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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

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Anita Loos

Warning: this review might get a little ranty. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a comic novel written by Anita Loos, first published in 1925 – one of several novels published that year that are famous for their depictions of the Jazz Age in America. It’s a travesty that this wonderful, hilarious, insightful book lives under the inconceivably large shadow cast by The Great Gatsby. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a huge success immediately upon publication; the entire first print run sold out the first day it went into stores, it was a best-seller in thirteen different languages, and it counts among its fans James Joyce and Edith Wharton (who called it the Great American Novel). So, why is it always overlooked in discussions of the modern classics? Yet another example of how we value stories about and by men over those of women, hmph! (Yes, I’m getting ranty, I did warn you!)

The book’s full title is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady, and this edition also contains its sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, which was published two years later. The introduction to this edition is quite good, and highly readable. It contains gems like:

“It could be said, therefore, that Loos did not write a version of Beauty and the Beast; instead, she rewrote Beauty as the Beast.”

Regina Barreca (Introduction, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics Edition)


“The men who perpetually orbit around Lorelei and Dorothy have two major problems: they have too much money in their bank accounts and too much time on their hands. Lorelei and Dorothy are able to solve both their problems at once.”

Regina Barreca (Introduction, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics Edition)

Loos said she was inspired to write the book after watching her friend, intellectual H.L. Mencken, reduced to a character she likened to a love-struck schoolboy in the presence of a sexy blonde woman. Mencken was a good sport about it. He read her draft, loved it, and saw to its publication. Of the particular brand of humour she displays in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Loos said:

“In those days I had a friend, Rayne Adams, who used to say that my slant on life was that of a child of ten, chortling with excitement over a disaster…. But I, with my infantile cruelty, have never been able to view even the most impressive human behavior as anything but foolish.”

Anita Loos

And my personal favourite Loos anecdote:

“… during a television interview in London, the question was put to me: ‘Miss Loos, your book was based on an economic situation, the unparalleled prosperity of the Twenties. If you were to write such a book today, what would be your theme?’ And without hesitation, I was forced to answer, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Gentlemen’ (a statement which brought the session abruptly to a close).”

Anita Loos

Alright, alright, I’ll stop quoting Loos (even though I could do it all day, she was endlessly quotable!) and get down to business. Going in, I thought that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes would be The Great Gatsby meets Bridget Jones’s Diary, but in reality it was more like Gatsby meets The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl. It’s fun, and silly, but also insightful and powerful. Actually, charming is probably the best word for it. I couldn’t help but continue through reading But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes as well, so taken was I with Loos’ characters and prose.

The premise of the story is this: beautiful blonde Lorelei Lee decides to try her hand at writing a diary, because a gentleman friend suggested that her thoughts would make for an interesting book. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is presented as a transcript of that journal, complete with spelling and grammatical errors that say much about Lorelei’s personality and position. She was working in the movies in Hollywood, she tells us, when she met Mr Gus Eisman, a button manufacturer from Chicago. He decided that her line of work in Hollywood was not “becoming” for a woman of her “potential”, so he installed her in a New York apartment and committed a small fortune to “educating” her. What follows from these opening pages, the entire book, is a knowing wink at every woman who has ever copped a barrage of mansplaining from their boss or their boyfriend or the bloke buying their drinks in a bar.

In the course of her “education”, Lorelei meets Gerry Lamson, a married novelist. He is so taken with her that he decides to divorce his wife, on the proviso (of course) that she’ll leave Eisman and run away with him. Lorelei is flattered, naturally, but wishes to avoid the scandal of involvement in divorce proceedings, and also worries that Eisman might cancel her European cruise ticket if she takes up with another man. Plus, Gerry’s kind of a bore.

Lorelei is also very concerned about her friend, Dorothy, who she believes to be “wasting her time” with a magazine writer named Mencken (a shout-out to Loos’ real-life friend and inspiration for the story). In Lorelei’s view, Dorothy should be lavishing her attentions more strategically, in the direction of the wealthy movie producer Mr Goldmark. So, to draw her friend away from fruitless pursuits, Lorelei brings Dorothy with her on the cruise, and they set sail for Europe together (with Eisman promising to meet them there).

To Lorelei’s dismay, she discovers that former District Attorney Bartlett is also on board, and she reveals to the reader how she came to know him. See, Lorelei once worked as a stenographer in her hometown for one Mr Jennings. Upon finding out that he was a sexual predator, she became “hysterical” and shot him. It sounds brutal, but her re-telling of these events is actually one of the funniest parts of this entire hilarious book. Bartlett is the attorney who prosecuted the case, with little success; apparently, the gentlemen of the jury were so “moved” by Lorelei’s “testimony” (wink-wink) that they acquitted her without question, and the judge – equally taken with her – gifted her the money she needed for a ticket to Hollywood.

Anyway, after some shenanigans on board (involving Bartlett and some military espionage), Lorelei and Dorothy eventually arrive in London. They encounter several impoverished aristocrats who are selling off their jewels to wealthy Americans. One particular £7,500 tiara catches Lorelei’s eye; what’s a poor girl to do but seek out a wealthy man to buy it for her? She settles on Sir Francis Beekman (whom she calls Piggie). He’s rich, but also married, and notoriously stingy. Using a heady combination of flattery and promises of discretion, Lorelei convinces him to buy the coveted tiara for her anyway.

With that taken care of, Dorothy and Lorelei head to Paris, but unbeknownst to them Lady Beekman is hot on their tails, hell-bent on confronting Lorelei about this tiara business. In thirty-five years of marriage, she says, her husband has never once bought her a gift, and she accuses Lorelei of having seduced him. Lady B tries to get her lawyers to steal the tiara back, but Lorelei manages to trick them with a fake one, and everyone goes home happy

When Eisman arrives in Paris, he quickly hustles the girls onto the Orient Express and takes them to Vienna. En route, Lorelei meets staunch Presbyterian moralist and prohibitionist Mr Henry Spoffard. He is (you guessed it) filthy rich, old money from Philadelphia. Eisman is quickly discarded. On one of their early dates, Spoffard takes Lorelei to see Dr Sigmund Freud, who says he cannot possibly analyse her because she has never repressed a desire in her entire life (accurate). Spoffard also later introduces Lorelei to his mother; she’s a tough old battle-axe, but Lorelei wins her over with champagne and charm. When Spoffard proposes, Lorelei accepts, albeit begrudgingly; she finds him rather repulsive, but he has money and prospects enough to make her happy.

When they get back to New York, Lorelei decides that she should “come out” into polite society, now that she’s marrying into the fold, so she plans a debutante ball for herself (honestly, I love this woman!). The party lasts three days, and makes the front pages of the newspapers. Lorelei has so much fun that she decides she might not marry Spoffard after all. She gets Dorothy to tell him that she is pathologically indulgent and extravagant (not that much of a stretch), while she goes on a mammoth shopping spree, charging everything to Spoffard’s accounts. When she stops for lunch, she meets a fascinating screen-writer, who convinces her that she should go ahead with the marriage so that her new husband will finance his film projects and she can star in them. It takes a bit of wrangling to unring the bell, but Lorelei – resourceful, clever Lorelei – manages to convince her fiance that it was all a misguided test of his love. He remorsefully agrees, not just to marry her, but also to finance the first film of her new friend. And so ends Lorelei’s diary, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

(And in the sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, Lorelei gives up her film career after she has a child. She decides to become an “authoress”, after all the fun she had writing her diary, and her first project is to tell Dorothy’s life story.)

So, we arrive back at my “controversial” opinion, which I will repeat once more for the cheap seats in the back: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is an infinitely better book than The Great Gatsby. They take place in a comparable setting, but Loos’ effort is just so. much. better! I think it’s too easily written off as a funny little story about a silly gold-digger, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a compelling and hilarious account of gender roles, politics, and power in 1920s America. It’s a story about resourcefulness, determination, strategy, and relationships. Compare that to stinkin’ Gatsby, which is pretty much just a cautionary tale about how rich people aren’t as happy as they look – pffft! What a tragedy that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes isn’t the book that teenagers are forced to read in high school; I’m sure it’d teach them a lot more about life, and heck, it’d be a lot more fun for them to read!

Yes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of the books you should definitely read before you die. I particularly encourage you to give it a go if you think that I must be wrong and Gatsby is the definitive Jazz Age novel. And, I’m sure I don’t need to say this to the booklovers, but just in case you need a reminder: don’t judge the book by its movie.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:

  • “The air head who overrates her intellectual prowess is cute, but this book is a one trick pony. Lorelei simply sees life as “diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” she wants to shop for hats, men are her sugar daddies. I’m sure this book was uproariously funny in the 1920’s.

I guess you had to be there.” – J. Rodeck
  • “It wasnt the play its the novel and im an so not satisfied” – Raven Lyons

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
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
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
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

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

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

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

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
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
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).

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

The Overstory - Richard Powers - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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


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

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Beloved - Toni Morrison - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

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

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

The Age Of Innocence - Edith Wharton - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

All The King's Men - Robert Penn Warren - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

The Color Purple - Alice Walker - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

The Road - Cormac McCarthy - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Julie And Julia - Julie Powell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

The Year Of Living Biblically - AJ Jacobs - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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.

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