Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

7 Books I Wish I’d Read Sooner

If I’m being honest, the whole Keeping Up With The Penguins project is founded on the idea of reading all the books I wish I’d read sooner. This post could just be the full list of 109 books I’ve challenged myself to read, and we could all go home happy. Still, as I work my way through them, I realise there are a handful that, for one reason or another, I especially wish I’d come to earlier in life, books I should have read long before I finally got around to them. So, here’s my highlights reel of books I wish I’d read sooner.

7 Books I Wish I'd Read Sooner - Text Overlaid on Dark Image of Hourglass Half-Spent with Green Sand - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Help me read more of the books I wish I’d read sooner by making a purchase through one of the affiliate links on this page.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Now that I’ve read The Book Thief, I feel like I see it everywhere. Granted, there’s probably a little confirmation bias at play there, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. My Instagram and Pinterest feeds are filled with gushing, adoring reviews from (mostly) teenage fans. I think, for a lot of them, this is the first WWII story they’ve emotionally connected with, the first one to truly show them the human impact of military conflict. Had I read The Book Thief as a young teen, before encountering Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, I likely would have had the same reaction. I wish I’d read it then, before I engaged with numerous harrowing real-life stories of the Second World War. As it stands, with The Book Thief and historical WWII fiction in general, I’m a bit cynical and often find that for me they don’t stand up to the true accounts. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

Why are so many adults reading YA books? Find out here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Long-time Keeper-Upperers are probably sick of hearing me talk about We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but I don’t care: I’ll be recommending this book with my very last breath. It’s even one of the 50 books I reckon you should read before you die! I can’t believe I’d never even heard of it before beginning the KUWTP project, despite it having been shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. It’s a wonderful story of family, secrets, and humanity, that in my mind sets the standard for contemporary fiction. I dearly wish I’d read it sooner, so that I could have started recommending it sooner, and sold more people on it! I guess I’ll just have to do my best to make up for lost time… Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

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

I’ve had a long and fraught relationship with Pride And Prejudice. The first time I picked it up, I think I was in high-school, and I abandoned it about 30 pages in. Between then and now, I can recall at least five additional attempts, all of which ended much the same way. It’s only very recently that I’ve managed to finish the whole thing, and I have no idea why I put it off for so long, or why I struggled so much with it! It was wonderful! I really enjoyed it, and found the love story really comfortingly familiar, full of what we now recognise as archetypes of English literature. I wish I’d copped onto myself sooner and just forced myself to persist with it, because it has informed a lot of my reading and critical analysis ever since. Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Fahrenheit 451 is another one I wish I’d got to in high-school, back when I first started getting interest in politics, government, power, surveillance, and control. It probably would have felt like a revelation back then, especially if I’d read it alongside my now-all-time-favourite Nineteen Eighty-Four. I know a lot of teenagers are forced to read Fahrenheit 451 for English classes, but somehow I escaped that particular rite of passage, and as such I didn’t come to it until very recently. It really didn’t evoke any strong feelings from me, aside from a sense of let-down after hearing it hyped up for so long. Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - two volume green hardcover set laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My reason for this one is a little self-indulgent, but I couldn’t put this post together without including it (forgive me!): I dearly wish I’d read David Copperfield, or any other Dickens, while my grandfather was alive. He was a huge fan of Dickens, and even though I wouldn’t have got as much out of it personally had I read it back then, I would have loved the opportunity to talk it over with him. We had many long, wonderful conversation about other books and literature in general, and even though he never outright pressured me to pick up anything from Dickens, I know he would have loved to share his thoughts with me. So, here’s my heartfelt suggestion for all of you: if an older person in your life has a favourite book, read it now so you can discuss it with them, and share that memory, before they pass on! Read my full review of David Copperfield here.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Anita Loos - Books Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s another book I shamelessly plug at any opportunity: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I wish I’d read it sooner so I could have brought it up in every annoying conversation I’ve ever had about The Great Gatsby. I’ve listened to so many people opine about Fitzgerald’s supposed genius, and spent hours of my life I’ll never get back hearing all about how he definitively captured life in the Jazz Age. Ugh! Had I read Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sooner, I would have had a counterpoint ready to offer. It’s a far superior book, and as far as I’m concerned it should be required reading on at least the same scale as stinkin’ Gatsby. This is another one I’ll be recommending with my dying breath. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

The White Mouse by Nancy Wake

The White Mouse - Nancy Wake - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The White Mouse was a quiet little book, not one that many readers have heard of, but it’s the autobiography of a truly incredible woman. It lives in the shadow of a far longer, more detailed, more “literary” history of her life and exploits, written by Peter Fitzsimons, which is also a great read. But for me, nothing quite compares to reading someone’s story in their own words, even if they’re not a naturally talented writer. I wish I’d read The White Mouse while Nancy Wake was still alive, firstly so that she would have received a little royalty cheque from my purchase, but secondly so that I could have had the chance to lobby the Australian government on her behalf to pay her the pension I feel she was well and truly owed by our country. That said, I feel lucky to have read it at all. Read my full review of The White Mouse here.


  1. Alyson Woodhouse

    October 22, 2019 at 2:12 AM

    It’s funny you should mention Dickens, as I’ve had something of a hit or miss experience with him, and I kind of wish I had got into my stride with his writing when I was younger. I red and loved David Copperfield in my early teens, but was less successful with Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and a Tale of Two Cities when I read them. It wasn’t until a pretty much accidental encounter with one of his more minor titles, Dombey and Son that something clicked, and it served as a great prelude to Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend, any of which I would highly recommend to you, as I think you would enjoy them, and his portrayal of women, while not at all free of problems was much more nuanced in all of these titles than I was expecting.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      October 24, 2019 at 2:34 PM

      Oooh yes, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are both on my radar, I definitely want to get to them! And I completely agree with what you’re saying about his female characters; his representation wasn’t unproblematic, of course, but so much more Woke(TM) than I was expecting, given that he was a product of the age. Betsey Trotwood is a long-time favourite of mine. Thank you Alyson!

  2. What a great idea to read a book that you can share with someone special in your life. There is a book by Will Shwabe, called The End of Your Life Book Club which is about the books he discussed with his mother when she had a serious illness

    • ShereeKUWTP

      October 24, 2019 at 2:39 PM

      Ah, yes! I’ve heard of it! I think I’ve got it flagged somewhere in one of my many “must read this at some point” lists, such a beautiful idea. Now that my surviving grandmother is getting on a bit, I’ve picked up a copy of Robbery Under Arms, because I remember her talking about it being serialised in the paper when she was a kid and fighting with her sister over who got to read it first – determined to read it and take the chance to talk about it with her now, lesson learned. ❤️

  3. The one that comes immediately to mind is To Kill A Mockingbird. I just read it for the first time a couple years ago, and I can’t believe I missed it for so many years. Especially being a product of the American South myself!

  4. Growing up in the 90’s in South Africa the book by Steve Biko -I write what I like- has always been a must read for anyone interested in the political history of South Africa and the Black Consciousness Movement. I’ve bought copies for 3 of my closest friends when we were in our 20’s. I’m in my 30’s and I still haven’t read it, and your post has challenged me to do so.

  5. Having read all of Stephen King’s books, my favorite one is not a thriller. It’s The Green Mile. Very few authors can flesh out a character better than Mr. King. You become emotionally attached to the characters in all of his books, and never want the book to end.

  6. I completely agree with you about Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Brilliant little book which I think is underrated. . As for Fitzgerald, he’s just not my cup of tea. I’ve never really liked that generation of American writers. I don’t often recommend books but when I read Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky I shared it with loads of people. It’s by Patrick Hamilton and is beautifully written and you feel the loneliness of the people in it.. The title was enough to make me want to read it as I’d never heard of him and I wasn’t disappointed. Have since read all his other book and I don’t know how he seems to have been overlooked. I hope you enjoy it if you do read it.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      February 27, 2020 at 7:03 PM

      Oooh, that’s a fantastic recommendation, Paula – thank you! I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it 😉 and I’m always glad to have another one in my camp when it comes to Fitzgerald!

  7. Nancy Wake was a New Zealander, not Australian

  8. Denise J Tidwell

    January 28, 2023 at 3:50 AM

    I think if had to pick a book out of the clear blue sky it would be ” The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”! It kept me reading until I finished. Which I read the whole thing in one day! A love story you will never forget. NO one forgets forbidden love.
    Thanks for a great read . Wish their was a second.

  9. I know what you mean about reading books sooner. I was given a copy of 1984 by George Orwell as a gift for my 21st birthday, in 1980, but me being me, I waited 4 years to read it. You read correctly I waited 4 years, so that i could read the book in 1984. What a dumpkof I was to wait that long, it was such a great book. I’ve read all of Dickens’ s novels & I love Jane Austen, I have her collection as well but I couldn’t get into Austen’s book Emma. I had to read it in high school (I skimmed it just to say I’d “read” it LOL) & it always put me to sleep. To this day I still haven’t
    read the whole thing. I never knew that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a book, you learn something new everyday. I will definitely be on the lookout for it, I also found out that there’s a sequel to it called But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.
    As Frank Zappa said “so many books, so kittle time”.
    Thank you for a great list.
    Kindest regards

    • Sheree

      July 8, 2023 at 1:31 PM

      Hi Reet! I must say, I *love* the idea of reading Nineteen Eighty-Four IN 1984, that’s so cute! A shame to delay reading Orwell’s most iconic work, but worth it for the bit, I think 😉 Please do let me know what you think of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – it’s my mission in life to get that book into more readers’ hands!

  10. Two books I’ve shared with many friends lately,
    Elephant Whisper by Lawrence Anthony and Weat With Giraffes by Lynn Rutledge.

  11. Meredith DuHamel

    May 3, 2024 at 1:31 PM

    Two books that I wish I had read sooner were A Gentleman in Moscow and Memoir of a Geisha. I consider both of these novels to be classics! True masterpieces. I couldn’t believe that I had had them sitting on my bookshelf for years.

  12. Katherine Carter

    May 9, 2024 at 11:23 AM

    The Book Thief is beyond description! I am on my 5th read. The movie tries, but this book must be read!
    There is so much to be appreciated and enjoyed by Pride and Prejudice. It is many love stories and then some. I find that I need to keep notes to keep straight and remember the characters.

    • Sheree

      May 18, 2024 at 3:19 PM

      I’m also a note-taker, Katherine – that’s how this blog started! It’s a great way to organise your thoughts and keep things clear in your mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *