Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

My Ultimate Lock-Down Author Share-House

One of the things that’s been bringing me joy during, y’know, all of this is The To-Read List podcast. Today, I’m drawing inspiration from one of their episodes (which, in turn, was inspired by a Tweet from LitHub). The idea is to come up with a list of authors you’d want to be in lock-down with, or in quarantine with. You might love Virginia Woolf’s writing, but could you really stand living with her 24 hours-a-day for weeks on end? Ernest Hemingway might be brilliant, but what would it be like to share a bathroom with him? I put my thinking cap on and came up with my very own list (technically two, one for living authors a la The To Read List and one for dead authors a la LitHub): my ultimate lock-down author share-house.

Ultimate Lock-Down Author Share-House - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Important note: this isn’t about the authors whose work I love the most. I had to scratch a whole bunch of brilliant writers for various reasons: I’d be too nervous to talk in front of Helen Garner, I’d be too intimidated by Sally Rooney (and only a little bit sour that we’re the same age), I figured I’d be cheating if I chose Elena Ferrante so that I could be one of the select few who know her secret identity, and I’d be scared of distracting Carmen Maria Machado or Roxane Gay from writing their next book. This is about the authors I reckon I could live with for an extended period under share-house circumstances.


Living Author Lock-Down Share-House

First thing’s first: I’m going to want someone around who can make me laugh. Someone who can find the funny in the mundane, someone who can make fun without being cruel, someone who will regale me with entertaining anecdotes when the days get too long. I can’t think of anyone who fits the bill better than David Sedaris. Read my full review of his essay collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Next up: I’m going to need somebody who won’t judge me if cocktail hour comes early. No one likes to drink alone, and I’m no exception! I reckon Susan Orlean and I would make for brilliant drinking buddies (if her Twitter feed is anything to go by). Plus, we could discuss niche true crime to our heart’s content, even if the others got sick of us.

I’d also want someone around who can teach me some stuff, and I reckon Colson Whitehead fits the bill. The guy didn’t get the MacArthur Genius Grant for nothing! He’s written about everything from history to Harlem to politics to poker. If we were in lock-down together, I’d struggle not to constantly pepper him with questions…

It can’t all be bookish types, though. We’d need someone with some aesthetic sensibilities to brighten up the place – and maybe draw us, just for lols. That’s why I’d call Mira Jacob up to the plate. I never thought of myself as a graphic novel reader until I read Good Talk. I’d happily take all of her dish-washing and laundry duties if she captured our lock-down conversations in return.


Dead Author Lock-Down Share-House

Whenever something crappy happens in my life (and I reckon getting locked down in a share-house during a global pandemic would count), I hear Nora Ephron‘s voice in my head, saying: “Everything’s copy”. I reckon she’d be the queen of making the best of a bad situation, and she’d get us all working on collaborative creative projects to release once regular business resumed.

And, it’s a combo deal: I’d love to have Anita Loos (sans her shit-head husband) in my author lock-down share-house, because I’m sure she and Nora would get along. Sure, I’d probably end up the odd-one-out, watching them write brilliant screenplays while I sipped my wine in the corner, but it’d be worth it to get them in the same room and watch the magic happen. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Speaking of entertainment: I reckon Anaïs Nin would be captivating. She was adventurous, generous, and by all accounts, fun! I mean, anyone willing to write gloriously literary smut on commission has got to be worth talking to. And, if we didn’t get along, I’d feel less guilty about sneaking into her room and reading her diary… (I mean, I’d never do that. Ahem. Probably.)

And, finally, I’d want George Eliot in the share-house, and I’d want to ask all manner of questions, about writing and politics and life… but the one that’s front-and-center in my mind at the moment is: have we been mis-gendering George all this time? This has come up as a result of the “Reclaim Her Name” project, for which Baileys (the major sponsors of the Women’s Prize) is re-publishing a collection of works they’ve determined were written by women under masculine pseudonyms, including Middlemarch. In the (inevitable) backlash that ensued, I came across a couple of accounts that suggest George might have adopted the name that more accurately reflected their identity, rather than purely bowing to the patriarchal constraints of the time for publishing writers. Essentially, I’d want George to have the opportunity to decide for themselves, with today’s sensibilities and understanding, how they wish to identify. And then I’d start digging for dirt, like the gossip-hound I am deep down, on all their high-falootin’ Victorian friends…


Who would you want in your lock-down author share-house? Living or dead, dream big! Let me know in the comments below.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time – Mark Haddon

In your standard murder mystery novel, a hard-boiled detective sorts clues from red herrings to track down the murderer of a young woman. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is different. It is a self-proclaimed mystery novel, with the requisite crime and investigation format, but the victim is a neighbourhood pet and the detective is 15-year-old Christopher, a young man who perceives the world differently.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Christopher is read (by most readers, anyway) as having Asperger Syndrome, or having some kind of autism spectrum disorder. As a character, he describes himself as being “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”. Haddon, the author, insists that The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is “not specifically about any specific disorder” (which makes the choice to give Christopher so many traits commonly associated with Asperger’s and other developmental disorders very strange). I feel like it’s an “easy out” for Haddon to say that Christopher has “no specific disorder”, because – as he admits – he is neurotypical and has no expertise in this area.

“I have to say honestly that I did more research about the London Underground and the inside of Swindon Railway Station, where some of the novel takes place, than I did about Asperger syndrome. I gave [Christopher] kind of 9 or 10 rules that he would live his life by, and then I didn’t read any more about Asperger’s because I think there is no typical person who has Asperger syndrome, and they’re as large and diverse a group of people as any other group in society.”

Mark Haddon

He’s right, of course, in saying that people with Asperger’s – and other types of mental and neurological disorders – are a large, diverse group who cannot be adequately captured in or represented by a single fictional character. It’s good that he didn’t try. But I think his lack of expertise and experience explains why his characterisation sometimes felt so… flat. Christopher didn’t jump off the page to me, the way that other neurodiverse characters have (I’m thinking of Zelda in When We Were Vikings as an example). Christopher’s “no specific disorder” seemed to be the only remarkable characteristic he had, and it coloured every description or insight we may have had into his mind and his life.





But let’s leave that alone for now, and get back to the story. When Christopher discovers his neighbour’s dog dead in her backyard (yes, I cried, dog deaths slay me – RIP Wellington!), he takes it upon himself to find the culprit. He decides to write down (i.e., narrate) the details of his investigation in the form of a murder mystery novel, and that’s the frame for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. Christopher continues his investigation, interrogating neighbours and collecting evidence, despite his father’s express instruction to stay out of other people’s business.

His home life, he slowly reveals to us, is a bit screwy. His mother is dead, and his father – Ed – probably isn’t going to win any trophies for parenting. Ed has been raising Christopher as a single parent for two years when the story begins, and yet Christopher seems to have more affinity (and respect) for Siobhan, his paraprofessional and mentor at school. She takes the time to explain behaviour and rules to Christopher in a way that makes sense to him, and he relies on her guidance to help him navigate the world.





Christopher solves the case in the end (of course), and uncovers a whole bunch of other mysteries and adventures along the way. That makes it sound a bit cutesy, but trust me, they’re sometimes dark and sometimes horrifying. I won’t give them all away, other than to say that most readers will find the story very moving. If I’m honest, the dog murder was the most upsetting bit for me (and you can keep any analysis of what that says about me to yourself, thanks!).

To circle back around to what I was saying earlier, Christopher’s character just didn’t quite pull me in the way it seems to have pulled in others. Perhaps I’m simply spoiled for having read other, brilliant representations of neurodiverse characters in the seventeen years since this one was first released. For me, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time was fairly good… but not great, and certainly not as great as I’d hoped.

See, I’m fairly lonely in my lukewarm reception of this one. Haddon won the 2003 Whitbread Book Of The Year award for it, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and a whole stack of others – it was even long-listed for the Booker! Its popularity endures, too. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time has been translated into over 35 languages, transformed into a stage adaptation, rights sold for a film adaptation (though no movement at that station yet), and named as one of the Guardian’s 100 best books of the 21st century. So, don’t let me put you off!

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time:

  • “This book is aggressively ok. I mean that as a compliment, honestly. Christopher is a really enjoyable character and I feel he tells his story with just the right amount of enthusiasm to keep you going. The militant atheism wears on you a bit, and I say that as a devout agnostic.” – The Professor
  • “Got as I gift but when the book arrived I kind of wanted to keep for myself.” – Amazon Customer
  • “Christophar was lit.” – daiyan ahmed
  • “What was the point? Just to tell a story of one’s life? Totally narcissistic in my opinion Not a fan Should have disclaimer” – Shelley

6 Breathtaking Books by Hispanic Authors

I’ll admit: being Australian, I’ve been a bit deaf to and detached from Latinx issues in the U.S. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that it’s not something I encounter in my day-to-day life. And where do I turn when I uncover a gap in my knowledge? Books, of course! I did a bit of digging, and pulled up a bunch of Hispanic authors that other readers recommended. Now that I’ve had the chance to fully immerse myself in them, I’ve distilled a list for you, in the event that you need to undertake your own adventure: six breathtaking books by Hispanic authors.

6 Breathtaking Books by Hispanic Authors - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Paula by Isabel Allende

Paula - Isabel Allende - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Isabel Allende is one of the most popular living Hispanic authors. She might be better-known for her best-selling magical realism novels, like The House Of The Spirits or Of Love And Shadows, but I started with her memoir, Paula. I first heard about it on the TV show Jane The Virgin (which I highly recommend as well, by the way!), and my curiosity was piqued. It is a memoir written in tribute to Allende’s daughter, who passed away in 1991 (in fact, it was written feverishly by Paula’s bedside, as she struggled to recover from a coma). Obviously, given the content, it is heart-wrenching – on par with Joan Didion’s memoirs of grief and loss – but it’s also strangely uplifting, a tale of resilience and a beautiful way to honour life and the human spirit.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not into hippie-dippie stuff. I tend to roll my eyes when a stranger brings up crystals or star-charts in conversation. When I first read The Alchemist (mostly at the urging of my one remaining hippie-dippie friend who puts up with my scoffing), I wasn’t impressed. But maybe 2020 has changed something in me, maybe I’ve drunk the Kool Aid, maybe I just realise that we all need a little something to cling on to when nothing in our world seems certain. There’s a comfort in this book’s message, that your fate will find you no matter where you are, and that persistence and resilience are all you need to overcome the obstacles that are thrown in your path (for a reason). Or something like that… Read my full review of The Alchemist here.

Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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

There is not a word that Carmen Maria Machado has written that I won’t devour with glee (seriously, if you’ve come across any that I haven’t covered yet on Keeping Up With The Penguins, let me know and I’ll be on it like white on rice). Her career is just beginning, she has just two full-length books to her name, but her future is bright. You heard it here first. I’ve chosen to include her debut on this list (mostly because I’ve waxed rhapsodic about her follow-up elsewhere). Her Body And Other Parties is a collection of short stories that portends what’s to come of her work: a strange hybrid of all genres, all forms, that terrifies and delights in equal measure. Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.


Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I was going to recommend One Hundred Years Of Solitude for my Gabriel Garcia Marquez read (because it’s not a list of Hispanic authors without Gabriel Garcia Marquez), given that I reviewed it earlier this week. But given, y’know, the state of the world, Love In The Time Of Cholera just seems more… fitting, doesn’t it? It is, as the title suggests, a love story, with at least one character driven by the pursuit of a cure for an infectious illness that disproportionately affects people living in poverty. You can be sure that a clever adaptation (“Love In The Time Of COVID”) is coming, but before it hits (if it hasn’t already), check out the original.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land - Elizabeth Acevedo - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m a bit of a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to novels in verse, but I feel that puts me in a unique position to recommend entry points for other newbies. Clap When You Land is a great start. It tells the story (yes, collections of poetry can tell cohesive stories, did you know?) of two sisters who share a father, but have entirely unique relationships to the man who ties them together. They are separated by distance, and circumstance, but they connect through their grief and uncovering their family’s secrets. It’s an emotive, contemporary story that offers a window into other worlds – for both the characters and the readers.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Hurricane Season - Fernanda Melchor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

After the American Dirt controversy earlier this year, I was eager to pick up more #ownvoices books by Hispanic authors. That’s why I was overjoyed to receive this copy of Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (translated into English by Sophie Hughes) from the wonderful team at Text Publishing. It’s a murder-mystery, of sorts, set in rural Mexico and inspired by real events (including an honest-to-goodness witch-hunt near Melchor’s hometown). I’m not going to lie: Hurricane Season is not an easy read. I feel obligated to offer trigger warnings for literally everything you can imagine. But, if you think you’ve got the stomach for it, it’s written in beautiful, long, lyrical sentences that will pull you in and keep you there.

Which Hispanic authors would you recommend? Let me know in the comments, so we can grow this list!

One Hundred Years Of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez

Much like a piano player in a bar, on occasion I’ll take requests – and I can’t think of a book review that has been requested more often by more Keeper Upperers than One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This landmark novel was first published in García Márquez’s native Spanish (as Cien años de soledad) in 1967, and this edition was translated into English by Gregory Rabassa. Here we go…!

One Hundred Years Of Solitude covers seven generations in the life of the Buendía family (don’t worry, there’s a helpful family tree in the front of most editions if you lose track of who’s who along the way). It has a cracker of an opening line – the famous one about Colonel Buendía facing the firing squad – that echoes throughout the story, like a drawn-out version of a life flashing before your eyes.

The story really begins, however, with the patriarch of the family, José Arcadio, deciding to move his family out of their hometown after an… unfortunate incident (he stabbed a mate at a cockfight, over some nasty accusations of limp dick). The family settles by a river and establishes the town of Macondo, which José Arcadio envisages as a “city of mirrors”, a paradise for his growing brood.

The town remains isolated, almost entirely disconnected from the world, save for a band of gypsies (I don’t know if that’s cool to say or not, but that’s the word García Márquez used so that’s what I’m going with) who visit them each year. They come to hawk their incredible technologies – magnets! Telescopes! Ice! And José Arcadio is more than willing to hand over every dollar he has for their gizmos and gadgets.





In fact, José Arcadio goes full mad scientist, trying to figure out how to save the world with magnets, while his wife – Ursula – simply has to put up with his bullshit, for lack of any other option. She keeps the kids fed and the clothes clean and the house in order, while José spirals deeper into his delusions.

Joke’s on him, though: in the end, he invents squat, while his long-suffering wife lives to be well over 100 years old, reigning over six of the seven generations of Buendías. This brings me to what I consider to be the central moral or message of One Hundred Years Of Solitude: men are stupid, and it’s always up to the women to clean up the mess.

“They’re all alike,” Ursula lamented. “At first they behave very well, they’re obedient and prompt and they don’t seem capable of killing a fly, but as soon as their beards appear they go to ruin.”

One Hundred Years Of Solutide (156)

Oh, but that’s not all! García Márquez has more than one row to hoe. Bureaucracy is from the devil. War and jealousy are pretty bad, too. A propensity towards sex with your sisters and cousins will probably end in tears (it turns out Game Of Thrones didn’t invent incest, who knew?).

It’s all this in-family rooting that seems to be the cause of most of the Buendías’ troubles. Ursula and José were cousins before they were married, and their kids inherited both their curiosity in other branches of the family tree and their fear that their family will be supernaturally punished for these abominations. The recurring example is the Buendía cousin who was born with a tail; he bled to death and died after asking his butcher mate to chop it off, because he was worried he wouldn’t be able to lose his virginity if girls kept laughing every time he pulled his pants down.





That’s an example of the “magical realism” we’ve all heard so much about. Mostly, One Hundred Years Of Solitude is grounded in recognisable reality – there are people and they have problems that have a tangible worldly basis. But, now and then, weird stuff happens. García Márquez blurs the line between the literal and the metaphorical. People are born with tails. Ghosts hang out in your backyard. A beautiful woman levitates off her bed and straight up into the sky, never to be seen again. All of this is accepted as normal (or, if not normal, at least not all that mystifying) by the characters involved. The banality of these magical events is reinforced by the narrator’s lack of interest in them, too – they are related in the same tone as one might describe what they had for breakfast.

And circling back around to the incest for a minute (c’mon, you didn’t think I could leave it alone for long, did you?), it seems to me to be a way of manifesting two of the major themes of the book: solitude (duh), and the cyclical nature of time. Because the town the Buendías founded and inhabit is so isolated, they really don’t have much choice but to start boning down with others in the same gene pool. And that’s why they see the same problems, the same dramas, the same events playing out time and time again, too.

In the end, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Macondo (and, by extension, the Buendía family) falls apart. The last surviving son discovers a manuscript left behind by one of his forebears, which depicts all of the family’s struggles and triumphs. Meanwhile, a wild wind whips up and away all remaining traces of the town that they founded.





Reading One Hundred Years Of Solitude is a lot like listening to a drunk person tell you a story when you’re five pints deep yourself. It’s sprawling, and tangential, and you can be sure they’re taking a bit of creative license, but you can still follow what they’re saying and you’re curious enough not to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom mid-sentence and never return. There’s not much tagged dialogue (as in “blah blah blah”, he said), and the timeline feels fluid and circular, so it really does read as though the story is being told to you second-hand. It’s not unenjoyable, but it’s not a straightforward story, either.

One Hundred Years Of Solitude, in the fifty-odd years since its release, has been translated into over forty languages and sold over 50 million copies. It’s widely considered to be García Márquez’s magnum opus, the shining jewel in the crown of the Latin American literary boom of the ’60s and ’70s. When García Márquez won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, One Hundred Years Of Solitude was widely touted to be one of the main reasons why. It is now recognised as one of the most significant books of the Hispanic literary canon, and a survey of international writers deemed it the book that has most shaped world literature.

(If it’s so good, why hasn’t it been made into a movie? Find the answer here.)

So, what’s the verdict? I didn’t love-love-love it, but I didn’t hate-hate-hate it, either. I wouldn’t breathlessly thrust it into the hands of a fellow booklover, but I wouldn’t crinkle my nose if they picked it up of their own accord. I’m going to reserve my judgement on García Márquez until I’ve read more of his work – I’ve got my eye on Love In The Time Of Cholera next…

My favourite Amazon reviews of One Hundred Years Of Solitude:

  • “Was forced to read this lengthly exercise in tedium by my freshman English teacher at Yale. Oh, I know, it’s “great literature,” but trust me, the pages do not turn. On top of that, Marquez’s Marxist leanings are all too apparent. Bleh.” – vonhayek
  • “I have no idea what all the fuss regarding this book is about. I found this book irritating in its repetition of the name Jose Arcadia Buendia in virtually every paragraph, or every other paragraph in the first 60 pages. Call the guy Jose and move on… sure, it’s normal and it’s approach of the tribes and villages represented here, but the writing seems so basic. But I guess somebody thought it deserved a Nobel prize. I would prefer that they hand out an ice pick to everyone that reads it, as I wanted to use one on my brain to end the torture of this novel.” – SmilingGoodTimes
  • “I’m so pissed this has Oprah’s logo on it, I wouldn’t have bought if it was on the cover in the picture. Way to cheapen the experience OPRAH” – Ryan Stapleford
  • “A hundred years is a little too much solitude” – The Dwighter

7 Books That Will Take You To Another Place

If you’re anything like me, you haven’t had the chance to get out much lately. Whether you’re in mandated isolation, lockdown, or just staying home because it’s the right thing to do, you’re probably getting stick of staring at your own four walls. Luckily, booklovers have a magic power: we can escape to anywhere we want, at any time, as long as the right book is within reach! To stop you going stir crazy, I’ve put together this list of books that will take you to another place…

7 Books That Will Take You To Another Place - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Naples)

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

Naples is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited urban settlements in the world. It’s got a whole lotta history to get the buffs excited: a UNESCO World Heritage site in its city center, the Roman ruins of Pompeii, and Vesuvius just up the road… but, let’s be real, most of us are really thinking about the food. Naples’ pizza is world famous, and they have more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere else on the planet. The Naples of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is a lot grittier than the one we day-dream about (violence, poverty, and oppression are rife), but her writing is powerful enough to sweep you up in the story and make you feel as though you’re really there, anyway. Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (The Pacific Crest Trail)

Wild - Cheryl Strayed - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 4,720km hiking route along the West Coast of the United States. It covers mountains, national forests and parks, scooting around areas of civilisation and modern conveniences (like roads and toilets). Hiking the whole thing is – obviously – a huge undertaking, usually requiring months or years of preparation. Cheryl Strayed, in the wake of her mother’s death and recovering from heroin addiction, decided to give it a go on a lark. She didn’t set out to do the whole thing (she’s not that crazy), but she still managed nearly 1,800km on her own, with very little preparation or assistance. She immortalised her journey in her memoir, Wild, which went on to top international best-seller lists and make the PCT a go-to destination for hikers in search of solace and revelation. Read my full review of Wild here.

Ulysses by James Joyce (Dublin)

Ulysses - James Joyce - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dublin – “The Fair City” – is the capital of Ireland and ranked by the Globalization and World Cities Network as one of the top thirty cities in the world. You’d think it might’ve changed a lot since James Joyce wrote Ulysses, depicting a day in the life of fictional Dubliner Stephen Bloom, but given the number of Joyce/Bloom tours that still operate in the city, it would seem that a lot remains the same. You can visit the pubs Bloom drank at, sites where Joyce is known to have lived and worked, and even have a gander at statues erected in their honour. That’s if you’re not too busy enjoying the rest of what Dublin has to offer… Read my full review of Ulysses here.


My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Lagos)

My Sister The Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Lagos is the most populous city of Nigeria – in fact, of the entire African continent – and it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. It’s a booming economical and financial hub, with the flood of new money bringing ultramodern sky-rises and developments, but it’s also the center of art and culture in the region. “Nollywood” (the Nigerian film industry) produces about 1,000 films per year, outstripping Hollywood by a considerable margin. After the movies, you can check out the city’s famed nightlife and live music scene. The hustle and bustle, the colours and lights, jump off the page of My Sister, The Serial Killer. It’s a unique glimpse into a part of the world too often inaccessible to Anglophone readers. Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (New York)

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

C’mon, do I really need to explain to you why you might want to visit New York? Fictional depictions of the Big Apple abound, in every form (film, television, books, music, musicals…), so you’re spoiled for choice if that’s what you’re after. I find the depiction in Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year Of Rest And Relaxation particularly interesting, though, because it covers a unique time in New York’s history: the year leading up to the September 11 attacks. The (relatively) carefree innocence of the city’s inhabitants is oddly foreboding, the dramatic irony being that the reader knows what’s coming. Seeing as time travel isn’t yet possible (nor any other kind of travel at the moment… ahem!), give this one a try if you’re so inclined.


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Tokyo)

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the political and economic center of the country, the seat of the Emperor, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world (with about 37 million inhabitants). I must say though, what I find most alluring about it as a destination isn’t the “attractions”, the history, or the other stuff that we tourists normally gawk at: it’s the idiosyncratic features of modern life in Tokyo that fascinate me. And there’s no better view of them than that offered by Sayaka Murata in Convenience Store Woman. This slim little novel taught me more about Tokyo and urban Japanese culture than anything else I’ve ever read. Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

Paris Match by John Von Sothen (Paris)

Paris Match - John Von Sothen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, normally I would prefer books about places to be written by native inhabitants of those places (see… pretty much all of the above). However, I make an exception for Paris. The city of love manages to be both alluring and hostile to outsiders at the same time, which makes it uniquely fun and funny to read about from an outsider’s perspective. That’s what you get in Paris Match (and in Me Talk Pretty One Day, and in pretty much every other American-man-abroad account I’ve read of living in France). John Von Sothen has been living with his Parisian wife and children in the city for nearly two decades, so he’s seen it from both sides now, and his insights are both hilarious and helpful for us would-be Francophiles.

Whew! That was quite a trip around the world, wasn’t it? And without having to check baggage or try to snooze off the jet-lag in a busy airport! Where have you (fictionally) “been” lately? Tell me the comments!

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