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The Age Of Innocence – Edith Wharton

The path to equality and representation is paved with the works of women like Edith Wharton. The Age Of Innocence was her twelfth novel, published in 1920. It went on to win the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The committee had initially agreed to give the award to Sinclair Lewis for Main Street, but the judges wound up rejecting his book on political grounds… making Wharton the first woman to win, in the award’s history. She had the hustle, she fought the good fight, and she won in the end, which makes me so damn happy. Plus, The Age Of Innocence is one of Roxane Gay’s favourite books, so…

The Age Of Innocence - Edith Wharton - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Age of Innocence here.
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The most important thing to know when it comes to The Age Of Innocence is that you need to guard against being fooled by its subtlety. On its face, it’s a slow-moving society story of upper-class New York City at the end of the 19th century, but its critique and commentary goes so much deeper than that!

You’ve really got to keep your wits about you as you’re reading, because it’s all so subtle – it’s a lot like Jane Austen’s Emma, in that regard. You’ll fall into the trap of thinking you can let your mind drift for a second, because Wharton’s just describing the carriages in the street or something, but next thing you know you’ve missed a crucial insight into the politics of this Gilded Age society, and you’ve got to go back and read it all again (as I did, on more than one occasion). It’s not a fast-paced story, but a lot is communicated very quickly, if that makes any sense.

Even the title itself, four simple words, is an ironic comment (with multiple layers) on the polished veneer of “society” in New York, given its nefarious undercurrents and machinations.

So, Wharton don’t play, people: strap in.

The Age Of Innocence starts with Newland Archer, rich boy heir to one of New York City’s “best” families, all set to marry the naive pretty-young-thing May Welland. Newland’s at the opera, fantasising about how wonderful his upper-crust life is going to be… until his fiance’s beautiful cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, shows up, and it all goes straight to hell.

The Countess is “exotic” and “worldly” (the number of euphemisms Wharton finds for “slutty” is amazing), everything Newland’s fiance is not. He quickly announces his engagement to their families, figuring that the declaration would “lock him in” and get the Countess out of his head, but (as I’m sure you can guess) it does diddly-squat to temper his arousal.

The Countess announces that she wants to divorce her husband, and her family freaks the fuck out. This is the 1870s, after all, so divorce is a very dirty word. Newland, being a lawyer and a friend of the family (a cousin-in-law to be, ahem!), is charged with convincing her to just stay married to the creepy old Polish guy that beat her and locked her in a closet (or something like that, the reasons for the marital discord aren’t made all that clear). Newland manages to convince her, but it’s tough going; he keeps getting distracted by his boner.

When he finally gets his hand off it, he marries May, but (surprise, surprise) he’s fucking miserable. He works up the nerve to leave her, with a view to following the Countess back to Europe, but when he tries to do his “it’s not you, it’s me” speech, May interrupts him and tells him she’s pregnant. And the Countess knows – May told her a couple of weeks ago. The implication, and you might have to read it a couple times over to pick it up, is that May suspected the affair all along and magicked up this pregnancy to put an end to it.

Newland pretty much just gives up on life at that point, and anything resembling joy. He settles in for a lifetime of baby-making and boring New York dinner parties. The novel concludes twenty-six years later, after May dies and Newland takes his son to Paris. The kid, completely innocently, had heard that his mother’s cousin lived there, and he arranges for them to pay her a visit – the cousin being… the Countess! But don’t worry, there’s no romantic reunion happily-ever-after bullshit here; Newland is too chicken to see his former paramour, so he just sends his son up to visit while he waits outside. The end.

Wharton later wrote of The Age Of Innocence that it allowed her to escape back to her childhood in America, a world that she believed had been destroyed by the First World War (a fair call, that particular conflict really fucked shit up on a number of levels). Generally, it’s thought to be a story about the struggle to reconcile the old with the new, and Wharton stops just short of landing on one side or the other.

In fact, even though it’s dripping with social commentary and satire, Wharton’s book doesn’t outright condemn pre-war New York society. It’s like she recognises its ridiculousness, but wants to reinforce that, well, it wasn’t all bad. Basically she’s saying that the past was just okay, but the present isn’t all get-out either. Seems fair enough, no?

This book really resonated with me in ways I didn’t expect. You’d think we’ve have come so far as a society over the past century that the behaviours and mores of late 19th century New York would be virtually unrecognisable. But take this, for example: the scene where Newland is trying to convince the Countess not to go ahead with her divorce is eerily reminiscent of the remonstrances received by people who came forward as part of the #MeToo movement.

“Well, then: is it worth while to risk what may be infinitely disagreeable and painful? Think of the newspapers – their vileness! It’s all stupid and narrow and unjust – but one can’t make over society.”

The Age Of Innocence (Page 96)

Plus, there’s a really interesting Madonna-whore dichotomy between the two primary female characters. Of course, upon its initial publication, reader sentiment was pretty heavily weighted in May’s favour. She was the good little wife, standing by her man and making babies and all that. But in the intervening century, the tables have turned, and now she’s often read as a manipulative bitch who basically trapped a man in a loveless marriage through pregnancy. She’s the woman all the Men’s Rights Activists warn us about. On the other hand, the Countess has become the poster child for The Woman Question and the constraints of gender roles for women in society. To be honest, though, I think they’re both alright; Newland is the one who’s deserving of our disdain, the sooky little fuck-boy…

Anyway, even if you’re not into all this social commentary stuff, The Age Of Innocence is still worth a read, for Wharton’s mastery of the craft of writing alone. Her subtlety, her insight, her cleverness – it’s all sublime. And the story itself isn’t half-bad, if you’re paying close attention.

My tl;dr summary is this: a bunch of WASPs in old-timey New York pretend that a bloke isn’t having an affair with his wife’s slutty cousin (even though he very obviously is), and he stays with his wife after he knocks her up (because he’s such a swell guy). It’s a challenging read if you’re used to fast-paced action and sparse prose, but it’s well worth the effort (so much so that I included The Age Of Innocence in my shortlist of Classic Books Worth Reading).

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Age Of Innocence:

  • “Excellent book, as relevant today as when it was first published. The song that comes to mind is Dolly Parton’s Jolene.” – Amazon Customer
  • “There’s no violence, no sex and nothing to hold your interest …” – SMMc
  • “#richvictorianpeopleproblems” – Taylor
  • “I do not consider this an annotated book. It only has a few definitions.” – Susan B. Banbury
  • “We purchased one for my mother when she had shingles and was in incredible pain. It helped her, and she raved about it so much that we bought three more! I have arthritis throughout my body, and I’m getting the best sleep I have in years.” – Kindle Customer
  • “I found this very aggravating to read. I just wanted to grab Newland Archer and shake some sense into him. Written by a woman who made the male characters look stupid.” – Jim W
  • “Poor plot and well written” – Marilyn Austin

The Big List Of Author Birthdays

Literally what it says on the tin: a big list of author birthdays. I tracked down the birthday of every author I could think of, and put them all into one big list, just for you! If you can think of any author of note I’ve missed, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can add them in.

The Big List Of Author Birthdays - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Author Birthdays in January

1 January: E.M. Forster – Read my full review of A Passage To India here.
1 January: J.D. Salinger – Read my full review of The Catcher In The Rye here.

2 January: Andre Aciman – Read my full review of Call Me By Your Name here.

3 January: J.R.R. Tolkien

7 January: Zora Neale Hurston – Read my full review of Their Eyes Were Watching God here.

9 January: Simone de Beauvoir – Read my full review of She Came To Stay here.
9 January: Philippa Gregory – Read my full review of The Other Boleyn Girl here.
9 January: Wilbur Smith
9 January: Judith Krantz

11 January: Jasper Fforde – Read my full review of The Eyre Affair here.
11 January: Diana Gabaldon – Read my full review of Outlander here.

12 January: Jack London – Read my full review of The Call Of The Wild here.
12 January: Haruki Murakami
12 January: Julia Quinn – Read my full review of Bridgerton here.

17 January: Anne Brontë – Read my full review of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall here.
17 January: Emily M. Danforth – Read my full review of The Miseducation Of Cameron Post here.

19 January: Edgar Allan Poe

21 January: Casey McQuiston – Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

22 January: Stephen Graham Jones

24 January: Edith Wharton – Read my full review of The Age Of Innocence here.

25 January: Stephen Chbosky Read my full review of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower here.
25 January: Virginia Woolf – Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

27 January: Lewis Carroll – Read my full review of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland here.

29 January: Olga Tokarczuk
29 January: Anton Chekhov

30 January: Susannah Cahalan – Read my full review of The Great Pretender here.

31 January: Norman Mailer

Author Birthdays in February

2 February: James Joyce – Read my full review of Ulysses here.
2 February: Ayn Rand

7 February: Charles Dickens – Read my full review of David Copperfield here.
7 February: Karen Joy Fowler – Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

8 February: Rachel Cusk – Read my full review of Second Place here.
8 February: John Grisham

9 February: J.M. Coetzee
9 February: Alice Walker – Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

12 February: Judy Blume

13 February: Samantha Irby – Read my full review of Wow, No Thank You here.

18 February: Toni Morrison – Read my full review of Beloved here.

19 February: Jonathan Lethem – Read my full review of The Arrest here.
19 February: Carson McCullers – Read my full review of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter here.
19 February: Amy Tan – Read my full review of The Joy Luck Club here.
19 February: Jeff Kinney

20 February: Sally Rooney – Read my full review of Normal People here.

21 February: W.H. Auden
21 February: David Foster Wallace
21 February: Anaïs Nin – Read my full review of Delta of Venus here.

23 February: Bernard Cornwell

24 February: Gillian Flynn – Read my full review of Gone Girl here.
24 February: Yuval Noah Harari
24 February: Rainbow Rowell – Read my full review of Fangirl here.

25 February: Anthony Burgess – Read my full review of A Clockwork Orange here.

26 February: Victor Hugo

27 February: Joshilyn Jackson – Read my full review of Mother May I here.
27 February: John Steinbeck – Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

Author Birthdays in March

2 March: Dr Seuss

4 March: Khaled Hosseini – Read my full review of The Kite Runner here.

5 March: Sarah J. Maas

6 March: Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Read my full review of One Hundred Years Of Solitude here.

7 March: Anna Burns – Read my full review of Milkman here.
7 March: Bret Easton Ellis – Read my full review of American Psycho here.
7 March: E.L. James

8 March: Jeffrey Eugenides – Read my full review of Middlesex here.
8 March: Kenneth Grahame – Read my full review of The Wind In The WIllows here.

9 March: Lindy West

11 March: Douglas Adams – Read my full review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy here.

12 March: Jack Kerouac – Read my full review of On The Road here.
12 March: Maggie Nelson – Read my full review of The Argonauts here.
12 March: Ruth Ozeki – Read my full review of A Tale For The Time Being here.

19 March: Philip Roth – Read my full review of Portnoy’s Complaint here.

21 March: Oyinkan Braithwaite – Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

22 March: James Patterson

25 March: Gloria Steinem

26 March: Patrick Süskind

Author Birthdays in April

1 April: Jesmyn Ward

2 April: Sofie Laguna – Read my full review of Infinite Splendours here.

4 April: Maya Angelou – Read my full review of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings here.
4 April: Delia Owens

5 April: Caitlin Moran

6 April: Leigh Bardugo

8 April: Barbara Kingsolver – Read my full review of Demon Copperhead here.

12 April: Jon Krakauer

13 April: Samuel Beckett – Read my full review of Waiting For Godot here.
13 April: Michel Faber – Read my full review of Under The Skin here.

15 April: Jeffrey Archer
15 April: Henry James – Read my full review of The Golden Bowl here.

17 April: Nick Hornby

21 April: Charlotte Brontë – Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.

22 April: Janet Evanovich
22 April: Vladimir Nabokov

23 April: William Shakespeare
23 April: Trent Dalton

24 April: Sue Grafton

26 April: Anita Loos – Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

27 April: Patricia Lockwood – Read my full review of No One Is Talking About This here.

28 April: Harper Lee – Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.
28 April: Terry Pratchett – Read my full review of The Colour Of Magic here.
**Psst: if you’re scrolling through this list to look for which authors share your birthday, I don’t blame you. This is mine!

Author Birthdays in May

1 May: Joseph Heller – Read my full review of Catch-22 here.

5 May: Hank Green

7 May: Peter Carey – Read my full review of True History Of The Kelly Gang here.

8 May: Thomas Pynchon

9 May: Richard Adams – Read my full review of Watership Down here.

10 May: Jon Ronson

13 May: Daphne du Maurier – Read my full review of Rebecca here.

18 May: Lionel Shriver – Read my full review of We Need To Talk About Kevin here.

19 May: Nora Ephron – Read my full review of Heartburn here.
19 May: Jodi Picoult – Read my full review of My Sister’s Keeper here.

20 May: Ottessa Moshfegh – Read my full review of Lapvona here.

22 May: Arthur Conan Doyle – Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.

25 May: Robert Ludlam

27 May: Maggie O’Farrell – Read my full review of Instructions For A Heatwave here.

28 May: Muriel Barbery – Read my full review of The Elegance Of The Hedgehog here.
28 May: Patrick White
28 May: Bernardine Evaristo – Read my full review of Girl, Woman, Other here.
28 May: Ian Fleming

31 May: Walt Whitman

Author Birthdays in June

1 June: Colleen McCullough

2 June: Fredrik Backman – Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.
2 June: Thomas Hardy

5 June: Ken Follett
5 June: Rick Riordan

6 June: VC Andrews – Read my full review of Flowers In The Attic here.
6 June: Alexander Pushkin

7 June: Elizabeth Bowen – Read my full review of The Heat Of The Day here.
7 June: Adam Silvera

8 June: Nino Haratischvili – Read my full review of The Eighth Life here.

9 June: Paul Beatty – Read my full review of The Sellout here.
9 June: Patricia Cornwell

10 June: Saul Bellow – Read my full review of The Adventures Of Augie March here.

12 June: Adam Kay

13 June: Audrey Niffenegger – Read my full review of The Time Traveler’s Wife here.

14 June: Harriet Beecher Stowe

16 June: Joyce Carol Oates
16 June: Andy Weir – Read my full review of The Martian here.
16 June: Evie Wyld – Read my full review of The Bass Rock here.

18 June: Richard Powers

19 June: Salman Rushdie

21 June: Ian McEwan – Read my full review of Atonement here.
21 June: Jean-Paul Sartre

22 June: Dan Brown

23 June: Markus Zusak – Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

25 June: George Orwell
25 June: Eric Carle

28 June: Kate Atkinson – Read my full review of Life After Life here.
28 June: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

29 June: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – Read my full review of The Little Prince here.

Author Birthdays in July

2 July: Hermann Hesse

3 July: Franz Kafka
3 July: Carmen Maria Machado – Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.
3 July: Matt Haig – Read my full review of The Midnight Library here.

4 July: Nathaniel Hawthorne – Read my full review of The Scarlet Letter here.

6 July: Jonas Jonasson – Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.
6 July: Hilary Mantel

8 July: Janet Malcolm
8 July: Erin Morgenstern – Read my full review of The Starless Sea here.

9 July: Dean Koontz
9 July: Barbara Cartland

15 July: Clive Cussler

18 July: Elizabeth Gilbert
18 July: William Makepeace Thackeray – Read my full review of Vanity Fair here.
18 July: Hunter S. Thompson

20 July: Cormac McCarthy

21 July: Ernest Hemingway – Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

23 July: Raymond Chandler – Read my full review of The Big Sleep here.
23 July: Lauren Groff

24 July: Alexandre Dumas
24 July: Madeline Miller

26 July: Aldous Huxley – Read my full review of Brave New World here.

28 July: Beatrix Potter

30 July: Emily Brontë – Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.
30 July: Celeste Ng – Read my full review of Little Fires Everywhere here.

Author Birthdays in August

1 August: Herman Melville – Read my full review of Moby Dick here.

2 August: Isabel Allende

4 August: Tim Winton

5 August: David Baldacci

10 August: Suzanne Collins – Read my full review of The Hunger Games here.

11 August: Enid Blyton

12 August: Ann M. Martin

14 August: Danielle Steel
14 August: Sayaka Murata – Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

17 August: Jonathan Franzen

19 August: Samuel Richardson – Read my full review of Clarissa here.
19 August: Veronica Roth – Read my full review of Divergent here.

21 August: Alexander Chee

22 August: Ray Bradbury – Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

23 August: Curtis Sittenfeld – Read my full review of Rodham here.

24 August: Paulo Coelho – Read my full review of The Alchemist here.
24 August: Stephen Fry – Read my full review of Mythos here.
24 August: John Green – Read my full review of The Fault In Our Stars here.
24 August: Alexander McCall-Smith
24 August: Jean Rhys
24 August: Ali Smith
24 August: Jorge Luis Borges

25 August: Martin Amis – Read my full review of Money here.

26 August: Christopher Isherwood – Read my full review of A Single Man here.

27 August: Jeanette Winterson – Read my full review of Frankissstein here.

29 August: Mieko Kawakami – Read my full review of Breasts And Eggs here.

30 August: Mary Shelley – Read my full review of Frankenstein here.

31 August: Dolly Alderton

Author Birthdays in September

3 September: Malcolm Gladwell
3 September: Jenny Han – Read my full review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before here.

4 September: Alex Michaelides – Read my full review of The Silent Patient here.

6 September: Robert M. Pirsig – Read my full review of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance here.

7 September: Jennifer Egan

9 September: Leo Tolstoy – Read my full review of Anna Karenina here.

10 September: Alison Bechdel

11 September: D.H. Lawrence – Read my full review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover here.

13 September: Roald Dahl
13 September: E. Lockhart – Read my full review of We Were Liars here.

14 September: Geraldine Brooks

15 September: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
15 September: Agatha Christie – Read my full review of And Then There Were None here.

17 September: Cheryl Strayed – Read my full review of Wild here.

19 September: William Golding – Read my full review of Lord Of The Flies here.

20 September: George R.R. Martin – Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.
20 September: Angie Thomas – Read my full review of The Hate U Give here.
20 September: Hanya Yanagihara – Read my full review of A Little Life here.

21 September: Stephen King – Read my full review of Misery here.
21 September: H.G. Wells

24 September: F. Scott Fitzgerald – Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

25 September: William Faulkner – Read my full review of As I Lay Dying here.
25 September: Kristin Hannah
25 September: bell hooks

26 September: Mark Haddon
26 September: T.S. Eliot

29 September: Miguel de Cervantes – Read my full review of Don Quixote here.
29 September: Elizabeth Gaskell

30 September: Truman Capote – Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

Author Birthdays in October

2 October: Tara Moss

4 October: Rupi Kaur
4 October: Anne Rice – Read my full review of Interview With The Vampire here.
4 October: Jackie Collins

7 October: Sherman Alexie – Read my full review of The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian here.
7 October: Rachel Kushner

8 October: R.L. Stine

10 October: Nora Roberts

14 October: Miles Franklin – Read my full review of My Brilliant Career here.
14 October: Kate Grenville

15 October: Italo Calvino – Read my full review of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler here.
15 October: Roxane Gay – Read my full review of Bad Feminist here.

16 October: Oscar Wilde – Read my full review of The Picture Of Dorian Gray here.

17 October: Arthur Miller

19 October: Tracy Chevalier

21 October: Carrie Fisher – Read my full review of The Princess Diarist here.
21 October: Ursula K Le Guin

22 October: Doris Lessing – Read my full review of The Golden Notebook here.
22 October: Ann Rule – Read my full review of The Stranger Beside Me here.
22 October: Debbie Macomber

23 October: Augusten Burroughs
23 October: Michael Crichton

24 October: Emma Donoghue – Read my full review of Room here.
24 October: Amor Towles

25 October: Zadie Smith

26 October: Taffy Brodesser-Akner – Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

27 October: Anthony Doerr – Read my full review of All The Light We Cannot See here.
27 October: Sylvia Plath – Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

28 October: Evelyn Waugh – Read my full review of Scoop here.

29 October: Lee Child

31 October: Susan Orlean – Read my full review of The Library Book here.

Author Birthdays in November

1 November: Susanna Clarke – Read my full review of Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell here.

6 November: Michael Cunningham – Read my full review of The Hours here.
6 November: Colson Whitehead – Read my full review of The Underground Railroad here.

7 November: Albert Camus
7 November: Helen Garner – Read my full review of Monkey Grip here.

8 November: Kazuo Ishiguro – Read my full review of Never Let Me Go here.
8 November: Julie Murphy – Read my full review of Dumplin’ here.
8 November: Bram Stoker – Read my full review of Dracula here.

10 November: Caroline Kepnes
10 November: Neil Gaiman

11 November: Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Read my full review of Crime And Punishment here.
11 November: Min Jin Lee
11 November: Kurt Vonnegut

13 November: Robert Louis Stevenson – Read my full review of Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde here.

15 November: Liane Moriarty – Read my full review of Big Little Lies here.

16 November: José Saramago – Read my full review of Death At Intervals here.

17 November: Becky Albertalli

18 November: Margaret Atwood – Read my full review of The Handmaid’s Tale here.

20 November: Don DeLillo

21 November: Andrew Sean Greer – Read my full review of Less here.

22 November: George Eliot – Read my full review of Middlemarch here.
22 November: Lisa Genova – Read my full review of Still Alice here.

24 November: Marlon James
24 November: Arundhati Roy

26 November: James Dashner – Read my full review of The Maze Runner here.

28 November: Richard Osman

29 November: Louisa May Alcott – Read my full review of Little Women here.
29 November: C.S. Lewis

30 November: Tayari Jones – Read my full review of An American Marriage here.
30 November: David Nicholls
30 November: Jonathan Swift – Read my full review of Gulliver’s Travels here.
30 November: Mark Twain – Read my full review of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn here.

Author Birthdays in December

2 December: Ann Patchett
2 December: George Saunders

5 December: Joan Didion

8 December: Bill Bryson – Read my full review of A Short History Of Nearly Everything here.

10 December: Emily Dickinson

11 December: Colleen Hoover

14 December: Shirley Jackson – Read my full review of The Lottery And Other Stories here.

15 December: Edna O’Brien – Read my full review of Girl here.

16 December: Jane Austen – Read my full review of Pride & Prejudice here.
16 December: Philip K. Dick – Read my full review of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? here.

19 December: Brandon Sanderson

20 December: Alain de Botton – Read my full review of Religion For Atheists here.
20 December: Taylor Jenkins Reid – Read my full review of Daisy Jones And The Six here.

21 December: Benjamin Disraeli – Read my full review of Sybil here.

23 December: Donna Tartt – Read my full review of The Secret History here.

24 December: Mary Higgins Clark
24 December: Stephenie Meyer

26 December: Henry Miller – Read my full review of Tropic Of Cancer here.
26 December: David Sedaris – Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.

30 December: Rudyard Kipling – Read my full review of Kim here.

31 December: Nicholas Sparks

18 Pulitzer Prize Winning Books

The Pulitzer Prizes are a set of awards given each year for achievements in American journalism, literature, and composition. You might have noticed that quite a few of the books I’ve read and recommended here on Keeping Up With The Penguins are lauded as Pulitzer Prize-winners – for some reason, I seem to share a literary sensibility with the panel of judges. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (formerly the Pulitzer Prize for Novel) is awarded “for distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life”. Here are eighteen great Pulitzer Prize-winning books from the past 100 years.

18 Pulitzer Prize Winning Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you purchase one of these Pulitzer Prize winning books through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll earn a small commission.

March by Geraldine Brooks

March - Geraldine Brooks - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2006

In her 2005 novel, March, Geraldine Brooks reimagines Louisa May Alcott’s children’s classic Little Women from the perspective of the mostly-absent March patriarch. The Pulitzer Prize judges commended Brooks for adding “adult resonance to Alcott’s optimistic children’s tale to portray the moral complexity of war, and a marriage tested”. They called March “a lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time”.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1940

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath is now widely considered a classic of American working class literature, and a strong contender for the Great American Novel moniker. In the year following its 1939 release, Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Novel, and the National Book Award, for his searing social commentary. It was also the best-selling novel of the year (an astonishing 430,000 copies), and the Armed Services Edition went through two full print runs. Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015

Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See explores the depth and breadth of human nature through a story about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in unlikely circumstances over the course of WWII. According to the Pulitzer Prize judges, Doerr “illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another”. They called this New York Times best-seller “dazzling … a magnificent, deeply moving novel”. Read my full review of All The Light We Cannot See here.

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man And The Sea - Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1953

The Old Man And The Sea was first published in 1952, the last major work of fiction by Hemingway to be published during his lifetime. The deceptively short and simple story revolves around an aging Cuban fisherman, and his struggle to reel in a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream. Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the year following its release, and it was also cited specifically in the judges’ comments when he received a Nobel Prize for Literature (which Hemingway, in turn, dedicated to the people of Cuba). Read my full review of The Old Man And The Sea here.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2003

Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 novel Middlesex tells the uniquely intertwined history of Cal, an intersex third-generation Greek American. The Pulitzer Board described it as a “vastly realized, multi-generational novel as highspirited as it is intelligent … Like the masks of Greek drama, Middlesex is equal parts comedy and tragedy, but its real triumph is its emotional abundance, delivered with consummate authority and grace,”. Read my full review of Middlesex here.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019

Richard Powers’ The Overstory is “a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance”, one that earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among several other awards and short-listings in 2019. It contains the stories of nine fictional Americans, each of whom share some special connection to trees, despite their disparate circumstances and eras. The Pulitzer Prize website describes it as “an ingeniously structured narrative that branches and canopies like the trees at the core of the story whose wonder and connectivity echo those of the humans living amongst them,”.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone-With-The-Wind-Margaret-Mitchell-Book-Laid-on-Wooden-Table-Keeping-Up-With-The-Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1937

Gone With The Wind is best known these days as the classic film, but back in 1936 it was an astonishingly popular novel by American author Margaret Mitchell. It was an instant best-seller, with hundreds of thousands of copies flying off the shelves long before the 1939 film adaptation. It depicts a questionable coming-of-age story against the backdrop of a horribly white-washed version of Southern plantation life immediately prior to and during the Civil War. It doesn’t stand up to today’s critical scrutiny, but at the time it was a phenomenon, and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Novel the year following its release.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours - Michael Cunningham - Keeping Up With The Penguins115

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1999

As the ’90s drew to a close, Michael Cunningham was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for The Hours, a novel that draws upon the life and work of Virginia Woolf “to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair”. It is a “passionate, profound, and deeply moving” novel, one that is still widely recognised as Cunningham’s most remarkable literary achievement. Read my full review of The Hours here.

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2011

A Visit From The Goon Squad is “an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed”. Egan centres the story on the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker, and his employee, the young and passionate Sasha. Told through a series of creative and innovative formats, this story “captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both”.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1988

Toni Morrison was awarded a slew of prizes for her 1987 novel Beloved, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among them. It seems particularly fitting, given that she hoped for the novel to stand in as a memorial testament to the lives lost and damaged beyond recognition by the Atlantic slave trade (“There’s no small bench by the road,” she said, “and because such a place doesn’t exist, that I know of, the book had to.”) In this unique story, of a former slave living a haunted life in Cincinnati, Morrison captures a universal pain and shame. Read my full review of Beloved here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018

It’s so rare that a truly funny book wins the Pulitzer Prize – which makes it all the more special when one does! Less got the gong in 2018, and it was very well deserved. The story revolves around Arthur Less, an aging gay man so desperate to avoid the wedding of his ex-lover that he accepts every invitation to every half-baked literary event around the world. Less is “a scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, [and] a bittersweet romance of chances lost”. Read my full review of Less here.

The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton

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Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1921

In 1921, Edith Wharton became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, for The Age Of Innocence. It was a controversial choice, but not (necessarily) because of the author’s gender. The Pulitzer Prize for Novel was originally set to go to Sinclair Lewis for Main Street, as per the choice of the Prize’s jury at the time, but the board overruled them and awarded the prize to Wharton instead. The apparent reason for the switch was Lewis’s novel having “offended a number of prominent persons in the Middle West”, and Wharton said in a note to Lewis that she “despaired” over the decision. Read my full review of The Age Of Innocence here.

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2008

Junot Diaz has fallen from grace since being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008, having been called out for despicable behaviour as part of the #MeToo reckoning. Despite the revelations, however, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao is still sold in editions with a Pulitzer Prize seal embossed on the cover. The story itself is a fascinating window into an aspect of American life – a Dominican-American who dreams of overcoming the challenges of his ghetto home to find love and success – but can we really separate the art from the artist?

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

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Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1947

Who would’ve thought, when Robert Penn Warren was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Novel in 1947 for his fictionalised account of the troubled term of a populist governor, that it would still be so resonant over seventy years later? All The King’s Men traces the political career of Willie Stark, a cynical Southerner who seems destined for the life (and death) of a messianic figure. The New York Time Book Review called the book “magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue sparks,”. Read my full review of All The King’s Men here.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017

The Underground Railroad is a semi-speculative alternative history of the antebellum South, one that Barack Obama called “terrific” and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2017. It “combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America,”. According to the judges, “The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.” Read my full review of The Underground Railroad here.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1983

Alice Walker became the first ever black woman to win a Pulitzer when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Color Purple in 1983. It has retained its cultural currency across the intervening decades – so much so that it continues to be banned and challenged in schools and libraries, which seems to be a rite of passage for any meaningful work of literature. The story of a young black girl, told through her letters to God, is a challenging read, but a vital and perennially relevant one. Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2007

Cormac McCarthy is a notoriously reclusive contemporary writer, but he granted rare and special insight into his writing process and creative mind after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Road in 2007. He told Oprah that it took him only six weeks to write the haunting post-apocalyptic novel. The idea came to him after a road trip with his son in El Paso, where he found himself wondering what the road might look like in a hundred years’ time. “It is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of,” according to his publisher.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1961

To Kill A Mockingbird has been widely considered one of the most iconic American novels of all time since its release, so it was hardly a surprise when Harper Lee received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. The judges were openly disappointed in the literary offerings from established writers that year, but credited Lee with “revitalising American fiction” and producing a novel of “unusual distinction”. Her friend, Truman Capote, was happy for her – but remained bitter that she had won a Pulitzer, while he hadn’t for In Cold Blood, until his death. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

11 “Year Of” Books

Don’t lie: in the back of your mind, you’re already thinking about new year’s resolutions. Most of us decide to Get Healthy or Read More or Learn An Instrument, then promptly forget all about it by the mid-January.

Some people, though, go the whole hog and decide to overhaul their lives completely for twelve months. A select few go even further and write a book about what they’ve done, why they’ve done it, and what they’ve learned.

Here are eleven “year of” books, these uniquely committed individuals’ memoirs about actually living their lives differently for one whole year.

11 Year Of Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There are a lot of theories about how to Be Happy. Make your bed, dance with your kids, eat your vegetables… surely if any one person tried to do every single one of them, they’d end up too exhausted to be happy. That’s why Gretchen Rubin tackled them one at a time, and she wrote about in The Happiness Project. She spent a year taking on a different get-happy project every month. Over the course of a year, she cleaned out her closets, read Aristotle, and learned how to better manage conflicts. The piece of wisdom that has really stuck with me from Rubin’s account is that “the days are long, but the years are short”. It’s too easy to get stuck in the hum-drum of the same-old-same-old of the day-to-day; novelty and challenge are the key to finding happiness, and it’s a project without an end date.

Julie And Julia by Julie Powell

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Sometimes, a ridiculous idea comes to you, and despite all the reasons not to do it, you just can’t let it go. Julie Powell had a draining job with a hellish commute, a tiny apartment kitchen, and an aversion to eggs – but once she’d had the idea to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Volume I, she knew she had to do it. She began a blog chronicle of her cooking adventures, which became her memoir Julie And Julia (which, in turn, became a fabulous Nora Ephron movie starring Meryl Streep). Powell’s blue language and dark humour isn’t for everyone, but the butter-heavy rich French dishes will make anyone’s mouth water. Read my full review of Julie And Julia here.

My Year Without Matches by Claire Dunn

It’s a rare city slicker that hasn’t, at least once, dreamed of leaving the rat race behind and going totally off-grid. Claire Dunn actually did it, though, and she didn’t do it halfway. She didn’t just leave her phone behind, she left electricity, modern plumbing, and all the other basic necessities that would make country life comfortable. In My Year Without Matches, she describes the twelve months she spent in the wilderness, with only her own strength and wits to keep her safe. She builds her own shelter, builds fires without matches (as the title suggests), forages for food and faces off with the scariest foe of all: herself.

Year Of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Year Of Yes - Shonda Rhimes - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Shonda Rhimes might be a universally renowned and adored show-runner, but she’s also a big-time introvert. Despite bringing some of television’s most beloved characters to our screens night after night every single year, she’d much rather stay out of the spotlight herself. One Thanksgiving, her sister called her out: “you never say yes to anything”. You can’t lay down a gauntlet like that in front of a woman like Rhimes. Thus began her Year Of Yes, twelve whole months of saying “yes” when she would much rather say “no”. “Yes” to making speeches, accepting awards, meeting new people, and playing with her kids (even when she’s running horribly late). The thing is, the more often she says “yes”, the easier – and better – it gets. Read my full review of Year Of Yes here.

Tolstoy And The Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

In this house, we believe we know that literature can change lives. Tolstoy And The Purple Chair is Nina Sankovitch’s account of her “year of magical reading”. Racked with grief, exhausted by life, Sankovitch commits to immersing herself in a great book every day for one whole year. She samples the complex classics (Edith Wharton), the contemporary prize-winners (Ian McEwan), the funny and fun (Nora Ephron), and – of course – Leo Tolstoy. Committing herself to these books, she uncovers deeper truths about quality and quantity, and her literary year turns out to be the best kind of therapy.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Eat, Pray, Love has become the butt of far too many jokes, mostly made by people who know it by reputation but have never actually read it. Elizabeth Gilbert found herself heartbroken, twice over, and rudderless in her mid-30s. She wanted to reconnect with what made her feel alive, so with a generous advance from a major publisher in her pocket, she spent a year doing just that. She travelled to Italy, where she learned to eat and indulge, then to India, where she learned to pray and devote, and then to Indonesia, where she learned balance and found love. Even though Gilbert had the incredible privilege to undertake this journey, the kind that most of us could only dream about, I think she was also incredibly generous in sharing it with us.

Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come by Jessica Pan

Whom among us hasn’t shown up at a party and wished for the gumption to say these very words? Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come is Jessica Pan’s memoir about trying to live like a gregarious extrovert for a year. She’s remarkably strategic in her approach: she finds extroverted mentors to guide her, she sets herself challenges (like performing stand-up comedy, and hosting a dinner party) that make her break out in a cold sweat, and she goes for it – no matter what. Not every adventure works out for the best, but that’s the beauty of this book. It’s billed as a book about being more outgoing, but actually it’s a book about being brave.

The Year Of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

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The Year Of Living Biblically is one of those books that makes me think “damn, I wish I’d thought of that!”. In an increasingly secular world, we still encounter people every day who quote this or that passage of the Bible as justification for how we should live. A.J. Jacobs decided to take them up on it – literally. He vows to live by the Good Book’s every word, big (Ten Commandments) and small (don’t wear clothes made of mixed fibers). He uses this year to learn more about the communities that do try to live biblically, not as a bit for a book but as a way of living well. You’ll probably go into this book a cynic, as I did, and there are plenty of laughs to be had, but there’s also a few revelations that will really make you think. Read my full review of The Year Of Living Biblically here.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver is best known for her fiction but, like any good writer, she can turn anything into content. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is about her family’s year-long quest to realign the way they eat, and the way they live, with the natural rhythms of the land. She blends memoir with investigative journalism to interrogate the environmental, social, and economic costs of the “average” American diet, using her own brood as a case study. Over the course of twelve months on a remote Appalachian farm, the Kingsolvers recover our society’s lost appreciation for the provenance of sustenance, and formulate their own blueprint for a new way to eat and live.

138 Dates by Rebekah Campbell

138 Dates - Rebekah Campbell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

We might all have a “one that got away” buried in our romantic past, but some of us cling to them more tightly than others. Rebekah Campbell found remarkable business success as an entrepreneur with a popular app, but her personal life remained a shambles. All the space in her heart was taken up by her first love who sadly died, and she was staring down the barrel of middle- and old-age spent alone. In 138 Dates, she commits to applying all of her business strategies to her new goal: finding love, and starting a family. She goes on dates, lots of dates, 138 of them – some promising, some laughably bad, but all valuable in her quest to learn more about what it means to “have it all”. Read my full review of 138 Dates here.

My Year Of Living Vulnerably by Rick Morton

My Year Of Living Vulnerably - Rick Morton - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In early 2019, Rick Morton was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder – or, as he put it, he was officially told that one of the people who was supposed to love him most during childhood, didn’t. Complex PTSD is a difficult diagnosis, to live with and to treat, but Morton saw within it an opportunity. He undertook My Year Of Living Vulnerably, twelve months of seeking a better life and mindset. He didn’t look to cure himself, but to live authentically and rediscover how to love and be loved even in light of the challenges he faces. This is a book that will both wrench and heal your heart.

100 Fun Facts About Books and Authors

Exactly what it says on the tin: here are 100 fun facts about books and authors. Enjoy!

100 Fun Facts About Books And Authors - Keeping Up With The Penguins
  1. Jane Austen had a knack for brewing her own beer. She used molasses to give her brews a sweeter taste.
  2. Thomas Pynchon’s middle name is Ruggles.
  3. Fredrik Backman was a blogger before A Man Called Ove became a bestseller sleeper hit.
  4. 451 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t actually the temperature at which paper burns. Bradbury was misinformed when he was choosing a title for Fahrenheit 451; that’s actually the temperature at which paper will combust.
  5. Harper Lee was Truman Capote’s assistant when he was writing In Cold Blood. She was in charge of managing his 8,000 pages of notes, and interviewed townspeople who were too suspicious to tell him anything.
  6. The Netflix adaptation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton is the most-watched series in the platform’s history. Over 82 million households have tuned in.
  7. Suzanne Collins claims she came up with the idea for The Hunger Games when she was channel surfing, flicking between footage of the war in Iraq and reality TV.
  8. Agatha Christie disappeared for nearly two weeks in 1926, after her first husband told her he wanted a divorce. Her car was found abandoned, 15,000 volunteers undertook a manhunt, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle consulted a psychic. She was found in a hotel under an assumed name (borrowed from her husband’s mistress), and never offered any explanation, not even in her autobiography.
  9. Daniel Defoe was terrible with money. He was in-and-out of debtors prison for most of his life, and died while (probably) in hiding from his creditors.
  10. In her youth, Gillian Flynn worked odd jobs, including one where she was required to “dress up as a giant yogurt cone who wore a tuxedo”.
  11. Hans Christian Andersen was a huge fan of Charles Dickens, but the admiration was not mutual. Dickens begrudgingly accepted Andersen’s request to sleep in his spare room when he came to Britain for a visit, but Andersen drastically overstayed his welcome. Upon his departure, Dickens taped up a note in the room that read: “Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seems to the family AGES!”
  12. When Stephen Hawking turned in his first draft of A Brief History Of Time, his publisher gave him some advice. They said that book sales would be halved for every mathematical equation that he included in the manuscript. Hawking went away and removed all equations bar one (E=MC2). The book went on to sell over 25 million copies.
  13. James Joyce wrote with large blue pencils and crayons, laying on his stomach in bed, wearing a big white coat. This is likely attributable to his notoriously poor eyesight, for which he had twenty-five surgeries over the course of his life.
  14. After a severe car accident, Stephen King‘s lawyer purchased the vehicle that hit him, “to prevent it from appearing on eBay”. The car was later crushed in a car yard, and King was reportedly disappointed that he didn’t get to smash it himself.
  15. The Little Prince is the most-translated French book in the world, available in over 300 languages.
  16. David Sedaris’s essay collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day, was all set to be adapted for the screen, with a completed script ready for production. Sedaris withdrew the rights after one of his siblings expressed concern about how their family would be portrayed.
  17. Robert Louis Stevenson deliberately left out the definite article (“the”) from his title of Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Most editions now include it, to make the title grammatically correct.
  18. Hanya Yanagihara, her editor, and her agent all expected that A Little Life “would not sell well”. It defied their expectations.
  19. After publishing The Book Thief, Markus Zusak was able to support himself and his family on the royalties alone, for thirteen years. His next novel, Bridge Of Clay, is the only book he has published in his children’s lifetimes.
  20. Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died on the same day, 22 November 1963. Unfortunately, their deaths were overshadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  1. Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance holds the world record for being the most-often rejected book to go on to become a best-seller. Robert M. Pirsig received 121 rejections before a publisher agreed to buy his book.
  2. Louisa May Alcott criticised Mark Twain for The Adventure Of Huckleberry Finn‘s crudeness. She said that if he couldn’t “think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them”.
  3. Edith Wharton’s father’s family was very wealthy and influential. Their surname was Jones, and it is said that this is where we get the saying “to keep up with the Joneses”.
  4. Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist in just two weeks. He said he was able to get it down on paper quickly because the book was “already written in his soul”.
  5. Kazuo Ishiguro is a “great admirer of Bob Dylan”, who won the Nobel Prize the year before he did.
  6. Tayari Jones had the idea for An American Marriage when she was eavesdropping on a nearby couple in a shopping mall. She told The Paris Review: “I overheard a young couple arguing in the mall in Atlanta. The woman, who was splendidly dressed, and the man—he looked okay. But she looked great! And she said to him, “You know you wouldn’t have waited on me for seven years.” And he shot back, “This shit wouldn’t have happened to you in the first place.” And I was like, You know, I don’t know him, but I know she’s probably right.”
  7. William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying over the course of six weeks, between midnight and 4AM, while working at a power plant. He said that he did not change a single word of the draft between completion and publication.
  8. Andre Aciman was raised in a multi-lingual household, speaking predominantly French. Family members also spoke Italian, Greek, Ladino (Old Spanish), and Arabic.
  9. The Call Of The Wild was inspired by Jack London’s own extended stay in the Klondike (where, he said, he “found himself”). He was forced to leave when he developed scurvy, as a result of the lack of fresh produce available in the Arctic in winter months.
  10. Despite the anti-war and anti-capitalist themes of Catch-22, Joseph Heller spoke positively of his own time in the army during World War II, and said that he “never had a bad officer” during his time of a bombardier.
  11. J.D. Salinger became a vegetarian after his father tried to pressure him to enter the meat-import business, and he spent a short time working in slaughterhouses in Vienna and Poland.
  12. Toni Morrison wrote her Masters thesis on “Virginia Woolf’s and William Faulkner’s treatment of the alienated”.
  13. Terry Pratchett’s signature fashion style was “large black hats… more that of urban cowboy than city gent”.
  14. Brad Pitt optioned the film rights for The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. A writer was attached to the project back in 2011, but as of 2021 production has not commenced.
  15. Protesting the Government of Portugal’s decidedly negative reaction to his book The Gospel Of Jesus Christ, José Saramago left his home country and lived the rest of his life in exile on the Spanish island of Lanzarote.
  16. Anaïs Nin wrote her erotic short stories – published posthumously in the collection Delta Of Venus – for the “personal use” of a “private collector”. The collector paid her a dollar a page, and told her to stick to the pornography, “no analysis, no philosophy”.
  17. John Green foolishly promised to personally sign every pre-ordered copy of The Fault In Our Stars. He ended up having to sign every single copy of the first print run. He even polled the public as to what colour Sharpie he should use, and divvied up the 150,000 copies according to the proportion of the vote that each colour received.
  18. Today, Bram Stoker is best known as the author of Dracula, but during his lifetime he was only known as the “personal assistant of actor Sir Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, which Irving owned”. He also (probably) died of syphilis.
  19. Veronica Roth wrote her debut novel, Divergent, while on winter break from her studies at Northwestern. She sold the book before graduation, and film rights sold before the book’s release.
  20. Alice Walker coined the term “womanist”, in 1983. She intended it to mean simply “a black feminist or a feminist of colour”.
  1. V.C. Andrews insisted (even after her death, via a surviving relative) that Flowers In The Attic was based on a true story. She claimed that she developed a crush on her doctor, who – along with his siblings – had been locked away for 6 years to preserve his family’s wealth. This claim has never been verified, and is widely disputed.
  2. George R.R. Martin has said that comic book legend Stan Lee is “the greatest literary influence on [him], even more than Shakespeare or Tolkien”.
  3. Toni Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford. She adopted the name Toni for her saint – Anthony – at age 12, after converting to Catholicism. Sadly, she came to regret using a pen name. She worried that it made her sound “like a teenager” and it she felt “ruined” by it. Still, her closest friends and family continued to call her Chloe until her death, and the pseudonym allowed her to keep her professional and personal lives separate.
  4. Stephen Chbosky not only wrote but also directed the film adaptation of his young adult novel The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and received a standing ovation.
  5. Anita Loos was Hollywood’s first salaried screenwriter.
  6. Thriller author Paula Hawkins has written romantic comedies under the name Amy Silver.
  7. Though Nora Ephron was “culturally and emotionally Jewish”, she said that she was not religious. While promoting her final film before her death (Julie & Julia, based on Julie Powell’s blog and memoir of the same name), Ephron said “You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it.”
  8. John Steinbeck’s wife was the one who came up with the title for The Grapes Of Wrath.
  9. Margaret Atwood says that her spelling is terrible.
  10. Liane Moriarty wrote season two of the mini-series adaptation of her novel Big Little Lies with Meryl Streep in mind specifically for the new character Mary Louise. Streep didn’t even read the script before agreeing to sign on for the role.
  11. Italo Calvino’s mother chose his first name to commemorate his Italian heritage (he was born in Cuba). However, as the family moved back to Italy while Calvino was still quite young, he effectively grew up with the same name as his country, which he thought sounded “belligerently nationalist”.
  12. Douglas Adams claimed that the concept and title of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy were inspired by a bender. He was hitchhiking around Europe and one night, lying drunk in a field (if I had a dollar), he got to thinking about his mate’s copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Europe and mused that there should be a version written for the galaxy.
  13. Cormac McCarthy wrote on the same typewriter for over 50 years. It later sold for $250,000.
  14. When Ernest Hemingway’s favourite bar was scheduled for demolition, he reportedly tore a urinal from the wall in the men’s room and took it for his own, saying that he had “pissed so much money into it” that it was his by rights.
  15. William Golding’s manuscript of Lord Of The Flies was initially rejected by his eventual publisher, Faber, with their in-house professional reader calling it an “absurd and uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atomic bomb on the colonies and a group of children who land in the jungle near New Guinea. Rubbish and dull. Pointless”.
  16. Australian scientists were such great fans of Andy Weir’s science-fiction novel The Martian that they named a new species of bush tomato after the main character: Solanum watneyi.
  17. Samuel Beckett completed the final edits on his novel Murphy from a Parisian hospital bed. He’d been stabbed after declining an offer of companionship from a notorious French pimp (who went by the street name Prudent). James Joyce paid for Beckett’s medical care.
  18. Despite reaching the peak of international literary fame, Elena Ferrante has remained anonymous for nearly two decades. She has said in (rare) interviews that anonymity is a pre-condition of her work.
  19. Sally Rooney was the star of her university debate club, and was top debater at the European University Debating Championships in 2013.
  20. Jack Kerouac didn’t learn to drive until he was 34 years old, and he never held a formal driver’s license.
  1. Gulliver’s Travels is the most-widely-held book of Irish literature in the world’s libraries.
  2. Ayn Rand dedicated her novel Atlas Shrugged to her husband, and her lover – two different men! In her author bio, she added that her husband (Frank O’Connor) had the values of character she sought in a man, while her lover (Nathaniel Branden) was her “intellectual heir”, an ideal reader with as rational and independent a mind as she could conceive of, whom she met through a fan letter he sent her.
  3. Victor Hugo really struggled with procrastination. While writing The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, he had his servants take away all of his clothes so that he wouldn’t be tempted to go out during the day when he was supposed to be working, effectively forcing him to write in the nude.
  4. In an essay, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn admitted to sadistic childhood impulses like “stunning ants and feeding them to spiders”.
  5. Travel writer Bill Bryson has been eligible for British citizenship, but avoided it for most of his life, claiming that he was “too cowardly” to take the citizenship test. When he eventually worked up the courage, he passed.
  6. Jennifer Egan has said that her book A Visit From The Goon Squad was inspired by two main sources: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and HBO’s The Sopranos.
  7. The mathematics textbook that Charles Ludtwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) used in school has survived the intervening years intact. An inscription in the front, written in Latin, translates to: “This book belongs to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: hands off!”
  8. Neil Gaiman and musician Tori Amos are very close friends; he is godfather to her daughter, and they have referenced each other in their work often.
  9. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger Of A Single Story, is one of the top ten most-viewed TED Talks of all time with more than fifteen million views.
  10. James Joyce loved the work of playwright Henrik Ibsen so much, he learned Norwegian in order to send Ibsen a letter in his native tongue.
  11. F. Scott Fitzgerald was named for Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics for The Star Spangled Banner.
  12. John Steinbeck wrote a werewolf novel. It’s called Murder At Full Moon, and it has never been published. A copy of the manuscript is held in the archives of the University of Texas. It will enter the public domain in 2043.
  13. A French soldier claimed that a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim saved his life. He had the book in his pocket when he was shot, and said that the bullet stopped “twenty pages from his heart”.
  14. Mark Twain was once the next-door neighbour of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  15. Walt Whitman wrote a temperance novel, Franklin Evans, for the money. He admitted later that he was drunk when he wrote it.
  16. The musical Cabaret is an adaptation of a play called I Am A Camera, which in turn is an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s book Goodbye To Berlin.
  17. Aldous Huxley taught George Orwell’s French class at Eton College in 1917.
  18. Gabriel García Márquez never sold the film rights to One Hundred Years Of Solitude, because “(t)hey would cast someone like Robert Redford and most of us do not have relatives who look like Robert Redford.”
  19. Oscar Wilde’s last words were reportedly about the wallpaper in the room where he was confined to his sick bed, which he hated. He reportedly said something to the effect of “my wallpaper and I are fighting… one or other of us has got to go.”
  20. On the eve of their marriage, Leo Tolstoy gave his wife-to-be his complete and unabridged diaries, detailing his sexual history (including his illegitimate child by a serf on his estate), and insisted she read them.
  1. One of Ali Smith’s part-time jobs prior to writing plays was “lettuce cleaner”.
  2. The iconic 2000 film Coyote Ugly was based on an essay written by Elizabeth Gilbert, about her time working as a bartender at the Coyote Ugly table dancing bar in the East Village. Gilbert married a man she met at that bar, and it was her divorce from him that inspired the memoir for which she is most famous, Eat Pray Love.
  3. Joyce Carol Oates said she trained herself to be a writer by “writing novel after novel and always throwing them out when I completed them”.
  4. E.B. White has never revealed his inspiration for writing children’s classic Charlotte Web, saying “I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze,”.
  5. Stella Gibbons was ostracised from literary circles in her time, mostly because she dared to parody D.H. Lawrence. Virginia Woolf in particular took issue with her, writing to Elizabeth Bowen after Gibbons won a literary prize: “I was enraged to see they gave the £40 to Gibbons; still now you and Rosamond [Lehmann] can join in blaming her. Who is she? What is this book? And so you can’t buy your carpet.”
  6. As he was writing, Kevin Kwan shared an incomplete draft of Crazy Rich Asians with an editor friend, who complained that he had “ruined her Thanksgiving dinner” because she couldn’t put the manuscript down to finish preparing the meal.
  7. To avoid the ire of Soviet censors, Boris Pasternak had to smuggle his manuscript of Doctor Zhivago out of the country to his Italian publisher. He is reported to have quipped “You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad,” as he handed it over.
  8. We also get a lot of proverbs and idioms from Don Quixote, like “tilting at windmills” (taken from one of the character’s early adventures, where he attacks windmills believing them to be sentient giant enemies), and also from mis-translations of Quixote. The proverb “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” is widely attributed to Cervantes, but it didn’t actually appear in Don Quixote until a 1700 English translation. The original phrase is translated more literally to “you will see when the eggs are fried”.
  9. Alexander McCall Smith put his significant royalties from his prolific literary career to good use by purchasing a chain of uninhabited islands, the Cairns of Coll. He intends to hold them in trust, to ensure that they are “kept in perpetuity as a sanctuary for wildlife – for birds and seals and all the other creatures to which they are home.”
  10. Zadie Smith’s two younger brothers are both rappers.
  11. bell hooks decided to use the “unconventional” lower case for her pen name to distinguish herself from her great-grandmother (from whom the name is taken) and to emphasis what she considers to be most important (the work, not the writer).
  12. Gone With The Wind sold a million copies in its first year of publication (1936), despite its “unprecedented” high price of $3, and widespread hardship in the wake of the Great Depression.
  13. Yuval Noah Harari does not own a smartphone.
  14. Maya Angelou used a hotel room as her study. She asked management to remove all paintings and decorative items from the room (too distracting), and forbid housekeeping staff from cleaning the room (lest they inadvertently throw away a scrap of paper containing a line of genius). She stocked the room herself with a thesaurus, a dictionary, the Bible, and a few crossword puzzles.
  15. The publication of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil led to an increase of 46% in tourism to Savannah.
  16. Jodi Picoult has written several issues of Wonder Woman.
  17. Diana Gabaldon believes that time travel is possible, and on that basis that the Loch Ness monster could exist: “All you need is a time-portal under Loch Ness, which would occasionally allow a prehistoric creature to pass through it.”
  18. Isabel Allende once had a job translating romance novels from English to Spanish, but she was fired for changing dialogue to make the heroines “sound more intelligent”. She also changed the ending of Cinderella.
  19. When he was ten years old, Amor Towles threw a message in a bottle into the Atlantic Ocean. It was found by Harrison Salisbury, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and editor of the New York Times, who responded. The two of them kept up correspondence for many years.
  20. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s maternal ancestors were tried in New England on the charge of incest; among other things, they were sentenced to appear at the village church on the following lecture day with signs bearing the word “INCEST” pinned to their caps. This may be where he drew his inspiration for the famed punishment of his protagonist of The Scarlet Letter (to wear a scarlet A, for Adultress, on her chest).
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