid on Mosaic Tiles - Keeping Up With The Penguins

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Even after I read all the blurbs and the accolades, I had no idea what We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was going to be about when I sat down to start reading it. Turns out, there’s a very good reason for that. This book had the mother-of-all twists that came seventy pages in, one that completely turns the story on its head. It has set the standard for all plot twists in every book I’ve read since (and very few have lived up to it). But that’s not the only reason to read this book: it’s funny, it’s touching, and I swear it made me a better person. Whenever I’m asked to give a book recommendation for a complete stranger, this is the first one I suggest. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Short History Of Everything wasn’t a completely unknown quantity. I’d read Bill Bryson’s Down Under years ago, and loved it – it’s hard not to be charmed by his folksy style, his wry humour, and his insightful anecdotes. Still, A Short History Of Nearly Everything is in a league of its own. It’s practically a masterclass on how to write about complex topics for the everyday reader. Somehow, Bryson managed to make the most intricate jargon-y scientific and historical knowledge of humankind accessible, understandable, and – most importantly of all – fun! I know it’s a few years out of date now (my edition still says Pluto is a planet, whoops!), but I still use fun facts from this book on a daily basis. Read my full review of A Short History Of Nearly Everything here.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

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When I was putting together my original reading list, I knew I had to include Dickens. He was my late grandfather’s favourite author, and I always regretted not having read any of his work while Granddad was still alive; I know we would have had incredible discussions about it. I went with David Copperfield because I read that Dickens had said it was his personal favourite, and who am I to question the author? It totally held up to all of my expectations – exceeded them, even, high as they were! It’s a long, long book, but it didn’t feel like it. I devoured it like a drunk woman eating a kebab. Read my full review of David Copperfield here.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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I’m a true crime junkie, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I listen to the podcasts, and follow the breaking news on cold cases. And now, having read it, I can see why In Cold Blood is considered essential reading, the foundational text, of the true crime genre. Capote spent six years investigating the Clutter murders, taking over eight thousand pages of notes (helped by his best buddy, Harper Lee, don’t forget), and whittled them down into this incredible book, the “first true crime novel” as he called it. And, before you say it, I know he took some liberties with the truth. I bloody know, alright? Make what you will of the ethics of it, but when the book is this good, I’m willing to overlook a bit of creative license. Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My Brilliant Friend taught me more about the art of translation than any other book on my list. It was originally written in Italian by an anonymous author (Elena Ferrante is a nom de plume, and I don’t care what some dickhead with an algorithm thinks he figured out, her true identity has never been revealed), and translated into English by Ann Goldstein. I was so impressed with the way Goldstein managed to retain the rolling lyricism of the original Italian that I started to do a bit of digging, which ended up being a rabbit hole into the world of books in translation. Not only is My Brilliant Friend an incredible read, it’s also a testament to the power of language, and the importance of the #namethetranslator movement. Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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Do you ever read a book and wonder why on earth everyone isn’t talking about it already? That’s how I felt with Cold Comfort Farm. It had a strange cover that kind of put me off, but in deference to the Keeping Up With The Penguins project, I ploughed ahead anyway, and I am SO glad I did. Stella Gibbons is a criminally underrated comic author, and Cold Comfort Farm is a work of hilarious genius. It’s like a satirical Mary Poppins, with a cast of characters so eccentric and bizarre they’ll have your eyes wide when they don’t have you in stitches. What’s more, I found out later that Gibbons remains relatively unknown because she refused to play the game and suck up to the literary giants of her day. I say let’s not let her fall into obscurity because she didn’t enjoy networking! Read my full review of Cold Comfort Farm here.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Anita Loos - Books Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Speaking of underrated kick-arse women writers: did you know Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a book, long before it was a Marilyn Monroe film? I didn’t until I was putting my reading list together, and I was curious enough to give it a try. Anita Loos should be a household name. She was the first salaried scriptwriter to work with major Hollywood studios. She crafted characters that felt so real you could almost reach out and touch them (the protagonist in this book, Lorelei Lee, being a case in point). Loos was observant, brilliant, and funny as hell. Unfortunately, she fell in love with an arsehole, who lived off her profits and cut her down whenever he felt threatened. So, screw him, I say, and while we’re at it, screw anyone who says The Great Gatsby is the definitive Jazz Age novel. It’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes all the way, baby! Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Before I started reading my way through this list, all I knew about Scandinavian writers was that they wrote crime. Good crime. Grisly crime. Hardened detectives in cold climates sussing out awful murders. But now, having read The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, I’ve got to say I think that reputation is a damn shame. This is one of the most delightful, charming, and uplifting books I’ve ever read. Sure, you have to suspend your disbelief for a minute or two, but it’s worth it: it’s so worth it. It’s a European Forrest Gump, but better. My edition was translated into English by Rod Bradbury (#namethetranslator!). Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Whenever I get into an argument with someone about whether to bother reading the introduction to a classic book (so many people just skip straight to chapter one!), I always whip out Little Women and beat them over the head with it. This book was written off for centuries as light, sentimental fluff – it was a book “for girls”, and never taken seriously as part of the American literary canon. I might’ve come away from it with the same impression had I not read the introduction, which gave me some context about Louisa May Alcott’s life and the way she came to write her best-known work. This is an incredible book, but you have to be paying close attention and know what to look for. Read my full review of Little Women here.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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Have you ever read a book so good it just made you angry? When I finished The Grapes Of Wrath, when I put the book down on my lap and tried to catch my breath after that sucker-punch of a final scene, I found myself irrationally angry at every person in my life who had ever read this book. Why hadn’t they warned me? I’m not sure I even liked it very much at first because I was so startled by it. It’s the story of a family migrating from the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, but it’s alarmingly analogous to current events as a result of climate change. I was so moved, and so wrecked, by this book that I needed to put myself in a time-out before I put a hole in a wall. Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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I have no idea how Crime And Punishment ended up on my reading list. I was dreading it, to say the least. I eschewed Anna Karenina and War And Peace for the same reason: it’s a Russian classic, which – I was sure – meant it was going to be dense, dull, and depressing. How wrong I was, reader! How wrong I was! This edition – translated into English by David McDuff (name! the! translator!) – was well loved before it fell into my hands, as the tattered cover shows, and I can see why. I never thought I would laugh with, cry for, or relate so hard to a literal axe murderer… and yet, here we are. Seriously, don’t sleep on this one, folks, and never let a book’s reputation decide for you whether it’s to your tastes. Read my full review of Crime And Punishment here.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Do you know that The Bell Jar is one of the most difficult classic books to find in secondhand stores? There’s a reason for that: no one ever wants to part with their copy. I checked my local secondhand bookstore on an almost-daily basis for months, and never found one. I was about to give up hope and buy it new when a friend stopped by that very same bookstore on her way to visit me and saw this beautiful Faber edition on display – it had come in that very day. She bought it for me, and I loved it. Loved it. The prose is every bit as beautiful as the cover. It’s one of the first things I would save in a fire. Sylvia Plath’s true-life (and death) story is heart-breaking of course, but I’m so, so glad and grateful that she was able to bring this book into the world before she passed. Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

It’s been one heck of a ride, hasn’t it? And it’s not over yet! What have been your favourites from the Keeping Up With The Penguins reading list? Any new favourites that I should read and review ASAP? Let me know in the comments below!

My To-Be-Read List: What’s Next on Keeping Up With The Penguins

This week, I polished off the last of my original reading list for Keeping Up With The Penguins with a review of Ulysses. That, of course, begs the question: what’s next? I’ve accumulated some 250+ additional books since I started this project, and I’ve cobbled them together into a list of sorts, BUT this time around, I plan on giving myself a little more flexibility. Rather than sticking rigidly to a list, I’m just going to go wherever the bookish winds blow me. Never fear: you’ll still get your weekly review here on Keeping Up With The Penguins, plus extra reviews of hot new releases for Keeper Upperers (have you subscribed yet? You should, the perks are awesome – just whack in your email address!). Here’s a sneak peek of what’s coming up soon…

My To Be Read List - What's Up Next On Keeping Up With The Penguins - Text Overlaid on Image of Notebooks and Pen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I feel like I might be the last person – definitely the last Australian woman – alive who hasn’t read Big Little Lies yet. I reviewed Liane Moriarty’s earlier novel, The Husband’s Secret, last year, and I’m curious to see what this one is like. It’s the book that shot Moriarty into the stratosphere of bookish stardom, and it had a wildly successful HBO adaptation with Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. I think it’ll make for a great palette cleanser, a good gripping page-turner to get things rolling…

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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I wasn’t actually planning to pick this one up, until I heard David Marr interview Andrew Sean Greer at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Greer was so disarming, and so charming, and spoke so eloquently about how he came to write Less that I went out and bought it immediately. He said that he worked out the only way to write about one’s own miseries was to make them funny, and so he did. A funny book about an ageing gay man travelling the world to escape his ex-lover’s wedding? Yes, please!

Sanditon by Jane Austen

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Sanditon is Jane Austen’s final novel, incomplete at the time of her death. The fine folks at Oxford World Classics were kind enough to send me a copy of their new edition for review last year. I read and reviewed it for Keeper Upperers (*cough*subscribe!*cough*), but I still have SO MUCH MORE to say about it! And about Austen in general… So, I’m going to read this one again, and bring you a more comprehensive review later in the year. Maybe for Austen in August, whaddaya reckon?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Here’s a peek behind the book blogging curtain for you: I’ve actually already read The Handmaid’s Tale. Hehe! I hadn’t when I started this project, but when it came time to review The Testaments over on Primer, I thought I’d best read the original first, to make sure I had a handle on what was going on. I squeezed it in around my other reading commitments, and filed away my notes so that I could bring you a full review once my original reading list was done. So, keep your eyes peeled, it’s coming soon!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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I told just about every person I know this past year that The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is my new ultimate cheer-up read. A whole bunch of them responded “Oh, if you like that, you simply MUST read A Man Called Ove“. Opinion seems to be divided on some of Backman’s other novels, but as best I can tell this one is basically universally adored. If it’s anything like The One Hundred Year Old Man, I’m going to join the chorus. I’m saving it for a moment when I need a book that feels like a hug! (Pssst: does anyone know how to actually pronounce “Ove”?)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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This is another one that I feel like EVERYONE has read except for me! An American Marriage has been highly recommended by everyone from Oprah to Barack Obama. It also won the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year. If that’s not enough, I just cannot resist the gorgeous cover art! Inside, there’s a story of a young black couple, cruelly separated early in their marriage when Roy, the husband, is falsely accused of sexual assault and incarcerated for several years. I feel like this one is going to be a heavier read, but a vital one.

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

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Because I alphebatise by bookshelves by author surname, Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name has been in the #1 spot for a long, long time. I’ve not seen the film, but I’ve heard it’s fantastic, and the book it’s based on even better. As I understand, it’s about a young man’s infatuation with an older house guest, and the love affair that blooms. It sounds to me like it’s already a contemporary classic of queer literature, so I’m really looking forward to giving it a go. Plus, there’s a sequel!

Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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I’m hoping to branch out in a bunch of different ways with my next to-be-read list, and this is one of them: collections of short stories. There weren’t enough of them on my original reading list, so now’s my chance to get into more! Her Body And Other Parties is one of the most popular ones that has been released in recent years, by American author Carmen Maria Machado. I’m particularly curious about the SVU-themed story that I heard her talk about in an interview; after surgery on her wisdom teeth (or something like that), she streamed seasons of Law & Order SVU as she recovered and, in her pain-killer-and-fever-induced fugue state, it inspired a weird story based on episode summaries. I’m here for it!

And, it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, there’ll be HEAPS more! As well as branching out with formats (plays, poetry), I’m really excited to read more women, more POC, more writers with disability, more LGBTIQ+ writers… it’s going to be awesome! Are there any books you’re particularly eager for me to read and review? Drop your recommendations in the comments below!

Books With Girl In The Title

There have been a lot of publishing trends since Gutenberg first put his press to work. We see them play out in real time now, thanks to the internet: there was the spate of Dan Brown rip-offs after the success of The Da Vinci Code, then Twilight heralded the age of the teen vampire love story… but there’s one in particular that really gets my goat. It’s books with “girl” in the title. Where the titular character is, in fact, a girl (defined as “a female child”), it’s not so bad, but when that descriptor is applied to grown woman, it feels reductive, infantilising, and all-around shitty. I took a look over my shelves and decided to implement a system: YAY (for when the title refers to an actual “girl”) and NAY (for when it should refer to a woman or person). Here are the results…

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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This is the first one that springs to mind for most people when you mention the “girl in the title” trend. Gone Girl was released in 2012 and fast became a must-read, spawning years of unreliable-female-narrator-psychological-thriller knock offs. The “girl” of the title is Amy, one of the protagonists, and she’s old enough to be married, pregnant, and caring for elderly in-laws.

Verdict: NAY

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

And this is the second one that comes up when you mention books with girl in the title: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. It was released a few years after Gone Girl, and – rightly or wrongly – the two have been compared to death. The story revolves around three main characters, one of whom is “the girl on the train”. Rachel is in her mid-thirties, recently divorced, infertile, and an alcoholic. Read my full review of The Girl On The Train here.

Verdict: NAY

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

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Long before girls were gone or on trains, there was Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. This is her memoir of her time spent in a psychiatric institution, having been admitted when she was 18 years old. The title references a Dutch painting called Girl Interrupted At Her Music. That, plus the fact that the title was a product of self-determination and a non-fiction account, swayed my verdict.

Verdict: YAY

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Alright, back to more recent history: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell draws upon “fangirl culture”, specifically the creation of fan-fiction and the communities that develop around fandoms online. The titular character, Cath, is in her first year at university, struggling to adjust. This one is borderline (“young woman” would probably be most accurate), but Cath is very immature in her thinking and approach to life, and again the cultural reference sways it for me. Read my full review of Fangirl here.

Verdict: YAY

City Of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Last year saw the release of Elizabeth Gilbert’s long-awaited return to fiction, City Of Girls. The story is set in the 1940s, when 19 year old Vivian Morris has been kicked out of university and sent to live with her aunt in New York. There, she tumbles down the rabbit hole of glamour, sex, and adventure. I want to give Gilbert the benefit of the doubt – maybe she was trying to allude to the “showgirls” Vivian encounters – but ultimately, given the adult themes and growth of the main character, this one gets a womp-womp.

Verdict: NAY

Girl by Edna O’Brien

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Also last year: Girl by Edna O’Brien. As far as books with girl in the title go, this one is the most straightforward. The story imagines the experience of one of the abductees of Boko Haram, in northeastern Nigeria. There are a few different ways in which this novel is problematic, but the title ain’t one of ’em. The titular character is most definitely a girl, and what happens to her is awful and traumatic and devastating.

Verdict: YAY

The Girls by Emma Cline

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The Girls was Emma Cline’s debut novel, and it had a bold premise: a fictional story “inspired by” and very strongly reminiscent of the Manson family cult and the murders they committed. The “girls” of the title are the teenagers recruited to a ranch by their leader, Russell. The protagonist, Evie, was just 14 years old at the time; although the story is told as middle-aged Evie’s recollection, the primary action takes place when she was that age. Plus, this is a story about the fragility of innocence in girlhood, so for me, the title makes sense.

Verdict: YAY

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg

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When you’re a YouTube superstar, and you have squillions of followers, you can call your book pretty much any damn thing you want, and people will still buy it. I’m still a bit baffled as to why Zoe Sugg went with Girl Online, though. The story centers around an adolescent girl with an anonymous blog, who goes unexpectedly viral when she unknowingly starts dating a pop-star. Girl Online is just such a terrible domain name! But, I’ll give this one to Sugg: the title is relevant, and accurately depicts the nature off her protagonist.

Verdict: YAY

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

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The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone lands pretty much smack-bang in the middle of The Virgin Suicides and Picnic At Hanging Rock. The central character, Tikka, recounts the summer when she was eleven years old (and one sixth), when the three titular Van Apfel sisters vanish during a school concert. The search for the girls unites the community, but the mystery persists. At first, I was skeptical about the use of “girls” – surely “sisters” or just “the Van Apfels” would have worked just as well? – but by my own criteria, I think I’ve got to give this one the thumbs up, too.

Verdict: YAY

Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford

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I don’t know how much international Keeper Upperers know about Clementine Ford, but here in Australia she’s one of the most divisive feminist commentators we’ve got. It seems everyone has an opinion about her opinions, and scrolling through her mentions on Twitter is horrifying. Fight Like A Girl is her debut book, a feminist manifesto, a “call to arms”. This is one of the few instances of books that use girl in the title that I actually like and support, rather than just accept or outright hate. I feel like it was Ford’s way of using the language of the oppressor – the schoolyard taunt “you fight like a girl!” – and turning it on its head. Plus, her follow up was called Boys Will Be Boys, so she’s clearly even handed in her approach.

Verdict: YAY

Well, in the end, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting: more YAYs than NAYs on my shelves. That said, I’m familiar with a bunch of other books with girl in the title – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Other Boleyn Girl, Girl With A Pearl Earring – that I don’t happen to own, and remain skeptical about. Would you give them yays or nays? Am I the only one bugged by this? Let me know in the comments below…

7 Books That Changed The World

When you think about it, books are just ink pressed onto the skins of trees and bound together with glue and cardboard. How is it possible that such small objects wield such incredible power? All booklovers carry inside them a handful of books that changed their world, the way they live and see their lives, but what about books that actually changed the whole world? What about the books that nudged the course of history in a different direction? I’ve rounded up some of my favourites here today in this list of seven books that changed the world.

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The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

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Technically speaking, books wouldn’t be able to change the world if there were no books, right? (The horror!) So, it makes sense to start this list with the first novel ever written – that’s right, the very first one, in the form that we understand today – back in the 11th century, The Tale Of Genji. Murasaki Shikibu was a lady-in-waiting at the Japanese Court, and (believe it or not) that was actually a pretty dull life. A lot of sitting around and, y’know, waiting. So, she picked up a pen and started writing, just to fill in the time. Her book doesn’t have a plot per se, but it does have a cast of characters and many of the other elements we recognise as defining the modern novel. It shaped Japanese culture for hundreds of years, and paved the way for all written literature that has come since.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe was kind of awesome. She was a middle-aged, middle class white lady, living in the mid-1800s in what we now call the United States (which is pretty much her doing, as you’ll see). She took a look around her and went “You know what? Slavery is fucked. God would not be down with this at all. I’m gonna write a book about it.” So, she sat down and wrote a powerful abolitionist novel about Uncle Tom – a heroic slave who won’t be kept down by the forces that oppress him – and other slaves who suffered under the system. It was so popular (selling 300,000 copies in its first year, no mean feat, even by today’s standards!) that it is now credited with fueling the fire of the abolitionist movement that became the Civil War. Even Abraham Lincoln, when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, said: “So, you’re the little woman who wrote the book who started this great war.” Today, it is widely recognised as having turned the tide of public opinion against slavery, and still manages to reveal new insights to people about the oppression that continues – such is the power of fiction.

See also: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and 12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

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Maybe George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four didn’t pivot the course of history as directly or immediately as some of the other books on this list, but given its ongoing resonance and how frequently we refer to it in today’s political discourse, I’d say it definitely counts as one of the books that changed the world. Even though it was written in 1949, and set in a totally imagined dystopian future, every time I pick it up I still learn something new about the real world that we live in today: state surveillance, acts of resistance, power and control, and collective action. We use Orwell’s language – “Big Brother”, “doublethink”, “thoughtcrime” – every day, and cite this book frequently in our attempts to quash totalitarian regimes. This is one of the defining books of the dystopian genre, a treatise in defense of human rights, and a powerful call to arms, all in one. Oh, yeah, and there’s kind-of a love story, too…

Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank has become synonymous with our understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII. It is the very definition of the political made personal, and I defy anyone to read this book and not become a more empathic, compassionate, humane person as a result. It has also become a symbol of hope in the face of atrocity, and a testament to both the cruelty and resilience of humanity. I think this book changed the world in the sense that it finally gave us a universally relatable human face to put on the devastating impact on war.

See also: No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani – I was struck, in the most horrifying way, by the parallels between Anne Frank’s experience of living through the Holocaust and Behrouz Boochani’s account of torturous off-shore imprisonment by the Australian government. Perhaps the world has not changed as much as we might have hoped…

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

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I won’t deny that feminism has evolved and changed dramatically since Betty Friedan’s time, and there were views and opinions held at that time that we can recognise as deeply problematic today. Still, I think it’s important that we also acknowledge the foundational texts – The Feminine Mystique being one of them – for the revolutionary, ground-breaking, world-changing works they were. The Feminine Mystique effectively sparked the second wave of the feminist movement; where the first had focused on suffrage and property rights, Friedan pushed feminists to think more broadly about domestic labour, reproductive rights, and access to the workplace. In this book, we can see the germinating seeds of the later movements that are more in line with our values today. Friedan’s obituary, printed in the New York Times, said that this book “permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States” – and those effects rippled out through the rest of the world.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, I’m not going to lie: I didn’t love Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I came in expecting all kinds of smut, and aside from a couple of heaving bosoms and c-bombs, there was none to be found. Disappointing! Still, even I can acknowledge the important impact that this book has had on our access to literature and the right to read. It was widely censored and banned – completely prohibited in the UK for many decades – because of its supposedly-explicit sexual content. The brave souls at Penguin forged ahead and published the book anyway in 1960, leading to a major trial about whether they had contravened the laws against obscenity. In the end, the publishers won, which established a precedent that continues to govern our access to literature (especially the smutty stuff) today. A publisher’s note in my edition dedicates the book to the twelve jurors that declared them not guilty. Read my full review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover here.

See also: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, and pretty much any other “dirty” book that has been subject to challenges and censorship around the world.

Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter And The Philosophers Stone - JK Rowling - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s almost difficult to count the ways in which the Harry Potter series has changed the world. What started as a daydream on a delayed train for Rowling has become an international sensation, a cultural touchstone, and a beacon of children’s literacy. Many kids who would not otherwise be interested in reading have discovered their love of books through Harry Potter. People who feel isolated and alone still turn to them for comfort and nostalgia. The readers my age, the ones who grew up with these books as they were being released, are now having kids of their own and re-discovering Harry Potter along with them. The New York Times had to create a whole new Best Seller List (for Children), because Rowling’s books had dominated the regular list for so long. Rowling has donated millions from her Harry Potter profits to charitable organisations that do vital work (yes, I’m deliberately ignoring some of her more problematic politics that have come to light in recent years, because I want to end on a happy note). No matter which way you slice it, Harry Potter has been a force for good, a series of books that changed the world for the better.

Can you think of any other books that changed the world? Add them to the list in the comments below!

8 Most Overrated Books Of All Time

A few weeks ago, I put together a list of underrated books, ones that haven’t received the attention or acclaim that I think they deserve. Now, I know literary appreciation isn’t a zero sum game, but it got me thinking: it stands to reason that, if there are books out there that aren’t feeling enough of the love, there must be some that are feeling too much of it. Right? So, here, I present a counterpoint: 8 of the most overrated books of all time, as determined by me.

8 Most Overrated Books Of All Time - Text Overlaid on Image of Jeering Crowd - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pssst: this is not to say that these books are “bad” necessarily, or that they’re not worth reading. I’m just saying that they get TOO MUCH hype, at the expense of other great books that deserve a bit of that limelight. So, y’know, don’t @ me.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This might be my most controversial choice, so I’m getting it out of the way early: The Great Gatsby. Why, oh why, do we hold this story of a wealthy borderline stalker in such high esteem? It’s not as though there aren’t other great Jazz Age novels out there (there are). And yet, this is the one that we force teenagers to read and analyse in high school, and salivate over in creative writing courses. Reader, it’s not that great. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road To The Deep North - Richard Flanagan - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The premise and setting of The Narrow Road To The Deep North aren’t bad. The unflinching account of the life of a surgeon in a POW camp is admirable, even jaw-dropping in parts. But damn, if this wasn’t one of the most overwritten books I’ve ever read! Flanagan’s editor really needed to have a stern word: he could’ve cut off the whole first third of the book, like a gangrenous limb, and it would’ve been a much better read. I still can’t quite believe that it beat out We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves for the Booker Prize in 2014… Read my full review of The Narrow Road To The Deep North here.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Even now, fifteen years after its release, I still feel like every time I turn around I bump into someone saying that The Book Thief is AMAZING, that it is HEARTBREAKING, that it will CHANGE MY PERSPECTIVE on WWII… piffle. It’s narrated by Death, which is a pretty cool way. of telling a story, but other than that…? The main message is that Nazis are bad and literacy is good. I thought we could take that as read! The same goes for All The Light We Cannot See, too. The recent boom in WWII historical fiction really irks me. It feels like they’re only rehashing what has already been beautifully accounted in books like Diary Of A Young Girl. The Book Thief would be a fine read for teenagers who are just starting to learn about this chapter in history, but it got way too much hype overall. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In my experience, every single reader who lists Fahrenheit 451 as their favourite book read it for the first time as a teenager. Everyone who, like me, read it as an adult had much the same reaction as I did: a huge feeling of underwhelm. This book is like dystopian-lite: dystopian fiction for people who haven’t read much (or any) dystopian fiction. The idea of firefighters who burn books is a good one, but there’s better-imagined and better-written books out there now that are far more worthy of our time and attention. Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

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Let me sum up The Sun Also Rises for you: a guy with a malfunctioning doodle convinces himself that he has no hope of happiness or sexual satisfaction, so he traipses across Europe with his drunk friends feeling sorry for himself. Ugh! It’s so woefully repressed (and grossly colonial in places). It’s not even a good example of Hemingway’s whole “show, don’t tell” fly-on-the-wall writing ethos. Papa was a brilliant short story writer, but I wish I could forget all about this novel entirely. Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I actually quite liked Don Quixote. It was a whopping great book, but I read it slowly, bit by bit, and found it quite enjoyable. I think it’s overrated as a comic novel, though, and that’s why I include it here in this list of the most overrated books of all time. Everyone kept telling me “Oooh, Don Quixote! It’s so funny! It’s so funny!”. Yeah, except that it’s the story of a man with a severe, undiagnosed, and untreated delusional disorder. No one tries to help him, no one steps in when he’s clearly a danger to himself and others – they treat him like a circus attraction. My heart broke for Don Quixote, and I barely got a chuckle out of this book. “Comic” my arse… Read my full review of Don Quixote here.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

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John Green might’ve won himself a legion of fans with his stories of teenage love and melodrama, but come on. The Fault In Our Stars was just a blatant attempt to make me cry, and I reject that outright. It was so transparent, I found myself rolling my eyes at every plot point. The “love interest”, Augustus, is so high on his own fumes, it was infuriating. If the protagonist, Hazel, had been just a few years older and just a little less sheltered, she would have kicked him to the curb long before any of the rest of it. Read my full review of The Fault In Our Stars here.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Lady Chatterley’s Lover has the distinction of being one of the most banned, censored, and challenged books of fiction in the history of English literature. On that basis, I naturally expected it to be very smutty. I’m sorry to report that there was barely any filth at all! A couple of heaving bosoms, a few c-bombs, and that’s it! I have no idea what all the fuss was about… Read my full review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover here.

And there we have it, my list of the most overrated books of all time. All of them are hills I’m willing to die on, so give it your best shot 😉 And don’t forget to add your suggestions in the comments below!

10 Long Books Worth Reading

Long books often get a bad rap, and it’s not without reason. Sometimes, you just look at an 800-page doorstop and think… yeah, nah. Reading three or four shorter books seems so much easier. I’ve written before about how quick reads are great for busy people, and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone their inclination for a shorter tome. But, as with everything, one doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of the other. When I read Don Quixote, I made sure to clear my reading schedule for a good four weeks, to allow myself time to fully immerse myself in Cervantes’ world and take in his episodic plot bit by bit – and I’m so glad I did! If we eschew all long books because we’re intimidated or we assume they’ll bore us, we’re going to miss out on some great reads. So, if you decide the time is right to full invest yourself in one long (long!) book, you want to make sure it’s a good one, right? I’ve got your back: here are ten long books worth reading.

A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones - George R R Martin - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

801 pages

Fantasy books tend to be doorstops, more so than other genres, and I’m pretty sure there’s a fantasy reader or two out there looking at A Game Of Thrones and thinking “pffft, that’s not long!”. Well, for regular readers, it is! And I’m not normally one for fantasy books. I get lost in the names of characters and places and magical stuff, and find myself having to double back a lot to keep it all straight. The great thing about A Game Of Thrones is that we’re all already familiar with the plot (or, at least, the basic premise) having seen the HBO adaptation. That makes it much easier – and quicker! – to read than coming to it completely cold. The other reason this long book is worth reading? When snobs say “Oh, I haven’t seen the TV series, I read the book”, you can say “Yeah, me too!”, and watch them pout. Hehehe! Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghiara

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

720 pages

There’s nothing little about A Little Life (I think I could use my paperback edition to do deadlifts, I can’t imagine what the hardcover would be like!), but it’s one of those long books worth reading just to see what all the fuss is about. Trigger warnings aplenty: most readers call this one “devastating”, and that’s understating it. But this searing examination of life in New York, the riveting realities of trauma, and the heartbreaking intensity of love and loyalty is totally worth it when you’ve got the time and mental stability for it. It was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2015, if that makes any difference to you.

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili

The Eighth Life - Nino Haratschvili - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

934 pages

When Scribe reached out to me last year and said they had a new book for me to read, about a family cursed by a secret chocolate recipe, my response was something along the lines of: HECK YEAH! When a huge package arrived in the post a couple days later, I didn’t connect the dots – I thought someone had mailed me a brick as a prank. But no, it was The Eighth Life (translated into English by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin). The days of the sweeping multi-generational epic are not over, friends! This one follows the Jashi family over the course of a century, as they survive the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. You get to see how world politics plays out on a personal level (and, yes, there is magical cursed chocolate).

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing - Book Laid Face Up on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

576 pages

The Golden Notebook is, technically, the shortest on this list of long books worth reading – but if you’re not used to reading long books, it won’t feel that way! I suppose, if we’re being technical, it’s more like five books in one. Doris Lessing has written a story that could stand alone (“Free Women”), and then weaved in four separate “notebook” narratives, written by her protagonist. This book is unique in its structure and form, and it has a lot to say about the nature of identity, relationships, and womanhood. I can guarantee you’ve never read anything else like it. Read my full review of The Golden Notebook here.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

686 pages

The title says it all, really: A Short History Of Nearly Everything. Bill Bryson is, as always, concise and funny and warm and whimsical, but even a “short” history of “nearly everything” is going to make for a damn long book. Luckily, Bryson has had a lot of practice at writing about lofty topics for the everyday reader, so he makes 680+ pages of physics, biology, history, sociology, and mathematics incredibly engaging and compulsively readable. Even though it’s perhaps a little out of date now (my edition still says Pluto is a planet, whoops!), it will still give you a lot of fun facts for the next time you’re stuck for words around the water cooler. Read my full review of A Short History Of Nearly Everything here.

Under The Dome by Stephen King

Under The Dome - Stephen King - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

880 pages

Stephen King is known for writing long books – real long! – and Under The Dome is no exception. The good news is that it was his 58th book, so he had plenty of practice under his belt and knew just how to keep the reader interested in his doorstop book. Using multiple perspectives (to keep things fresh), he tells the story of a town suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a large, invisible barrier (the titular “dome”). It’s not as horror-y as some of his other offerings (no mass slaughters at high schools or cursed dogs here!), but it is still as chilling and spooky as you’d hope from the master.

Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

671 pages

DON’T STOP READING! I know you must be feeling super cynical about seeing Crime And Punishment – a dreary, depressing Russian classic – on a list off long books worth reading. I understand that you might be thinking “ugh, if I’m going to spend that much time on one book, it’d better be something that brings me joy”. I know all of your preconceived ideas because I had the same ones, and I am happy to report that I was completely wrong. Crime And Punishment is not dreary or depressing at all! In fact, my edition (the translation to English by David McDuff) made me laugh ’til I cried, and I found myself totally relating to and rooting for a literal axe murderer. Read my full review of Crime And Punishment here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History - Donna Tartt - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

629 pages

If you feel like you need some likeable characters (some axe murderers you can root for, perhaps), The Secret History is probably not the best long book to start with. That said, it’s still compelling and compulsive, in a way that only Donna Tartt can be. This book follows a group of college students who are studying the classics, and the… shall we say, bizarre, twisted, fucked-up mess they make for themselves. It’s a fascinating character study, but with enough mystery and action to keep you flicking through hundreds of pages.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - two volume green hardcover set laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

1057 pages

Here it is: the big daddy, the grand poobah, of long books – and yet, it’s one I almost forgot to include. See, I don’t even really think of David Copperfield as a long book. Maybe that’s partly because my edition was split into two volumes, about five hundred pages a piece, but I think it’s mostly because it just didn’t feel like a long book. I read it so fast, I was so gripped and entertained the whole way through the protagonist’s life story, I pumped through it as quickly as I would any standard-length contemporary novel. This is the perfect pick for readers who normally enjoy history or biography, because it has the incomparable benefit of not having to stick to the rigid rules of the “truth” 😉 Read my full review of David Copperfield here.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

784 pages

Yes, yes, it’s another Russian classic, but any list of long books worth reading is incomplete without Anna Karenina. If nothing else, it’s worth picking up just for the immortal opening line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Surely, that alone is enough to draw you in! It actually shares a lot in common with many of the other books on this list: the characters aren’t (necessarily) likeable and they do horrible things to one another, it’s a rich world drawn in great detail, it’s indulgent, it’s tragic… Consider this your option for “levelling up” your long-book-reading game.

All told, this list comes to 7738 pages – surely that’s enough to keep you going for a while! No? Add your recommendations for long books worth reading in the comments below!

10 Books To Read After A Break-Up

Even the most wide-eyed optimist must concede that heartbreak is an inevitable byproduct of romance. If you put your heart out there, you’ve got to expect some wear and tear – better to have loved and lost, and all that. Where better for a bookworm to seek solace than in the pages of a book? If your Valentine’s Day didn’t exactly work out as you’d hoped – or if you just thought my post last week was way too schmaltzy – here’s your cure: 10 books to read after a break-up.

10 Best Books To Read After A Break Up - Text Below Image of Paper Heart Torn In Two On A String - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There’s no shame in needing a little earnest positivity when you’re heartbroken! The simple fable of The Alchemist won’t be too taxing to read, and you’ll find it to be a story of overcoming obstacles, persisting through dark times, and remaining true to one’s self. There’s a reason it’s a long-time favourite of hippie-dippie types! Read my full review here.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re entering into the snarky phase of grief, The Husband’s Secret is the book for you! The key takeaway is this: it’s probably a good thing it didn’t work out with your lover, because if they’d stuck around, you’d probably find out they were a secret murderer or having an affair with your cousin or something. You’re far better off without them, really! Read my full review here.

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is my ultimate cheer-up read. It’s the perfect book to read after a break-up, because romance barely rates a mention. The protagonist is a centenarian virgin, after all! I don’t want to call it “escapist”, because I think that’s a super-loaded term, but this is a book that will help you escape your troubles for an hour or two. Read my full review here.

Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body And Other Parties - Carmen Maria Machado - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re struggling to focus for long enough to follow a whole novel, try Her Body And Other Parties instead. Machado is wickedly clever, incredibly insightful, and – of course – a kick-arse feminist. Her stories are spooky, strange, and sure to distract you from your dreadful ex. Plus, this is a collection of short stories you can sip slowly, instead of having to drink it all in at once.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re not ready to laugh just yet, why not take your mind off your break-up with a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence? A Clockwork Orange will leave you horrified, and silently glad you didn’t head out that night with a baseball bat to take your rage out on your ex’s windshield (come on, you know you were tempted, but that shit is a slippery slope). Read my full review here.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Life After Life will help you work through any of your lingering Sliding Doors fantasies. You know, the ones where you wonder how your relationship might had turned out if you’d just done one small thing differently… To put things in perspective, Atkinson’s protagonist has much higher stakes, with her repeated deaths and the fate of WWII hanging overhead. Plus, it’s so long, this book will keep you busy until long after the sting of your break-up has faded. Read my full review here.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Has your break-up got you feeling like you just want to get away from it all? Maybe read The Martian before you start googling how to buy a Space X ticket. Mark Watney ends up cut off from the world, and he comes pants-shittingly close to never reconnecting – it’s not as much fun as it sounds right now, trust me! Plus, Watney is such a witty and wry narrator, you’ll end up laughing in spite of yourself. Read my full review here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less - Andrew Sean Greer - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You’re not the only sad-sack lovelorn protagonist out there, I promise! Just look at Arthur Less, the bumbling fool who stumbles from one literary event to another, looking for love in all the wrong places. Less is the perfect book to read after a break-up, especially if you’ve just found out your ex is getting married and you’re wondering what the heck to do with your invitation…

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick - Herman Melville - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’ve always thought you should “get around” to reading Moby Dick one day, now’s your chance! You’ve got a whole lot of recently-cleared brain space, and now there’s no pesky partner making entirely reasonable demands on your time. All those free evenings in your calendar will make it much easier to finally finish this whale of a novel. Read my full review here.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark

Stay Sexy And Don't Get Murdered - Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

OK, it’d be weird if I didn’t include something at least a little self-helpy in this list of books to read after a break-up – but make the most of it, because this is as close as I’m going to get! Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered isn’t a list of rules or a new religion or anything gross like that. It’s more like a memoir of life experiences, with some key learned-the-hard-way lessons thrown in. You’ll feel like you’ve just sat down to a great group therapy session with your best girlfriends.

What books would you recommend someone reach for after a break-up? Add your recommendations in the comments below!

7 Best Fictional Couples

I’m not afraid to admit it: I love a good love story, especially around this time of year. The problem is I seem to read so few of them! I don’t generally go for “kissing books”, and when I do, I find most of the men in cis-het romances are covered head-to-toe in red flags. It’s hard to emotionally invest in a fictional couple when every fiber of my feminist being is screaming “RUN, GIRL! RUN!”. But I’ve put my thinking hat on, and come up with a list of the best fictional couples from literature (as determined by my cold, dead heart).

7 Best Fictional Couples - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Jo March and Friedrich Bhaer

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott copped a lot of hate for this fictional couple, but I’m glad she stuck with them, because it is my all-time favourite pairing. Readers of Little Women at the time felt very strongly that Jo March should end up with Laurie, the heavy-drinking playboy who threw a huge tanty when she said she wouldn’t marry him (and proceeded to borderline-stalk her younger sister, no less). Life with Laurie would’ve been no fun for Jo at all! The man is a walking red flag! With Professor Bhaer, on the other hand, Jo can look forward to a long and interesting marriage full of books, politics, and stimulating conversation. I could not imagine a more perfect ending for our bookish heroine! Read my full review of Little Women here.

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy

Pride And Prejudice - Jane Austen - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

It’s a cliche for a reason, Keeper Upperers! This fictional couple is so iconic that the characters have become archetypes, the story of Pride And Prejudice a template for all romance novels and love stories that followed. I think what I like most about this pairing is that it’s not about two jigsaw pieces fitting together perfectly and “completing” each other. Rather, two imperfect souls seek to better themselves, and help the other to do the same – a man changes his manners and a woman changes her mind, as the saying goes. The fact that Darcy is also hot and rich and saves the Bennet family from destitution is just gravy, really. Also, he offers Lizzie wine when she’s freaking out, and that’s the exact quality I look for in a man. Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.

Honourable Mention: Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones’s Diary. They’re based so closely on Lizzie and Darcy that I could hardly list them separately, but I still think they rate a mention.

Lupin and Tonks

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

This is a less-conventional choice from the Harry Potter universe, I know. Everyone’s here for Ron and Hermione, I know, but spare me! Ron was an emotionally stunted nit-wit for most of the series, and Hermione could’ve done so much better…! Lupin and Tonks, on the other hand, are starting at the same gun. They’re outcasts and oddballs, and yet they make their mature and adult relationship work under very dire circumstances. Plus, they had Molly Weasley’s seal of approval – if they’re good enough for Molly, they’re good enough for me!

Ifemelu and Obinze

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you feel yourself flagging in a long-distance relationship or post-break-up, Ifemelu and Obinze from Americanah might be the fictional couple that restores your faith. They, too, are torn apart by circumstance, and they go their separate ways, dating other people… only to come back together years later, because they were right for each other. The time apart, with all its opportunities for personal growth and life experience, only intensified their love and strengthened their bond. Never give up, if you love it set it free, etc.

Allie and Noah

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks has been pretty much cancelled, I know, but I can’t shake my enduring affection for his most-recognisable fictional couple. In fact, this is one of the rare instances where I think the movie was better than the book, purely because Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling had such sizzling hot chemistry on-screen. I read and watched The Notebook for the first time in high school, which means my attachment to them is nostalgic, as well. Theirs is a beautiful (if tragic) story of enduring love.

Cathy and Heathcliff

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Let me be clear: Cathy and Heathcliff should NOT be an aspirational fictional couple for you. At all. If you find yourself wanting a relationship like theirs, you might want to contact a therapist and talk some shit out. But they are, in my mind, the perfect example of two rotten eggs, fully deserving of each other, and ending up together (albeit in the afterlife). Actually, it’s probably a good thing that they never hooked up properly in Wuthering Heights; can you imagine the drama we’d have had to endure? Between Cathy’s histrionics and Heathcliff’s brooding, ugh. No thank you, please. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

Ennis and Jack

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

It’s such a shame that Brokeback Mountain has become a bit of a punchline (Annie Proulx has said herself that she’s sick of talking about it), because the love story of Ennis and Jack is truly beautiful. Their romance is fraught, dangerous, and forbidden—and yet, they persist, coming back together like moths to the proverbial flame. Normally, I outright reject the collection of tropes I think of as the “gay misery parade” (why must we write as though all queer lives are slow-motion tragedies?), but in this case, I make an exception. Each time, I secretly hope Ennis and Jack get their happy ending, but (of course) they never do. As much as this fictional couple will break your heart, you’ll be glad of having had it broken.

And I can’t bring myself to end on that bum note, so how about another honourable mention: Ms Lolly Willowes, of Lolly Willowes, who happily enters into a life long relationship with Satan in order to get her pesky relatives out of her hair. Good on you, doll! Read my full review of Lolly Willowes here.

I’d really love to add more non-problematic couples to this list—especially queer romances with happy endings!—so if you’ve got any recommendations, please drop them in the comments below.

Want more? I’ve got plenty of romantic recommended reads for Valentine’s Day here – enjoy, lovers!

10 Underrated Books Worth Reading

There’s something both satisfying and frustrating about discovering a really good underrated book. That sounds contradictory, I know, but it’s true! On the one hand, it’s wonderful to find unexpected joy and take the opportunity to press it into other readers’ hands. On the other hand, it can be a bit disheartening to realise how many great books don’t get the fanfare they deserve. Through Keeping Up With The Penguins, I’ve come across a whole bunch of great books that I think need more time in the spotlight, so here’s a reading list for you: ten underrated books worth reading.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

All the long-time Keeper Upperers out there knew that this was going to be my number one! I’m still incensed that We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves missed out on the Booker Prize (and lost to the misery-fest that was The Narrow Road To The Deep North, no less!). This is one of my all-time favourite books: it’s funny, it’s provoking, it’s heart-felt, and it’s got hands-down the best plot twist I’ve ever read. Perhaps that’s why more people don’t talk about it, they don’t want to spoil it for others… but I have no such compunction! Read my full review here.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I think the reason Cold Comfort Farm doesn’t get more attention is purely political. In her day, Stella Gibbons was a forthright woman, and she didn’t hesitate to mock and satirise other authors – even the popular and powerful ones. She had the audacity to win awards that they were hoping to win themselves, and she thought “networking” and “nepotism” were bullshit. That’s how she invoked the ire of literary giants like D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf: she refused to play the game, so the ranks closed against her. Reading Cold Comfort Farm is not only a delightful romp in a rich world of satire, it’s also a way to thumb your nose to the establishment. Fight the power! Read my full review here.

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Everyone my age – and plenty on either side – knows Melina Marchetta for her young adult classic, Looking For Alibrandi. It’s a wonderful book and I’ve recommended it highly elsewhere, but today I’m here to spruik for one of her other YA offerings: Saving Francesca. Marchetta’s true talent lies in writing beautifully believable, flawed and fierce teenage heroines. Francesca is one of them, perhaps the best of them. This is a book that will stay with you, even if young adult books aren’t normally “your thing”.

Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Everything I’d heard about this book before I read it for myself was decidedly negative. It’s long, they said, and it’s dense and it’s dull. I’m here to set the record straight: Crime And Punishment is actually none of those things! I’m not sure where along the way Dostoyevsky got his bad reputation, but it’s a real shame, for him and for us as readers. I read the McDuff translation (I can’t attest to the others), and it was one of the funniest and most relatable classic books I’ve ever picked up. Read my full review here.

Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules Of Civility - Amor Towles - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

As with many of the other books on this list, Rules Of Civility sadly lives in a rather large shadow. Amor Towles is much better known for his later book, A Gentleman In Moscow. I didn’t even realise that he’d written other books prior to that one, until I heard about this gem on Anne Bogel’s podcast. I was drawn in by the parallels to Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and I stayed for the glamour and romance of a young woman’s life journey in mid-20th century Manhattan.

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You might be skeptical about me calling this an underrated book: after all, Sherlock Holmes is one of the most frequently used characters in all of English literature. But how many of us have actually read Arthur Conan Doyle’s original collection of short stories, The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes? The problem with our continuous re-tellings and interpretations of the Sherlock character is that we come to feel like we know him and his stories already. I can tell you that this original collection is better than anything subsequent I’ve read or seen. Doyle was the master of economy in language, and he packs incredibly clever and complex cases into just a few pages. Read my full review here.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood - Book Laid Face Up on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Isherwood is best-known for books like Goodbye To Berlin, which drew heavily on his experiences teaching English in Germany and watching the Nazis rise to power. Yet he called this book, A Single Man, his “masterpiece” – and I reckon he was right about that. It’s a smaller story, in the sense that it follows a single day in the life of a grieving gay widower living in Los Angeles in the ’50s. It’s so cooly related, so darkly comic, so deceivingly complex – hands down his best work! Read my full review here.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Anita Loos - Books Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m sorry to say that Anita Loos is something like a cautionary tale. Despite her many accomplishments in her life-long career (she was the first-ever staff scriptwriter in Hollywood, for instance; she wrote dozens of incredible films and many stars of the screen owe her their careers), she was mercilessly bullied and meticulously controlled by her arsehole husband. As a result of hiding her light under his stupid bushel, she seems to have largely fallen from memory. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sold out its entire print run on the first day of sales, but few people have even heard of it now. Well, they’ve heard of the movie, of course, but not the incredible comic novel on which it was based. Read my full review here.

An Artist Of The Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist Of The Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Kazuo Ishiguro is hardly an underrated author. He’s won the Booker Prize, the Nobel Prize, he was even knighted! But An Artist Of The Floating World is definitely his most underrated book. I think the popularity of his other books, like Never Let Me Go, has been spurred by their successful film adaptations. Unfortunately, this story of an ageing Japanese artist’s reflections on his role in WWII doesn’t translate so easily to the big screen, and no director has attempted it (yet). While we wait, be sure to check out the book itself – I promise it’ll be a pleasant surprise! Read my full review here.

The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter

Look, this list could’ve been made up entirely of poetry books. Poetry in general is hugely underrated. But, for the sake of fairness, I narrowed it down to just this one: The Monkey’s Mask (but please take it as read that any poetry is going to be underrated, at least in some measure). In relative terms, Porter did pretty well for herself: throughout the ’90s, this was the best-selling book of poetry in Australia since WWII. Still, I don’t think it got quite the acclaim it deserved. Even if you don’t normally read poetry, this is a good book to try, because it’s actually a novel told in verse – a plot unfolds through a series of poems, and it’s a cohesive, gripping thriller plot at that!

Which underrated book(s) would YOU like to nudge into the spotlight? Add your suggestions in the comments below!

“You’re Not Good Enough”: Classic Books Edition

A little while ago, I came across this fun literary game on the amazing Fiction No Chaser blog. Here are the rules:

  • Write 30 character names on separate slips of paper
  • Put them all in a jar, and shake them up good
  • Randomly choose two names from the jar for each question

For each of the fifteen questions, you have to decide which of the two characters you’d choose, and which one is “not good enough”. Sounds fun, right? Jess and Teagan at Fiction No Chaser played using Harry Potter characters. I decided I’d try it with characters from classic books I’ve reviewed here on Keeping Up With The Penguins. Here goes…!

You're Not Good Enough Literary Game - Classic Books Edition - Keeping Up With The Penguins

1. You only have one more spot on your spelling bee team. Who do you pick?

Tom Sawyer (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) or Ishmael (Moby Dick)

It’s got to be Ishmael! If he spent all that time reading up about whales, he’s surely picked up a decent vocabulary along the way.

2. Both characters want to kill you. Which one would you kill to save yourself?

Mr Hyde (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) or Toad (The Wind In The Willows)

Oh, if it’s within my power, I’m taking down Mr Hyde. I don’t like my chances, he’d probably be able to take me down with his brute strength, but I couldn’t possibly kill the lovable rogue Toad.

3. You’re on The Bachelor/Bachelorette, and you’re down to these two characters. To whom will you give the final rose?

Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes) or Dr Frankenstein (Frankenstein)

Sherlock, no question! I feel like his super-powers of deduction and reasoning would come in handy in a relationship. Plus, Dr Frankenstein was a big ol’ whiner. I’d spend half my life reassuring him that he hadn’t destroyed humanity or whatever, and running from the vengeful monster…

4. You’ve been chosen to participate in The Hunger Games. Who would most likely volunteer in your place?

Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn) or Alice (Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland)

Huck would jump in for me, for sure! He’d welcome the adventure, and surely fare better than poor innocent wide-eyed Alice.

5. You’re stranded on an island with an active volcano. Who would you throw into the volcano as a sacrifice?

Holden Caulfield (The Catcher In The Rye) or Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre)

Oh, this is a cruel choice! I guess I’d have to sacrifice Holden, though I do have a soft spot for that wayward ruffian…

6. You’re the next DC/Marvel superhero (with your own TV show, of course!). Who is your sidekick?

Raskolnikov (Crime And Punishment) or Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby)

There is no way I’d be able to put up with that creepy stalker nincompoop Jay Gatsby for more than five minutes – it’d turn me into a villain, for sure! Raskolnikov is my guy (at least I know he’s handy with an axe).

7. You’re the manager of an avocado-admiring company. Who would you fire for lack of communication skills?

Clarissa Dalloway (Mrs Dalloway) or Dr Watson (The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes)

Yes, this is an extremely weird question, but a game’s a game. Dr Watson is a spectacular communicator, he narrates all of the Holmes stories and does a damn fine job, so Clarissa is a goner. She’s probably got a party to plan anyway, or flowers to buy, or something.

8. You’ve just finished a book in which your favourite character dies. Which character is most likely to comfort you?

Don Quixote (Don Quixote) or Lorelei Lee (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)

Sheesh, I’m not sure either of them would be much comfort! Don Quixote would probably go charging off in search of the author, to avenge my grief, and get distracted along the way. Lorelei would probably just pour some champagne and take me out to a fancy party. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. Lorelei it is!

9. You’re back in high school. Who’s most likely to be part of the popular clique?

Clarissa Harlowe (Clarissa) or Robinson Crusoe (Robinson Crusoe)

I feel like Crusoe would more likely have been the weird kid, trying to impress people by jumping off the roof or rolling around in the mud. Clarissa was an elegant and refined lady, so she was probably no Regina George, but she would’ve been popular nonetheless.

10. The day has arrived: you’re finally a year older! Who would have the nerve to forget your birthday?

Jo March (Little Women) or Hester Pyrne (The Scarlet Letter)

Jo would never do such a thing to me! It’d be Hester for sure. She’s too preoccupied, with fending off village gossip and lusting after her baby daddy and raising her kid and everything.

11. Who would be the next big BookTube star?

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride And Prejudice) or Mr Darcy (Pride And Prejudice)

This is the ultimate showdown! It’s almost too hard to choose… but I think it would be Lizzy. Mr Darcy would think that YouTube stardom was beneath him, or some snooty shit like that. Still, I like to think once they were married and happy, and they’d got over all their pride and prejudice, they’d make a cute BookTube duo and do videos together.

12. Sleepover time! You can only invite one person. Who would it be?

David Copperfield (David Copperfield) or Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)

Look, I’m going to make an unexpected choice here. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think Heathcliff is a knob… but I’d kind of want to hang out with him a bit, just to see what all the fuss is about. Bonus points if Cathy’s ghost shows up, and I get to see them go into full across-the-divide breakdown mode.

13. Bam, you’re pregnant! Who is the father/mother?

Captain Ahab (Moby Dick) or Lemuel Gulliver (Gulliver’s Travels)

Why do I get two men who both go gallivanting off around the world with little regard for the wives and families they leave at home alone for years at a time? Ugh! I think I’d go with Ahab. At least he had passion, I can respect that. Gulliver was a real prick to his wife, especially in the end, and I’d hate to be tethered to his high-and-mighty sanctimoniousness for life.

14. You’ve just sent a super-important text message. Who would leave you on Read?

Dr Jekyll (Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) or Dorian Gray (The Picture Of Dorian Gray)

Both of them! Literally, both of them are too self-absorbed to bother responding to my text messages. Well, Dr Jekyll might get back to me someday, on his deathbed maybe…

15. You’ve just woken up in your childhood home, and it’s time for breakfast. Your mother is gone, and replaced with…?

Mr Rochester (Jane Eyre) or Emma Woodhouse (Emma)

Oh, I hope it would be Emma! For all her faults, she did a wonderful job of taking care of her father, and I’m sure she’d cook up something delicious (or have her household staff do it, at least).

That was fun, for something different! If you give it a go, be sure to drop a link in the comments below so I can check it out. Did I make a bad call on any of these? Let me know!

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