Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Search results: "hemingway" (page 1 of 9)

7 Books Recommended by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was no slouch when it came to writing, as we’ve established, but perhaps his true talent actually lay in reading. He would read anywhere up to ten books at a time, plus squeezing in at least a few newspapers and journals every single day. He would travel with a huge bag full of books for reading on the journey. The dude was voracious, in more ways than one.

In 1934, aspiring writer Arnold Samuelson knocked on Hemingway’s door, and asked to pick his brain. It was a ballsy move, given that Hemingway had a reputation for (a) being grumpy, and (b) liking guns. And yet, Samuelson wound up becoming Hemingway’s only true protégé, working in his employ and following him around the world for nearly a year. During that time, Hemingway was kind enough to jot down a list of books that (according to him) all writers must read. Samuelson kept the list, and published it in his book With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba. Hemingway told Samuelson not to bother with writers of the day, and focus on becoming better than his favourite dead white guys: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert.

Then, the following year (1935), Hemingway wrote a piece for Esquire magazine (Remembering Shooting-Flying: A Key West Letter). Perhaps inspired by his list for Samuelson, he digressed from his point briefly to give us another list – the books he desperately wished he could read again for the first time. In fact, he put his money where his mouth is, and said that he would rather have another chance to read any one of them for the first time than have an income of a million per year. Big talk, eh? He lamented that there were “very few good new ones”, and that perhaps his days of enjoying previously-undiscovered literature were behind him (so dramatic).

Anyway, given that the guy clearly knew his shit, it might be high time we review a list of books recommended by Ernest Hemingway. (Pay extra-close attention if you’re an aspiring writer, there’s bound to be something in here for you…)

7 Books Recommended by Ernest Hemingway - Green and White Text overlaid on Greyscale Image of Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ve mentioned before that I think Emma Bovary is one of the best “bad women” in literature. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary follows the story of her attempts to escape the intolerable boredom of her provincial married life. She descends into a spiral of alcoholism, adultery, and debt, unraveling and undone by her unwieldy desires. It is a story exquisitely told, and the woman isn’t exactly painted in the best light – so it’s no surprise that it was right up Hemingway’s alley.

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners - James Joyce - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen stories, all centered around Joyce’s distaste for his ‘dear dirty Dublin’, exposing the corruption, vulgarity, and heartlessness of his city of birth. The collection was the first notable publication of 20th century realist literature coming from Ireland, and to this day it is celebrated for its artful depiction of the infamous Dublin accent. I haven’t read Dubliners myself (I tackled Ulysses instead), but Hemingway’s recommendation of this gritty, brutal read still counts for something.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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

Another one of my favourite bad women – are you sensing a theme in books recommended by Ernest Hemingway? Anna Karenina is widely considered to be one of the best love stories (indeed, one of the best novels) ever written, so hats off to Tolstoy. Anna, a beautiful but self-indulgent woman, seeks the love of Count Vronsky (who is definitely not her husband), and basically sets fire to her 19th century Russian life. Tolstoy’s writing is beautiful, passionate, and intense – not for the faint of heart, though undoubtedly easier to tackle than the doorstop-worthy War & Peace (which also featured on Hemingway’s lists).

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Hemingway didn’t want to make it easy for us! Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment isn’t that tough to get through, but Papa recommended The Brothers Karamazov, a more complicated and controversial novel. The story kicks off with the murder of cruel and corrupt landowner Fyodor Karamazov, and follows the fallout in the lives of his three sons (well, four, if you count the illegitimate son posing as a manservant). It’s a detective story, in a way, but it’s no Sherlock Holmes – you’ll need your thinking cap on for this one.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Wuthering Heights is definitely one of the more readable books recommended by Ernest Hemingway, so it might be best to start here if you’re new to the game. I once described Emily Brontë’s only novel in a single sentence thus: A bad boy’s decade-long butthurt over getting friendzoned, culminating in his death – at which point, he and his true love spend eternity haunting their old stomping grounds, while their surviving children enter into incestuous marriages. Yes, it’s a long sentence, but I still think it’s a fairly accurate summary. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

The American by Henry James

Hemingway was the archetypal American “ex-pat” (because we only call brown people “immigrants”). He spent a decent chunk of his life in France and Spain, shooting and fishing and running with bulls. So it’s no surprise that he was really into The American, a story of a wealthy American man trying to marry into the French aristocracy. James dissects the cultural differences between Americans and Europeans in a melodramatic, but ultimately kind of comedic, way.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Hemingway is quoted as saying he considered The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn “the best book an American ever wrote”, and that it “marks the beginning of American literature” (kind of like Lennon saying that, before Elvis, there was nothing). It’s a big call, but I think we can all agree that Huck Finn is one of Twain’s most enduring and celebrated works, at least. It is the sequel to his previous (also renowned) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and it explores the conflict between civilisation and nature – a lofty topic if there ever was one. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn here.

In the end, you can be pretty confident that any book recommended by Ernest Hemingway is going to be a heavy read. Everything he loved explored the underbelly of humanity in some way, and it seems like they got bonus points if they did it in Europe, or featured bad women front and center.

What do you think of Hemingway’s recommended reads? How many have you read?

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

A little while back, I conned my mate Andrew into visiting a secondhand bookstore with me (my friends know that I’m prone to this kind of maneuver). While were were there, another patron overheard me (loudly) bitching about how difficult it was to find a well-preserved copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. She tapped me on the shoulder, pulled this copy off the shelf, and handed it to me so sweetly I almost cried. Well, of course, all of this happened on the very day that I had no cash on me – so Andrew swooped in and made the purchase on my behalf. What a champion!

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy The Sun Also Rises here.
(If you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, the sun will still rise tomorrow and also I’ll earn a small commission.)

I was eager to read more Hemingway. I first encountered his short story Hills Like White Elephants at uni, and I’ve re-read it a thousands times since; it was very formative for me. Other than that, my only real exposure to Hemingway was Kat’s succinct analysis in 10 Things I Hate About You (of course).

Kat on Hemingway - 10 Things I Hate About You - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s first novel, was published in 1926. He actually pulled a sneaky trick to make sure he got the publisher that he wanted for it. While under contract to Boni & Liveright (with whom he was unhappy for some reason), he submitted a hastily-written satirical novella that he knew they would reject, effectively terminating his contract on the spot. This allowed him to submit The Sun Also Rises to Scribner, and the rest is history.

The story follows a group of American and British migrants who travel to Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. Of course, Hemingway was the king of “write what you know”, so the story is very closely based on his own trip to Spain in 1925. The characters were real people in Hemingway’s circle, and the action is based on real events. Apparently, he had originally intended to write a non-fiction book about bullfighting, but he decided that his experiences had given him plenty of content for a novel – and the result was The Sun Also Rises.

So, what’s it like? Well, it seems to confirm the worst of what people say about Hemingway. It’s all brooding white guys, drinking a lot and butting bruised masculine egos. The women are either shrill harpies or desirable floozies. A boy likes an unattainable girl, who shags all of his rich friends but sticks him in the friendzone. The boy goes fishing with those friends, and the girl tags along. Everybody drinks.

The dialogue is so sparse and hard to follow that I almost missed what seems to be the focal point of the novel: Jake (the protagonist) is literally impotent, thanks to a nasty war wound. Once I cottoned onto that, I couldn’t decide whether it made The Sun Also Rises better or worse. I know that his injury symbolises the disillusionment and frustration of his entire cohort, not to mention Jake’s own metaphorical impotence in navigating friendships and politics in post-war Europe, but… it’s just a little obvious, isn’t it? A little too neat? I mean, a man gets his dick blown off and starts questioning the meaning of the world without his masculinity in it: pfft.

As much as Hemingway is the darling of the American literary canon, not everybody loved The Sun Also Rises, so I know I’m not alone here. A reviewer at the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote at the time that The Sun Also Rises “begins nowhere and ends in nothing”, which I thought was particularly pithy.

Even Hemingway’s own mother wasn’t a fan: she hung shit on him for wasting his talents on such filth, writing to him “Surely you have other words in your vocabulary than ‘damn’ and ‘bitch’ – every page fills me with a sick loathing”. You can’t please everyone…

Anyway, Jake’s love interest is Brett – and wherever she goes, trouble follows. Men fall over themselves for her: they drink too much, and fight one another. I liked Brett in so much as she was unashamed about enjoying sex and chasing good times – there’s not enough of that in female characters, even today – but I certainly didn’t idolise her the way that Grown Up Literary Critics seem to. To me, she was a mere receptacle for all of the projections, hopes and frustrations of men. She lacked any true independence or self-determination. It’s all well and good to commit yourself to the ho-life, but damn girl – have a sense of who you are!

Jake’s defective junk is the primary obstacle to their having a relationship – which seems kind of quaint and ridiculous to a post-Sexual Revolution reader. If Brett and Jake had heard of cunnilingus, The Sun Also Rises would have played out differently. Of course, that would depend on Hemingway opening his mind to the sexual agency of a woman. You can be damn sure that if the situation were reversed, and Brett had had her lady parts blown off in the war, Hemingway would have been writing a life of endless blow jobs for Jake – a “happy ending” as it were (ha!).

This is yet another book from my Keeping Up With The Penguins reading list that makes it abundantly clear to me how little humanity has changed over time (see also: Dante’s The Divine Comedy). Nearly a century after its publication, I still recognise Hemingway’s descriptions of pre-gaming for the fiesta (akin to skulling Vodka Cruisers at home before jumping in the Uber to the club). All the men around Brett are just bitching about how they’ve been “friendzoned”, the way that angry young men do on the internet today. Technology might progress exponentially, and the new cycle might move ever-faster, but those same base urges come forth one way or another.

I think I’ll need to give The Sun Also Rises another read or two before I write it off completely. Another friend (who loves it) asked me what I thought after I’d finished, and (very gently) pointed out all the ways in which I was wrong. A spot of Googling reveals all kinds of readings that I overlooked. Spoilers actually save the day with this one – it’s actually better if you know the history and the themes going in.

My tl;dr summary would be this: it’s a self-indulgent story about drunk Americans and Brits trying to fuck one another and ignore their existential crises in Spain, whinging and bruised male egos galore. Proceed with caution.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Sun Also Rises:

  • “Of course I’m missing the point. Literary scholars be damned. This one was just a lot of drinking and yapping away about seemingly insignificant things. The title, I can only surmise, refers to those drinking nights that extend until, you guessed it, the sun rises.” – 3MAT3
  • “I tried to like it. I was in Pamplona and San Sebastian. 20 years ago, and 15 years ago, and 10 years ago, and 2 weeks ago, I started it. I couldn’t stand it. Nothing is worse than a writer penning a story about writing. The book is a cliche. And, Hemingway was a wimp. He drank wimpy drinks. Mojito? Bellini?” – Duff
  • “good writing, no use of pointless big words, not all of us went to harvard, hemingway gets that.” – Lucas Rascon
  • “Easy to read. Mostly pointless – but I guess that’s the point.” – Stanley Townsend
  • “It’s a masterpiece. If you can handle all the drinking, the bitch called Brett, and a pain in the as s named Cohn. But, it’s a classic and Hemingway will at least teach you how to drink absinthe, if you’re too scared to learn his powerful and dangerous approach to descriptive prose, which I highly recommend, as it beats bullfighting for a living, or looking for a male meal ticket, at which Brett excels. Five obligatory stars. If you hated it, you have no soul.” – Pyrata

13 Books About Loneliness And Solitude

It must be tough for authors to write about characters who spend a lot of time alone. Without other characters to bounce off, you’ve got to make their personality and their inner worlds damn compelling, or the reader will lose interest. Here are thirteen books about loneliness and solitude where the author absolutely nails it.

Using an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase really takes the sting out of loneliness! You’ll be sending a small commission my way and we’ll be BFFs.

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

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

Who couldn’t use a whole year off – off work, off social engagements, off interacting with anyone other than the nearest bodega worker – to sleep? That’s what the unnamed narrator is aiming for in My Year Of Rest And Relaxation. What sounds like a sweet dream, though, is given depth by a character who is a walking nightmare. She’s full of herself, terrible to her friends, manipulative, and (as she tells it) absolutely gorgeous. Her self-imposed loneliness and solitude is definitely well-deserved. Ottessa Moshfegh is the queen of unlikeable female characters, and this book is her best and most readable.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi - Susanna Clarke - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Piranesi lives in a house, alone. But this is no ordinary house, and he’s not as alone as you think. Piranesi is a strange and enigmatic book, one that raises philosophical and psychological questions you’d never expect from the blurb. The obvious question is: how did Piranesi end up in the house? What is the house, anyway? It’s big enough to have its own weather systems, after all. Before long, other questions emerge, too. Who is the Other? Is there someone else in the house? Is Piranesi’s simple life of solitude in danger? Read my full review of Piraensi here.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eleanor Oliphant is an odd duck. It turns out she has good reason to be, and it goes a long way to explaining why she is so terribly, terminally alone. Beyond the occasional chat with one of her colleagues at a graphic design firm, and a weekly conversation with Mummy, she lives a very solitary life. But she’s completely fine with it – isn’t she? Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a real dark horse, a book about very traumatic stuff that became the beach read of the season. And, of course, it shines a light on the issue of endemic loneliness in today’s world, especially among young people. Read my full review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine here.

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

All The Birds Singing - Evie Wyld - Keeping Up With The Penguins

All The Birds, Singing has some of the richest and most evocative place writing you’ll read – fitting, for one of the most lauded books about loneliness of the past decade. Jake Whyte has fled her troubled past to live alone in a remote farmhouse on a craggy British island, lashed by wind and rain, surrounded only by sheep and her disobedient dog. But something is picking off her sheep, one by one, and the horrors creeping up at night seem other-worldly when there’s no one else around to check your perspective. This is a story about solitude, survival, and hard-won redemption.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The beauty of Charles Dickens’s books is that he managed to write about everything. Seriously, you’d be hard pressed to find a theme or motif or symbol he didn’t address somewhere. He didn’t write whole books about loneliness specifically, but he did write one of the most iconically alone characters of all time: Miss Havisham, of Great Expectations. She is a wealthy spinster who begrudges being left at the altar, and years later still wears her wedding dress – all day, every day. She rarely leaves the crumbling mansion she shares with the only person she truly loves, her adopted daughter Estella. She has been caricatured and parodied to death, but when you look at her in the original context and story, she’s a fascinating study in solitude. Read my full review of Great Expectations here.

Notes On A Scandal by Zoë Heller

Notes On A Scandal - Zoe Heller - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Notes On A Scandal is narrated by Barbara, a veteran teacher at a London comprehensive school, and a lonely spinster in her spare time. How to put this delicately… she has trouble making friends. Her story begins with the arrival of Sheba Hart, a new and apparently-naive (though very privileged) art teacher. Barbara intuits that they are potential BFFs, though Sheba barely seems to realise she exists at first. This is a twisted and compelling literary thriller about the lengths that loneliness can drive us to – Barbara to effectively stalking Sheba, and Sheba into the arms of one of her students. Read my full review of Notes On A Scandal here.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel DeFoe - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

So, it turns out one of the very first novels written in English is also one of the very first books about loneliness and solitude – who knew? Robinson Crusoe is iconic, the story of a man shipwrecked on an isolated and uninhabited island, forced to find a way to survive for decades on his own. Best of all, Daniel Defoe probably drew his inspiration from many of the real-life stories of castaways that were floating around at the time. The book is definitely a product of its time, so you need to steel yourself for some horrific racism and a determinedly colonial mindset, but you can’t skip it if you’re looking to read your way through all the classic books about loneliness. You just can’t! Read my full review of Robinson Crusoe here.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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

Not all books about loneliness and solitude are fictional. Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s account of how and why she found herself hiking over a thousand miles alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. There are two stories that weave together across the memoir: her mother’s death (and we get all of the weren’t-we-so-poor-and-dysfunctional-but-we-loved-each-other-so-much backstory), and the at-times comical dire realities of a haphazard solo hike through the wilderness. It’s like Eat, Pray, Love meets Survivor – and inspirational as heck. If Strayed can survive a hike of that magnitude on her own, you can get through a lonely Saturday night at home. Read my full review of Wild here.

Bonus: for similar true wilderness survival books about loneliness and solitude, check out Into The Wild by Jon Krakaeur.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint Exupery - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Little Prince has a strange history (like most timeless classic children’s books). The author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was a French aviator, childless, and (at the time of writing) living under grueling war-time exile. So, it’s hardly surprising that his story revolved around an aviator, crash-landed in the desert, entirely alone except for an alien prince who guides him – literally and spiritually. It’s a story that manages to be both heart-warming and heart-wrenching, which probably explains its enduring popularity. It’s now the most-translated French book in the world, appearing now in over 300 languages and dialects. Over 140 million copies have been sold worldwide. Read my full review of The Little Prince here.

The Martian by Andy Weir

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

When you think about loneliness, you’re probably envisaging the terrestrial kind. Alone in an apartment, or on a beach at night, or something in that vein. Andy Weir takes solitude to a whole new level in The Martian. Astronaut Mark Watney is literally the most alone person in the universe: stranded by himself on Mars, after an accident led his fellow interplanetary travellers to believe he was dead. He’s very much alive, and faced with the challenge of a lifetime – figuring out how to survive in solitude on the red planet, until the next mission arrives. It sounds daunting, but this is a surprisingly upbeat and fun sci-fi novel, brightened by Watney’s sense of humour and can-do attitude. Read my full review of The Martian here.

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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

It’s kind of sad that The Old Man And The Sea was Ernest Hemingway’s last book, but also poetic. It’s a book about a lonely old man, desperate and hungry, searching for a mythical fish and being dragged out to sea by it. Hemingway himself was aging, and undoubtedly lonely with a string of divorces and trashed friendships behind him. The parallels are clear, if not particularly imaginative. Still, it’s a powerful read, and you could spend years studying the metaphors about solitude that can be found in this slim little tome.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where The Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The “Marsh Girl”, Kya Clark, lives alone on the land. Her only friends are the gulls, and her home is the sand of the North Carolina coastline. The people in the village of Barkley Cove have gossiped about her for years. When a handsome man turns up dead, she’s the first person they suspect. But we fear what we don’t know, and Kya is more than they realise. Strangely, Kya’s loneliness is actually a balm, a protective shield against the terrors of the world. It’s when she reaches out, searching for love and recognition, that she runs into trouble. Where The Crawdads Sing is one of the best-selling books about loneliness in recent memory.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

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

Sorry to end this list on a bum note, but A Single Man is one of the most devastating books about loneliness and solitude – and you must read it! It’s the story of a day in the life of (you guessed it!) a single man, George, who is silently mourning the death of the love of his life. See, George is gay, and could never publicly share his relationship, or openly grieve his loss. George is desperately lonely in the wake of Jim’s death, and he seeks connection anywhere he can find it, resenting it all the while. It’s a beautiful story, and a sad one, and strangely funny in a very-dark-comedy kind of way. Read my full review of A Single Man here.

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

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
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

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

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

11 Books Set On Islands

There’s something idyllic about an island setting. Whether it’s a spectacular uninhabited beach, or a bustling metropolis in the ocean, when we read to escape we often turn to books set on islands. But there’s another side: islands where murders happen, islands where all hope is abandoned, islands you wouldn’t want to visit in your worst nightmares. Here are eleven books set on islands from both ends of the spectrum.

11 Books Set On Islands - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you make a purchase through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll earn a small commission – it’s not enough to buy my own island, but it helps!

Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

Lord Of The Flies - William Golding - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One of the classic books set on islands is Lord Of The Flies – you probably had to read it in high school. It sounds like it should be fun, a bunch of kids survive a plane crash without a scratch and find themselves on an uninhabited island with no grown-ups and lots of fun to be hand. Of course, things take a dark turn. The kids form factions, and battle each other for the best approach to surviving on their own – and a pig comes a cropper. It’s a cautionary tale wrapped in an adventure novel (with no girls). Read my full review of Lord Of The Flies here.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You definitely don’t want an invite to join this island getaway. In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, ten people are lured to a mansion on a private island. Each of them have their own reason for coming, each of them have something to hide. It’s a classic locked room mystery, from the Queen of Crime, with the island setting the perfect foil to cut the characters off from help. One of them is murdered, and then another, and then another… who is behind it? And how do they know everyone’s secrets? Read my full review of And Then There Were None here.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

What if your idyllic island wasn’t just an escape from the horrors of the world, it was a sanctuary your father had specifically designed to keep you “safe”? In The Water Cure, three sisters are kept in their family island compound – and strangers are kept out – by barbed wire and buoys. That much isolation makes anyone crazy, and this family has developed a cult-like web of rituals. Still, they’re getting along fine, until their patriarch disappears and three strange men wash up on shore. This is an intense cat-and-mouse story, and one of the best books set on islands in recent years.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel DeFoe - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Books set on islands – well, books in general – began with Robinson Crusoe. It was one of the first English-language novels ever written, and it has inspired generations of literature ever since. The titular character is marooned on deserted islands, not once, but twice. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy (*eye roll*) – Crusoe represents the worst of the overt racism, sexism, and narcissism so prevalent at the time (and, sadly, today). From a psychological perspective, this is a fascinating read and the setting will have you dreaming of your own shipwreck, but the attitudes and mores it depicts are a little hard to stomach for a contemporary reader. Read my full review of Robinson Crusoe here.

Sex And Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Sex And Vanity - Kevin Kwan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sex And Vanity begins with 19-year-old Lucie attending the Capri wedding of her former babysitter, escorted by her older cousin who intends to “keep her out of trouble”. Of course, trouble finds Lucie regardless, in the form of the charismatic and enigmatic George Zao. All of the players are rich beyond measure, and the wedding is an exercise in especially-conspicuous consumption, exactly what you’d expect from the pen of Kevin Kwan (of Crazy Rich Asians fame). If you like your books set on islands with a generous dollop of glitz and glamour, this is the book for you. Read my full review of Sex And Vanity here.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Guernsey is a teeny tiny island – area just 65 km² (25 sq mi) – in the English Channel, just off the coast of Normandy. It’s also the setting of Mary Ann Shaffer’s historical fiction novel, The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s an unassuming setting, nothing like the tropical beaches or bustling metropolises of some of the other books on this list, but it’s the perfect backdrop for this post-WWII story. This epistolary novel is “a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways”, even on teeny tiny islands.

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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

The Old Man And The Sea is one of the shorter books set on islands, but Papa still packs a powerful punch. The titular old man is a Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, who sets out from his island home to chase one last catch, the biggest marlin you can imagine. It’s a simple story, but one so impactful that it was cited when Hemingway was awarded his Nobel Prize For Literature (“for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style”). This is a book that can be read in a single sitting, but will stay with you for years.

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun

The Disaster Tourist - Yun Ko-eun - Keeping Up With The Penguins

In The Disaster Tourist, a trip to the island of Mui is the least profitable offering for a company specialising in vacations to places that have been devastated by climate change and natural disasters. Yona – once one of the company’s top representatives, now facing termination – is charged with posing as a regular holiday-maker on Mui, to see if she can’t figure out what’s lacking. Would a company really fabricate a catastrophe to boost sales? This is an “eco-thriller with a fierce feminist sensibility”, with thrills to rival any crime novel, and it will surely come to mind next time you book a holiday.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

The Memory Police - Yoko Ogawa - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One of the most mysterious books set on islands is The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (first published in the original Japanese in 1994, and translated into English by Stephen Snyder in 2019). On this unnamed island, apparently existing under totalitarian rule, people are made to “forget” objects and concepts. Ribbons, maps, emeralds, books – one by one, they vanish from the island, and from the memories of everyone who lives there. Well, almost everyone: there are some for whom the memories remain, and if they’re caught out with a memory they’re not supposed to have, they are disappeared by the Memory Police. Read my full review of The Memory Police here.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars - E Lockhart - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

We Were Liars is the story of the wealthy, seemingly-perfect Sinclair family. And I mean “wealthy”, as in 1%-every-summer-they-gather-for-a-holiday-on-their-private-island-like-that’s-normal wealthy. They’re living the dream, or they would be if the narrator Cadence could remember what happened to her last time she was there. She suffers severe migraines and some kind of trauma-induced amnesia; she is completely unable to remember the circumstances leading up to a terrible injury. Her mother refuses to tell her what happened, and packs her off to Europe, but when Cadence returns to the island she begins to piece her memories back together. Read my full review of We Were Liars here.

The Invisible Husband Of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

The Invisible Husband Of Frick Island - Colleen Oakley - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Something strange is going on on Frick Island. Piper’s husband was tragically killed in a boating accident, but she has carried on as though he’s still alive – and her whole town has played along. She cooks him breakfast, takes walks with him, keeps their standing Friday night dinner date. It’s the dream scenario for a young and ambitious journalist, the stuff thinkpieces are made of. What collective delusion has this whole island talking to a man who no longer exists? The Invisible Husband Of Frick Island has everything: eccentric small-town cast, tragic love story, and an outsider who is about to up-end it all.

« Older posts