Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Book Birthdays in 2023

A(nother) brand new year is here! And that means that a whole new batch of books are celebrating milestone birthdays! Here are some of the major book birthdays in 2023.

Book Birthdays In 2023 - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Books Turning 10 in 2023

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Fangirl, first published back in 2013, was Rainbow Rowell’s third novel. From humble beginnings as a NaNoWriMo project, it’s gone on to fuel much of her writing career in the intervening decade. The story revolves around Cath, a freshman student at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who neglects her studies to indulge her anxieties and self-soothe by writing fan-fiction. Despite some obvious leaps (Cath apparently has over 10,000 followers, without marketing herself or her work at all? Her professor has the time to offer her special assistance without a request?), it’s an undeniably popular book, and spawned spin-offs in the form of the fan-fiction that Cath wrote in the Fangirl universe. Read my full review of Fangirl here.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s hard to believe that The Rosie Project was Graeme Simsion’s debut novel. Shortly after Text Publishing released it, in 2013, it won both the ABIA Book Of The Year award and their General Fiction Book Of The Year award. International sales have topped 3.5 million copies. Demand for more of Don Tillman and Rosie’s adventures was so high that Simsion went on to turn the story into a trilogy, following up with The Rosie Effect and The Rosie Result. I didn’t love this one when I read the paperback, but I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook format – in fact, I listened to the whole trilogy a couple of times over. Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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

Kwan has said that, in writing Crazy Rich Asians, he wanted to “introduce a contemporary Asia to a North American audience” – and try to bite back your jealousy when you hear that he loosely based the novel on his own upbringing in Singapore. While caring for his father (who sadly passed in 2010), Kwan began writing stories to preserve the memories they shared. Beginning with the chapter he called “Singapore Bible Study” (“an excuse [for attendees] to gossip and show off new jewellery”), he eventually developed the stories into a novel about the decadent and dramatic lives of Asia’s wealthiest families. Read my full review of Crazy Rich Asians here.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Americanah is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, and undoubtedly the one for which she is best known. It was first published back in 2013, to overwhelming popular and critical acclaim. The New York Times called it “a steady-handed dissection of the universal human experience… witheringly trenchant and hugely empathetic, both worldly and geographically precise, a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us,” and selected it as one of the top 10 books of the year. It also spent 78 weeks on NPR’s best-seller list. In 2017, four years after its initial publication, it was selected for the the “One Book, One New York” program, a community reading program in the city that never sleeps.

You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

You Are A Badass - Jen Sincero - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Back in the days before profanity in self-help book titles was de rigueur, Jen Sincero put out You Are A Badass. It was revolutionary for 2013, a self-styled no-nonsense self-help book for people who didn’t want to “get busted” trying to improve themselves. The subtitle promised that readers would learn “how to stop doubting their greatness and start living an awesome life”, and they lapped it up. The book went on to become a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and spawn a series of spin-offs and sequels for Sincero, focusing on everything from saving money to forming healthy habits.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises - Fredrik Backman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s hard to recall the days when Fredrik Backman was barely more than a quiet Swedish blogger with a book that was doing the rounds in book clubs (A Man Called Ove). But that’s exactly where we were ten years ago, when My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises came out! This book was first published in the original Swedish (Min mormor hälsar och säger förlåt) in 2013, then it was translated into English by Henning Koch in 2015. It was published in the U.S. as My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, I reckon. Read my full review of My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises here.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls - David Sedaris - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If his bonkers book titles aren’t enough to draw you in, let me tell you: I can’t recommend David Sedaris’s essay collections highly enough. They’ll make you split your sides laughing, and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is no exception. This collection of twenty-six personal essays was first published in 2013, making this year its tenth birthday. The bizarre title comes from a fan at a signing, who asked Sedaris to write something inspirational (like “explore your inner feelings”) for an inscription. “I never write what people ask me so I said, ‘I’ll keep the word explore’ and I wrote, ‘let’s explore diabetes with owls’,” he said, and thus this brilliant collection got its title. Read my full review of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls here.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale For The Time Being - Ruth Ozeki - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s kind of amazing how quickly Ruth Ozeki managed to write A Tale For The Time Being. Just two years after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, she published this metafictional novel about the interwoven lives of a writer in British Columbia and a sixteen-year-old girl living in Tokyo, who is keeping a diary in the lead-up to the devastating disaster. It’s the kind of rich and complex read that you’d expect would have taken ages to piece together. And it’s no rushed hack-job either: Ozeki won multiple awards for this book, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was shortlisted for many others, including the Booker Prize. Read my full review of A Tale For The Time Being here.

Books Turning 20 in 2023

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I suppose this is the “feel old, yet?” book birthday of the year: The Kite Runner turns 20! Khaled Hosseini had been working as a medical internist for a few years in 1999, when he heard on the news that the Taliban had banned kite flying in Afghanistan. It “struck a personal chord” with him, given that kite flying had been his favourite sport when he was growing up in that neck of the woods. That chord inspired him to write a 25-page short story, which he eventually expanded to become his debut novel published in 2003 – the story of two young boys whose paths diverge after the Soviet military intervention, and the rise of the Taliban regime. Read my full review of The Kite Runner here.

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

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time - Mark Haddon - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Despite the myriad controversies associated with this book and its depiction of neurodivergence, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time continues to sell twenty years after its initial release. Haddon won the 2003 Whitbread Book Of The Year award for it, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and a whole stack of others – it was even long-listed for the Booker! What’s more, it’s been translated into over 35 languages, transformed into a stage adaptation, rights sold for a film adaptation (though no movement at that station yet), and named as one of the Guardian’s 100 best books of the 21st century. Read my full review of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time here.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Short History Of Nearly Everything is a crash-course introduction to most areas of scientific inquiry, covering off everything from the Big Bang to evolution to quantum mechanics. It sounds like it should be a snooze-fest, but it’s written in a folksy, conversational style that the general public will find easily accessible. The proof is in the pudding: it was one of the best-selling pop-science books of the 2000s. Haters on the internet have pointed out some factual errors and inaccuracies (of course), but in large part these are solely due to new discoveries made, or reclassifications, since publication. It’s twenty years old, for goodness sake! We can forgive Bryson for saying Pluto is a planet. Read my full review of A Short History Of Nearly Everything here.

Stiff by Mary Roach

Stiff - Mary Roach - Keeping Up With The Penguins

As far as niche non-fiction books go, Stiff has got to be one of the most enduring. Twenty years after it was first published in 2003, it remains one of our go-to books about death, corpses, and what happens to our physical form after we go. Mary Roach has a unique (and funny!) approach to writing popular science, and this is her talent on its best display. The book covers body snatching, decomposition, being buried alive, head transplants, cannibalism, crash test cadavers – basically every question you could ever have about what happens to a dead body will be answered in this best-selling book. Read my full review of Stiff here.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Alright, this book birthday is kind of a bummer. It’s terrible that We Need To Talk About Kevin, one of the definitive fictional books about school shooters, is possibly more relevant and resonant twenty years later than it was the year it was published. Obviously, as an Australian, my authority on this subject is limited – but I can tell you that my heart sinks every time the breaking news banner comes up, and another school full of kids have been killed and traumatised. Lionel Shriver’s heart-wrenching account of a mother coming to terms with a massacre at the hands of her psychopathic son won the author a slew of awards, and the hope was it would change some hearts and minds when it comes to gun control. Unfortunately, no such luck as yet. Read my full review of We Need To Talk About Kevin here.

Reading Lolita In Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita In Tehran - Azar Nafisi - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reading Lolita In Tehran is a memoir by Iranian academic Azar Nafisi, first published back in 2003. She taught Western literature in Tehran in the mid-90s (a particularly fraught career choice in a notoriously troubled part of the world). After resigning from her university job, she started a book club with seven of her best and most committed students – all women. In her living room, every Thursday morning, they would meet to discuss great works of Western literature: Gatsby, Huck Finn, and yes, Lolita. The resulting book has been one of the most widely-read and controversial accounts of life for women in Iran over the past twenty years. Read my full review of Reading Lolita In Tehran here.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, was such a smash hit that it’s been made into not one, but two incredible screen adaptations in the twenty years since it was first published. This love story revolves around Henry, a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time at random and unexpected moments, and Claire, the woman he is “destined” to fall in love with. It’s melodramatic, it’s chaotic – and is it science fiction, or romance? Readers are still not sure! But it’s undeniably popular, and has sold over ten million copies around the world. Read my full review of The Time Traveler’s Wife here.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

That’s right: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is celebrating two book birthdays this year! Ten years before she published Americanah (so that’s twenty years ago, today), she released Purple Hibiscus. It was her debut novel, in fact, and while it didn’t make anything like the splash that her later books did, it’s experiencing a bit of a resurgence now with growing interest in her back-list work. Even though it didn’t top the best-seller lists, Adichie did get a lot of critical acclaim for her first book. It was longlisted for the Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and it won two Commonwealth Writers Prizes.

Books Turning 50 in 2023

Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Sybil - Flora Rheta Schreiber - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Over the past fifty years, Sybil has permeated the popular consciousness (even for people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the original book) and made the relatively-uncommon psychiatric diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (then known as multiple personality disorder) common knowledge. Schreiber depicted the diagnosis and treatment of the pseudonymous titular character, with the goal of “integrating” the 15+ personalities that Sybil exhibited over the course of her treatment. Of course, over the past five decades, Schreiber has been roundly criticised for unethical practices and falsification, and several follow-up books have been published disputing her version of events.

Sula by Toni Morrison

Sula - Toni Morrison - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Toni Morrison’s second novel, Sula, was first published in 1973. Fifty years later, it’s still beloved (geddit?) by readers around the world for its depiction of motherhood and the evolution of black female identity. Two childhood friends endure terrible trauma, but their lives go in very different directions as they emerge into adulthood. Nel becomes a pillar of her community, while Sula is ostracised, but the secret bond that ties them together remains. Great news for fans of Morrison’s work: in 2022, it was reported that HBO has finally acquired the rights to bring the story of Sula to the screen, and a script is currently in the works. It’s a shame it took fifty years, but it’s great to see that this gem of Morrison’s oeuvre will reach an even wider audience in a new medium.


  1. Oh boy. It really does make me feel old hearing The Kite Runner is turning 20 this year. Also: I hated that book. 🤣

    • Sheree

      January 16, 2023 at 12:11 PM

      Yeah, it was a real let-down for me too 😒 I can’t believe it’s still so popular *twenty years* later!

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