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Pride And Prejudice – Jane Austen

Here we are, Keeper-Upperers: face-to-face with my reading challenge white whale. Anyone who’s been following Keeping Up With The Penguins for a while knows the story of how I’ve started and abandoned Pride And Prejudice no fewer than six times. Never again! I finally sat down with Austen’s romantic novel, one of the most popular books in English literature, and I’m pleased to say we’ve worked out our issues and reconciled. Woohoo!

Pride And Prejudice (original working title First Impressions) was first published on 28 January 1813. Since then, it’s sold over 20 million copies, and saturated our public consciousness to the point that it’s now considered the origin story for many common archetypes that we still see in fiction today. In 2003, nearly two centuries after its release, the BBC conducted a poll to determine the UK’s “best-loved book”, and Pride And Prejudice came in second (it lost out to Lord Of The Rings). More locally, a poll of over 15,000 Australian readers in 2008 saw them vote it into first place on a list of the 101 best books ever written. So, yeah, it’s still got some currency.

The introduction to this edition is long – over 40 pages! I considered skipping it, but I persevered. Some of it was interesting, some of it wasn’t, so I guess it all comes out in the wash. The highlights for me were learning that Charlotte Brontë wasn’t a fan of Austen’s work (good trivia!), and this little gem of a summary:

“It is indeed possible to call its relevance to the society of the time into question, for during a decade in which Napoleon was effectively engaging, if not transforming, Europe, Jane Austen composed a novel in which the most important events are the fact that a man changes his manners and a young lady changes her mind.”

Introduction, Pride And Prejudice (page 7)

Also, I might be coming around to the idea of ignoring the footnotes. It pains me to admit it (because my husband is a strong advocate for skipping them, and I hate it when he’s right), but here we are. There are basically none in this edition of Pride And Prejudice, so I tried reading it without them and I felt like I didn’t miss anything I couldn’t pick up from context clues. Plus, the reading is all the more enjoyable for not having to flick back and forth all the time. Gosh, if only I’d come around to this way of thinking before now, maybe one of those earlier attempts might have worked out…



So, Pride And Prejudice begins with fuss-pot matriarch Mrs Bennet trying to persuade her husband to visit Mr Bingley, a rich and eligible bachelor who has just moved in up the road. Thus, the famous opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. After a bit of to-and-fro, Mr Bennet makes the visit, and it’s followed by an invitation for the family to attend a ball.

This family, one of the most famous in literature, consists of Mr & Mrs Bennet and their five daughters: Jane (the beauty), Lizzie (the smarty-pants), Mary (the plain loner), Kitty (the impressionable one), and Lydia (the… worldly one). They all trot off to this ball, and Mr Bingley is every bit as wonderful as they’d imagined. He takes a special interest in Jane, which sends everyone aflutter, and they start planning the wedding (that’s not as much of an exaggeration as you might think).

Mr Bingley’s wingman, Mr Darcy, is a whole other story. He’s twice as rich, but not half as nice. He negs Lizzie at this party, and then at another, and then again at another. Pride And Prejudice is basically the story of how a pick-up artist meets a feminist and falls in love. In fact, I think it might be the origin of the reformed-bad-boy trope, and by rights I should be rolling my eyes in disgust… but, like with Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester, the hidden sappy side of me took over for a minute and I let myself enjoy it.

(Also, spoiler alert: Darcy is the “proud” one, and Lizzie is the “prejudiced” one, but really neither of them are perfect in either regard.)



Anyway, some time later, Jane goes to visit Mr Bingley’s sister, under the guise of making new friends. In reality, she just wants to get a glimpse of her new man, pulling the old “Oh, I didn’t even know you’d be here!” trick. By her mother’s design, she gets caught in the rain and develops a rotten cold (why did all Victorian ladies have such terrible immune systems?), forcing her to stay a few days. Then, a whole lotta drama plays out: Lizzie visits the Bingleys’, Darcy gets a boner, Miss Bingley gets jealous, and Jane drags out this convenient cold as long as she can to stay closer to the object of her affections.

Then, Mr Collins (heir to the estate on which the Bennets live) pays a visit. The property is “entailed”, which I took to mean none of the Bennet girls could inherit unless one of them married this dude. And he’s well aware of their desperation (gross). He figures he can take his pick of the young ladies, and they won’t have a choice if they want to keep the family home (super-gross). He crosses Jane off the list, even though she’s the hot one, because he doesn’t want to cut Mr Bingley’s grass (yes, a man’s supposed ownership of a woman is to be respected more than her own autonomy, HELLO PATRIARCHY MY OLD FRIEND). Mr Collins sets his sights on Lizzie, and she (quite rightly) tells him to fuck off. He gets super butt-hurt, and runs away to marry someone else, which means as soon as Mr Bennet dies he can dump them all out on the street and take the house for himself. What a guy!

Anyway, while all this is going on, Lizzie makes a new friend in Mr Wickham. He’s dashing, and charming, but kind of a hound dog. He has a big ol’ cry about how Mr Darcy has caused him “hardship”, and Lizzie just falls for it hook, line, and sinker (yes, for the “smart one”, she can be surprisingly dumb). Lizzie decides she doesn’t want a bar of Darcy anymore, which pleases Wickham to no end.



Then, out of the blue, the Bingleys skip town and Jane is devo. She tries following them to London, thinking she could reignite the spark and lure her lover back (all the while I’m screaming bitch-don’t-chase-a-man!) but his sister snubs her and she’s cut off from them entirely. When Lizzie visits Mr Collins and his new wife, they shed some light on the situation: apparently, Mr Darcy convinced Mr Bingley not to marry Jane because her family was poor (and kind of bogan, or whatever the old-timey equivalent of bogan is). And, in another case of terrible timing, Mr Darcy picks this very moment to show up and declare his love for Lizzie. Of course, she tells him to fuck right off.

You’d think that’s a pretty irreparably damaged relationship right there, but Mr Darcy writes a letter with a Very Good Explanation for everything, and Lizzie’s all “Oh, okay then!”. The next time they meet, she’s all set to open her heart to love… but she’s promptly distracted by her younger sister, Lydia, running off with Mr Wickham, that dastardly hound-dog, and (wait for it) they’re not married! Clutch my pearls! There’s a lot of hand-wringing at the prospect of Lydia losing her virginity out of wedlock. Mr Collins literally said she’d be better off dead, which I thought was a bit much. But this piece of “terrible” news actually gave rise to my favourite line in all of Pride And Prejudice:

“On his quitting the room, she sat down, unable to support herself, and looking so miserably ill, that it was impossible for Darcy to leave her, or to refrain from saying, in a tone of gentleness and commiseration, ‘Let me call your maid. Is there nothing you could take, to give you present relief? – A glass of wine; – shall I get you one? – You are very ill!”

Pride And Prejudice (page 294)

I mean, bringing me a glass of wine would definitely be the way to win me over, so I can see why Lizzie went for him.

Anyway, Lizzie figures that Lydia’s supposed-disgrace means she’ll never see Mr Darcy again. I mean, if having a poor family was enough to put him off the idea of a marriage, having a harlot for a little sister has got to be some kind of romance death knell. But, to everyone’s surprise, Darcy steps the fuck up! He convinces Wickham to marry Lydia, “saving” her reputation, and pays off all his outstanding debts. Consider the day saved!



Bingley and Darcy come back to the ‘hood. Bingley’s seen the light, he proposes to Jane, and there is much rejoicing. Then, Darcy’s rich aunt starts sticking her nose in, worried that her favourite nephew is going to do something silly like marry a poor girl as well. Lizzie – as is her habit, by now – tells her to fuck off. Darcy proposes, she accepts, and everyone’s married and rich by the end. Happily ever after!

So, what did I think? Well, many things. Based on her reputation, I’d kind of expected Lizzie Bennet to be a bit more like Emma: disinterested in boys and marriage, bookish, strong-willed, self-determining. She is all of those things, I suppose, or almost, but not to the degree that I’d expected. I think my favourite Bennet was actually Lydia: the young, loud-mouthed, boy-crazy one. I feel like she would have been a dynamite sex-positive feminist on Twitter these days.

Austen was the master of hiding really heavy themes in plain sight, cloaking them in the social mores of her time. For instance, she presented all the parents as symbolically powerful but ultimately ineffectual (Emma’s Dad was a whiny hypochondriac, and Mr & Mrs Bennet were messy drama queens who played favourites with their offspring). She also poked holes in the idea that wealth and social standing were desirable qualities (Emma’s kindest and most wonderful friends were the poorest social outcasts; Collins and Wickham, despite their good reputations and prospects, were both revealed to be pretty rotten in the end). Plus, she carefully breaks down the social/economic complexities of courtship and marriage in a way that really impresses me. There’s very little in her books about romantic love, really, but a lot about politics, power, class, and community.



Her treatment of marriage is actually less gendered than I’d initially assumed it would be, too. Many of her men do, in fact, find themselves in want of a wife, and for the same reasons of poverty and disadvantage that led women to seek husbands. Look at how, say, Wickham needs to marry a woman of means and respectability to cover his own debts and excuse his past misdeeds. I mean, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that women’s financial security was wholly dependent on men at that time (most women didn’t have independent legal rights or access to the inheritance laws that had benefited only men until the end of the 19th century), but Austen found other ways to give women agency and power in her stories.

So, having written this intricate and complex novel, what did Austen do next? Well, she made some dumb decisions (not to be mean, but seriously). She sold the copyright to Thomas Egerton for £110. She wanted £150, but he bargained her down. In owning the copyright, Egerton owned all of the risk of publication (a notoriously money-losing venture) but he also owned all of the profit when Pride And Prejudice went gangbusters. Jan Fergus did some clever maths a few years back, and she worked out that Egerton raked in £450 from the first two editions alone, while Austen got not a penny. It seems incredible that one of the most recognisable authors in the English language earned so little from her most popular work, and I think it’s an important cautionary tale for all the incredible women writers out there – own your shit, ladies!



Now, this is where I’d typically list any adaptations of note, but for Pride And Prejudice there are just too damn many! And there are more released every single year. The enduring popularity of this story knows no bounds. A couple of my favourites include Bridget Jones’s Diary, which places the story in contemporary London, and Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, which is an unbelievably popular Austen-zombie-cannibal-ninja-ultraviolence mash-up. And, not satisfied to let the creatives have all the fun, scientists have got in on some Pride And Prejudice homages too. In 2010, a pheromone found in mouse urine was named “darcin”, after Mr Darcy, because it strongly attracted females (what an honour… kind of). And in 2016, a whole article in the Journal of Inherited Metabolic Diseases was dedicated to speculating as to the possible medical reasons the Bennets didn’t have any male children.

On the whole, I’m extremely glad I persisted with this classic. I think it’s another fine example of needing a book to come to you at the right time. I ended up enjoying Pride And Prejudice far more than I thought I would, and it’s one I’ll definitely re-read and re-visit in the future. I never thought I’d see myself say that out loud, let alone in writing, but there you have it: life isn’t always what you’d expect, and neither are books.

Note: in the end, I enjoyed Pride And Prejudice so much that it made the cut for my shortlist of Classic Books Worth Reading here.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Pride And Prejudice:

  • “Elizabeth Bennet is my spirit animal.” – Mary Hammond
  • “No thanks no review, this is stupid I don’t need to review a classic and I resent being held hostage to a review” – Jennifer Jones
  • “Y’all, errybody need to check out Lydia’s FINSTA. NSFW.” – Rebeca Reynolds
  • “Old nd good” – scott patterson
  • “Perfect gift for married co-worker” – KG
  • “Haven’t read it for 40 years, thought I’d try again. Still pretty good.” – Kindle Customer
  • “If you want to read a classic then this is for you but I wasn’t a fan. I’m not really big on romance and this seems heavy on romance a nd girl hates boy but then likes boy relationship centered.” – Mirashan Gregory
  • “This is the quintessential Day Time Soap Opera. 2 seasons or more neatly placed between the cover of a classic novel.” – Karen Marie review
  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Jane Austen rocks.” – Erin S.
  • “Pride and Prejudice is a very tiresome book. Much dialogue and very little action. Too much love and not enough Jesus.” – D
  • “Almost 400 pages of girls talking about which guy has more money and who they danced with. Not worth the paper it is written on.” – Amazon Customer
  • “A story of spoiled sisters and their attempts to be the bestest of the best in a time when how much money you had
matters more than love or morality.
 Seriously, the moral of the story seems to be, if a rich uncle comes calling, you best throw your daughters
at him until one sticks. Just a miserable, long story of some young women trying to find the right man to take care of them.” – JD Wohlever
  • “oh, this book is just awful. The author even insults her own people inside of this. There were several references to the British military that were insults back then; I forget what the are exactly. The characters themselves are never really developed in my opinion. The whole plot is this: girl sees rich guy and hates him because he is socially awKward. Rich guy actually loves girl and tries to tell her that. Girl mistreats the man because she’s blind to everything. Guy eventually has to spend money to get her to like him. They get married. End of story. This book is about a gold digger in all reality. It lacks anything that would make a book a classic. If you want to be driven insane, read this book.” – Not Trans Kieran


Emma – Jane Austen

Chris Kyle filled up my tolerance bucket to overflowing. By the time I was done with American Sniper, I was desperate to get back to literature that didn’t offend every moral fiber of my being. In my hour of need, I turned to one of the most recognisable female writers of the English language. My sum total experience of Austen beforehand was six aborted attempts to read Pride and Prejudice, and falling asleep during the Keira Knightley film adaptation. I know I’ll have to get around to reading that particular masterpiece eventually, but baby steps are the name of the game. So, I decided to start with Emma.

Emma was the last of Austen’s six novels to be completed, after the publication of Pride and Prejudice. A London publisher offered her £450 for the manuscript, and asked for the copyright for Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility thrown into the bargain. She told him to get stuffed, and in 1815 published two thousand copies at her own expense. She retained all of the copyright, and (more importantly) all of the bragging rights. Slay, Austen, slay!

Before she began writing Emma, Austen wrote to a friend: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”. From what I can tell, later critics didn’t dislike Emma as much as they simply acknowledged that she was a flawed character (the horror!). The book isn’t even really about her, per se; Emma is actually a satirical novel about manners, hubris, and the perils of misconstrued romance, exploring the lives of genteel women in the early 19th century and issues of marriage, gender, age, and social status. But all I knew about it before I started reading was that it was the basis of the movie Clueless.

Clueless - You're a virgin who can't drive - Emma - Jane Austen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

So, the central character, Emma Woodhouse (“handsome, clever, and rich”), fancies herself to be quite the matchmaker in her small English village. She’s wealthy enough to get by without a husband of her own, but she takes great pleasure in meddling with other people’s love lives. What else was a girl to do before Tinder? Her pet project is Harriet Smith, an unsophisticated, illegitimate seventeen-year-old girl whose only prospect for social advancement is a good matrimonial match. Now, you can look past this pretty weak and flimsy plot to read Emma as a searing class commentary on the right of the elite to dominate society… but, if that’s not your thing, you should know right now: Emma is basically The Book Where Nothing Happens.

I mean it: nothing really happens. Every scene is a visit or a party where bored rich men and women gossip about who will marry whom. Emma tries to set Harriet up with everyone, but they all fall in love with Emma (or her dowry) instead – boohoo. There’s a lot of whining about rich white-girl problems. Now and then, there’s a dramatic declaration of love or a rejected proposal to keep the wheel turning, but otherwise it’s all pretty bland. Most of the story is told through the gossip of the town of Highbury, kind of like the original Gossip Girl.





The most interesting and likeable character in Emma was the uncouth Mrs Elton. Mrs Elton has fat stacks of cash, but lacks the manners and social graces that are expected of her in “polite society”. She commits social suicide almost immediately, calling people by their first names (gasp!) and boasting about her family’s wealth (can you imagine?). Emma describes her as “self-important, presuming, familiar, ignorant, and ill-bred”, but I liked her. She was a whole lot more fun than the rest of them put together. Picture an old-timey Kath & Kim character mixing with the upper crust: hilarious! It is Mrs Elton’s lack of social grace that reveals the hypocrisy and the ridiculousness of the gentility. Good on her, I say!

Things start to heat up a bit plot-wise towards the end (in relative terms, anyway): people get sick, peripheral characters die, there’s arguments between friends, and the very-predictable love triangle comes to a head. There’s a happy ending (i.e., everyone gets married), which pretty much makes it a 19th century beach read.





Emma isn’t a horrible book, and I didn’t hate it. Indeed, it’s quite clever and charming, in its own way. There’s some really funny bits, there’s some interesting class and gender commentary… but the pacing is positively glacial, and (as I said before) nothing happens. In terms of this particular edition, the introduction was fine, but the footnotes were absolutely taking the piss. No kidding, there is a footnote providing the definition of “carriage”, but nothing for the word “valetudinarian” (I had to Google it, it means “a person who is unduly anxious about their health”, just so you know). I gave up on the notes a few chapters in, they just weren’t adding much to my reading experience.

My tl;dr summary of Emma would be this: if you get your jollies dissecting the idiosyncrasies of high society in early 19th century England, and don’t mind falling asleep now and then while you’re reading, Emma will make your day. If you’re chasing action and intrigue and shock-twist endings, you might want to give this one a miss.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Emma:

  • “Boring, BORING, B O R I N G!” – Cliffgypsy
  • “too many similarities between this book and the much better Alicia Silverstone movie Clueless for me to recommend it to everyone but all in all if you like your teen comedies set in Victorian england and not LA, go for it. Grab it before Hollywood discovers the similarities and gets it yanked off the shelf with a court order. Maybe Austen can write her next one based on the plot of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Set it in South Africa during the Boar war or something” – Walter Rice
  • “Tedious and slow. Too much angst and upstanding-ness.” – Iaswa
  • “Normally, “women’s fiction,” focusing on relationships and family, doesn’t interest me much, but Austen writes so well I was able to read all the way through. That emma, what an interfering know-it-all, but the harm is not irreparable.” – Marie Brack

Want to know how I got on with Pride And Prejudice? Read my full review here.

Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: books in translation are a unique kind of magic. Sayaka Murata has won multiple literary prizes in Japan, she was named one of Vogue Japan’s Women Of The Year in 2016, and yet Convenience Store Woman is the first of her ten (ten!) novels to be translated into English. It was translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (always, always, always #NameTheTranslator), and it has gone on to make Murata a literary superstar in the Anglophone world, as she has long deserved to be.

The blurb begins: “Keiko isn’t normal,”. A strong start, wouldn’t you say? Keiko has known since childhood that she was “different” from everybody else, but she learned early on that expressing herself in ways that feel natural to her does not go down well in her conservative and conformist culture – it freaks people out and causes problems. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, peers recoil from her and her family worries that she’ll never “fit in”. Everyone’s relieved when, aged 18, she takes a “normal” job in a convenience store (a konbini) – including Keiko. The store provides an employee manual that provides her with strict protocols for interaction that she finds deeply comforting. “This is the only way I can be a normal person,” she says, on page 21. Thus, she becomes the titular Convenience Store Woman.

Eighteen years later, however, the gig is starting to wear thin. Not for Keiko, but for the people around her. Keiko has happily adopted “convenience store worker” as her whole identity, and struggles to understand why that’s not enough. Her friends and family worry about her, and they’re not backwards in coming forwards: as far as they’re concerned, stacking shelves and greeting customers in a 24/7 convenience store is no way for a woman of advancing (reproductive) years to live, and the pressure to find a new job (or a husband) intensifies…

Enter Shiraha: a ragamuffin, layabout, ne’er do well who takes a job at the convenience store for the express purpose of “marriage shopping”. Basically, he’s an in-cel, looking for someone to give him social credibility and (ideally) finance his ridiculous idea for a start-up. He’s fired almost immediately, of course, because he’s the absolute worst – but not before Keiko identifies him as a potential solution. In her world, any explanation for her supposed aberration is better than no explanation at all. So, she takes Shiraha in, and presents him to the world as her live-in partner. There! They both “fit in” now! Happily ever after, right?





Of course not! Stick two misfits like Keiko and Shiraha in a tiny apartment together, on Keiko’s meagre convenience store worker salary no less, and everything will inevitably go to shit. Keiko has mild psychopathic tendencies, resorts to mimicking her co-workers’ speech and dress to “fit in”, and remains blithely indifferent to sex, romance, or anything like it. Shiraha feels entitled to anything and everything he wants, and views their whole arrangement as a huge favour that he is doing for Keiko out of the goodness of his heart. Really, the only thing they have in common is that they both long to flip the bird to the homogenising pressures of Japanese culture.

Let’s be clear here, though: Convenience Store Woman isn’t some kind of odd-couple rom-com, it’s no contemporary take on Pride And Prejudice. In fact, it’s very satirical, almost dystopian, in tone – wry, matter of fact, and mournful, all at once. It’s a class commentary, in the sense that it looks at social problems caused by class and gender inequity in Japan. Keiko lives in a “grim post-capitalist reverie”, where she finds purpose, acceptance, and contentment in the fluorescent, synthetic environment of the convenience store. Into the bargain, she’s a woman, which gives Murata ample fodder to question whether women can truly be happy in their “traditional” roles, that age-old question of feminism.





And yet, Convenience Store Woman is SHORT. Like, seriously SHORT. 163 pages! SHORT! The story moves very fast, which is part of its appeal, but it was almost (only almost) too fast for me. I would’ve loved to spend more time in Keiko’s mind and her world, but I’ve got to respect the mastery. How Murata managed to cram so much into so few pages is beyond me! On par with the economical prose of Arthur Conan Doyle, in my opinion…

I can’t resist a spoiler (but I left it ’til the very last paragraph, so don’t complain): in the end, Keiko rejects the more “convenient” life that Shiraha offers her, and returns to the convenience store. Obviously, that’s a broader statement about rejecting conformism in the pursuit of happiness (real or synthetic), and it’s very cleverly done – in fact, it didn’t strike me until later that that’s what Murata was getting at. Convenience Store Woman is such an intriguingly strange book, one that feels uniquely singular but simultaneously universal. I absolutely recommend it!

My favourite Amazon reviews of Convenience Store Woman:

  • “Cute story, not to norm” – Tanya settle
  • “anybody who didn’t understand this book hasen’t subsumed themselves into the rhythms of a low-level retail job. I loved this book.” – pencillers
  • “What seems would be a dull story about an ordinary woman with a mundane job is a fascinating novel.” – eva b.
  • “A very enjoyable story told from the perspective of a non-violent sociopath. It’s unlike any story I’ve read and quite fun at that.” – JF
  • “This book felt like something Dostoyevsky would have written if he were a woman and had a sense of humor….” – Travis Ann Sherman

7 Books On My To Re-Read List

The whole Keeping Up With The Penguins project began because I was stuck in a loop of re-reading my favourite books over and over again. For the past few years, I’ve been committed to expanding my reading horizons and challenging myself with the new and unfamiliar. Even so, having looked at it from both sides now, I can still see the benefit in re-reading books. It’s beneficial for any number of reasons: taking comfort, nostalgic reminisces, reinforcing memory and recall, learning and thinking about a book in a different way… As soon as I finished reading Me Talk Pretty One Day earlier this week, I knew I’d want to re-read it purely for the sake of enjoying it all over again. At some point, here on the blog, I’ll do a little series of re-read reviews. For now, here are the books on my to re-read list.

7 Books On My To Re-Read List - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Citizen - An American Lyric - Claudia Rankine - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Just as the #metoo movement had me itching to revisit classics of feminism and gender studies, the surge in global support for the Black Lives Matter movement has me wanting to re-read those books that taught me about white privilege and anti-racism. Citizen is one of those books. Through multi-media poetry (yes, you read that right – Rankine integrates photography, design, even video and sound into her verse) this book taught me more about race and culture than any I’d read beforehand. I want to re-read it to refamiliarise myself with its message, its representation of lived experience, and examine how I can use it to inform my participation in dismantling systemic oppression moving forward.

1984 by George Orwell

1984 - George Orwell - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I used to make a point of re-reading 1984 once every year or so. I still have the same copy my father gave me when I was a teenager, and I’ve returned to it faithfully each time. It’s one of the markers of a great book, I think, that you can get something new out of it every time you re-read it. 1984 is a political critique, a psychological thriller, a love story, a vision of a bleak future… It’s been a few years since I last picked it up, and given – y’know – everything I think it’s high time I did. I’m sure, being a little older and uglier, I’ll find something new in it once again.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Wuthering Heights was actually on my original Keeping Up With The Penguins reading list. I gave it a go in the early days of this project… and it was a complete disaster. I had a lot on my mind, a lot going on personally, and I just couldn’t focus on this dark and twisted story. As a result, I really didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t get much out of it at all. I was sick of the pack of them, with their histrionics and melodrama, by the end. Even at the time, though, I knew if I re-read Emily Brontë’s only novel when I had the brain space and emotional resources to properly attend to it, I’d read it completely differently. So, that’s what I plan to do! Read my original review of Wuthering Heights in full here.


My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

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

When I first read My Year Of Rest And Relaxation, I didn’t really have much of a chance to enjoy it. See, it was required reading for one of the courses of my Masters, and I spent the whole time looking for things I could say and questions I could ask about it to look clever in class (kidding… kind of). There’s a lot of value in reading the way that post-grad study requires you to, it opens your mind and makes you think more critically about the books (or “texts”, as I got used to calling them), but it does kind of take the fun out of it sometimes. That’s why I’m eager to re-read this one (and Moshfegh’s other books), with no essays or discussion groups hanging over my head. I feel like it’s a book I could get a lot out of recreationally, given the chance!

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

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

Look, it’s not just Pride And Prejudice: I think every Jane Austen novel would benefit from being re-read, over time (well, from the ones I’ve read so far, that seems to be the trend, anyway). They are subtle and nuanced and masterful, and it’s impossible to absorb all that they have to say on a single pass. Pride And Prejudice in particular, however, has saturated our popular consciousness to the point where – if you’ll excuse me – it prejudices us to read it as a simple marriage plot, when there’s so much more to it. Re-reading it will give me an opportunity to examine the other aspects more closely: Austen’s use of free indirect discourse, her commentary on class and power through parent-child relationships, her comedic timing… Read my original review of Pride And Prejudice in full here.


Throat by Ellen Van Neerven

Throat - Ellen Van Neerven - Book On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Throat was only released earlier this year, and UQP was kind enough to send me a copy for review; I read it as soon as I’d pulled it out of the packaging. It is sharp and stunning collection of poetry, and Van Neerven is very deserving of all of the acclaim and accolades that are coming their way as a result. But having devoured Throat once – in a single sitting, no less! – I want to return to it and savour it again, more slowly this time. Some of the poems are timely, some are timeless: I’m interested to see which ones become snapshots of bygone political moments and which ones endure as resonant and poignant reflections of our evolving reality. The whole collection deserves the attention of many careful and considered re-reads.

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House - Carmen Maria Machado - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I said, after reading it for the first time, that In The Dream House is a Rubik’s cube of a book. I stand by that. It’s just that I need to re-read it to figure out just how Carmen Maria Machado did it. Reading this memoir is like watching one of those Rubik’s cube masters who can solve the whole damn thing in eight seconds or whatever. You need to slow it down, re-play each moment, in order to even come close to understanding. Plus, it’s just a beautifully written book, and its subject (abuse in queer relationships) is one that has been unfairly under-represented in literature. I’ll read every word that Machado writes for the rest of her career, and re-read them, too.


So, what do you think? Which book should I re-read first? Are there any deserving of a re-read that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

13 Guaranteed Slump-Buster Books

If you’ve got a lot of bookish friends, you’ve probably heard at least one or two of them complain about being in a “reading slump” at some point. I have a pretty good reading rhythm, and I’m not sure I’d ever use that terminology myself, but I can certainly relate to the feeling of being not in the mood: no books calling to you, nothing that draws you in… Surely we’ve all felt a bit of that of late, with the state of the world. I know I did, but To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was just the ticket and I’ve got a good strong bench of slump-buster books. I can guarantee you these will get you back on that book-lovin’ horse!

13 Guaranteed Slump-Buster Books - 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

Liane Moriarty is the reigning queen of woman-centred domestic thrillers, and Big Little Lies got her the crown. I turned to it after I finished Ulysses – I was exhausted, and in the mood for a page-turner, and boy did it deliver! This is Moriarty in her prime: three women, all dealing with their own struggles, merging and converging with a dramatic climax that ends in bloodshed. All of Moriarty’s books are compelling and satisfying, but Big Little Lies particularly so. Read my full review of Big Little Lies here.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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

A man stranded alone on Mars, years away from assistance with only a month’s worth of supplies, hardly sounds like a hilarious premise for a novel… and yet The Martian made me laugh harder than any book had in ages. It’s thrilling and compelling enough to draw you in, but Weir deftly steers clear of anything dark or depressing. The narrator, Mark Watney, is determined to survive and his good attitude is infectious. In addition to cheering you up, this one might even teach you a thing or two about science – imagine that! Read my full review of The Martian here.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

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

If you’re in the mood for snack-sized stories, instead of a heavy pot roast story, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the book for you. Doyle is a masterclass in economical writing; not a word is wasted, and he manages to say a lot in just a few pages. What’s more, the stories are just as interesting and clever as you’d hope for the world’s most famous fictional detective – but they stop short of being horrifying or terrifying, the way most contemporary detective thrillers are. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes 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

Ah, I never tire of recommending this book! The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is one of the most delightful books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. It’s basically a European Forrest Gump, but less trite, a sprinkle more snarky, and guaranteed to make you chuckle. Plus, who can’t relate to wanting to jump out the window and go on an adventure? This amazing Swedish novel (translated into English by Rod Bradbury) will bust your slump for sure. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If reality TV shows about eligible bachelors and glamorous ladies are dragging your attention away from reading, Crazy Rich Asians is just the thing to bring you back. Kevin Kwan is the king of the guilty indulgence. This book is glitzy, it’s silly, it’s funny, it’s touching, and it’s just far enough over-the-top (without toppling over). Even better, if it leaves you wanting more, there are two sequels to sustain you, and a movie adaptation that will knock your socks off. My full review of Crazy Rich Asians is coming soon!

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look - Helen Garner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m sure if I ever met Helen Garner, she would describe me in some delightfully searing way: an inner-city young woman who worships the ground she walks on is surely the type of cliche she detests. Still, it’s a cliche for a reason. All of her books are worth reading, of course, but if it’s slump-buster books you’re after, you can’t go past her essay collection Everywhere I Look. Most of the essays have been previously published elsewhere, but there’s something especially wonderful about having them all back-to-back on paper. She applies her keen insight and acerbic wit to topics as varied as making a house a home, true crime, heroes, grandchildren, and Russell Crowe movies.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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

Greer said that he began writing Less as a “very serious” novel, but he soon figured out that the only way to write about the miseries of an ageing, gay writer (as an ageing, gay writer) was to make it funny. It’s an unparalleled stroke of genius that makes for a compelling, heart-warming read. I can’t over-state it: I really dig this determinedly self-deprecating approach. It lets Greer parody all the priviliged-white-American-abroad tropes, to my great delight. Less will knock your reading slump for six! Read my full review of Less here.

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

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

Calling all Murderinos! (Though I doubt there are any who aren’t already familiar with Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered…) Listening to the My Favorite Murder podcast is guaranteed to perk you up, and same goes for the joint memoir of hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. In their trademark transparent and radically straight-forward style, they present this life-story-slash-guide-to-life. They are frank, disarming, and under no pretensions. Just what you need mid-slump! Read my full review of Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered here.


Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget-Joness-Diary-Helen-Fielding-Book-Laid-on-Wooden-Table-Keeping-Up-With-The-Penguins

Have you ever wanted to read your best friend’s diary? C’mon, you know you have! That’s why Bridget Jones’s Diary is one of my sure-fire slump-buster books. Sure, at times, it’s farcical and ridiculous, but it’s also hilarious and charming and iconic and (surprisingly) wise. Scoff if you must, but this is actually the cleverest adaptation of Pride And Prejudice I’ve encountered to date, examining the ways that sex and power operate in our (relatively) contemporary society in a way that is engaging, exciting, and incredibly relatable.

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I suppose The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project is technically a young-adult novel, but I would really resent it being pigeon-holed: this literary send-up would be a wonderful read for book lovers of all ages, guaranteed to delight, entertain, and provoke indiscriminately. It’s a love story, a mystery, and lots and lots of wacky adventures – in fact, it has all of these elements in spades. The humour was wry, and even for all the zaniness, the central message was still one that I can get behind. Read my full review of The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project here.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age - Kiley Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Such A Fun Age is the debut novel from American author Kiley Reid. It might look like a sweet summer read, but underneath lurks a serious critique of race, class, and good intentions. It’s a searing social commentary disguised as a book for the beach, a truly brilliant marketing ploy that guarantees this book will get into the hands of those who need to read it most. If you’re starting out on your journey of learning about racial injustice but you’re feeling exhausted and struggling to take it all in, this is the book to bust your slump!


Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Big Lies In A Small Town - Diane Chamberlain - Book on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, I’m not too proud to admit it: I took one look at Big Lies In A Small Town and thought it was going to be yet another potboiler domestic thriller. What I got instead was something so compelling, and so deftly written, I’ve since recommended it to just about everyone I know. The story centers around a Depression-era mural: the woman commissioned to paint it (who disappeared under mysterious circumstances), and the woman charged with restoring it for installation, nearly eight decades later. The themes Chamberlain explores (race, privilege, and opportunity) are timely and timeless. This is one of the slump-buster books you must pick up when you want a page-turner with substance!

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It takes a very particular writing talent to tease without cruelty, to roll your eyes with a smile on your face and love in your heart – and that’s exactly what David Sedaris has. The best example is his collection of memoir essays, Me Talk Pretty One Day. If you’re feeling a little bit snarky, if you’re in the mood to poke a little fun, if you want to literally laugh out loud, this is the best pick of the slump-buster books for you. Plus, if you’re having trouble focusing on the page, the audiobook is incredible, read by Sedaris himself. My only caution: don’t read it in a public place. People will be very concerned about your random outbursts of mirth! Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.


Which books have busted YOU out of a slump? Let me know in the comments below!

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