Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Features & Discussion (page 1 of 29)

12 Amazing Non-Fiction Books By Women

Looking back over the books I read and reviewed this month, I realised: it’s been wall-to-wall amazing non-fiction books by women. That wasn’t exactly by design, but looking over my shelves I can see how it could happen! It would seem that non-fiction books by women – particularly ones on niche subjects, or ones that take a unique approach – really pique my interest. Here are a few more of my favourites…

Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

Any Ordinary Day - Leigh Sales - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Every person who talks about the most devastating day of their life invariably says the same thing: “it was any ordinary day”. Thus, the title of Australian journalist Leigh Sales’ book – Any Ordinary Day – about the worst days, the catastrophic days, when the world collapses in upon you. She asks the questions we all silently wonder when we’re watching for the news. When you have a life-changing near-brush with death, does it actually change your life? When you lose loved ones in the most unimaginably horrible ways, how do you learn to love and trust again? This is one of the most compelling and fascinating non-fiction books by women of recent years, and (sadly) given the increasing rate of life-changing events in our world, it is ever resonant and relevant.

You Daughters Of Freedom by Clare Wright

You Daughters Of Freedom - Clare Wright - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This might seem baffling to my American Keeper-Upperers (given that voting is voluntary in your homeland), but I really dig participating in democracy. Put it down to watching Mary Poppins too much as a kid (Well Done, Sister Suffragette!). Every time I line up to the ballot box, I feel immense gratitude for all of the women who fought and died for my right to do so. That’s what drew me to pick up You Daughters Of Freedom – a testament to the Australians who won the vote for women, comparatively early. The trailblazing (though, it must be said, white) women who won the vote served as inspiration for the rest of the world.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You know that voice in your head that says: you’re a bad feminist if you fangirl over Mr Rochester when you read Jane Eyre? Or the one that says you’re a bootlicker if you like the colour pink? Roxane Gay shines the spotlight on that nasty, mean little voice in Bad Feminist. In this series of at-times hilarious and at-time searing essays, she looks at the ways in which the culture we consume reflects who we are, and what we want it to say about us. I have never felt so validated and affirmed as I have reading this incredible book (unless you count reading Roxane Gay’s Twitter feed).

See also: Hunger

Victoria by Julia Baird

Victoria - Julia Baird - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I was skeptical (to say the least) when I heard that there was a new biography of Queen Victoria forthcoming (and with such a creative title, too). Victoria is surely at least the hundredth book about a dead British monarch published this past decade. And yet, the more I heard about it, the more interviews Julia Baird gave about her process and her approach, the more my curiosity was stoked. There’s no shortage of biographies in the category of non-fiction books by women, but this one is surely one of the best.

In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park

In Order To Live - Yeonmi Park - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Conceptually, North Korea still blows my mind. In this age of unprecedented globalisation and connection, how has one country so brutally and efficiently cut its people off from external influence and insight? If any of their citizens do get a sniff of the world beyond the borders, how could they possibly find within themselves the courage to run? In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park is one woman’s story of doing just that. Facing dangers the likes of which most of us couldn’t imagine (relying on Chinese smugglers for escape, then navigating across the Gobi desert with no more than the stars to guide her), she made it to South Korea and, as if her survival alone wasn’t testament enough, shared her story with the rest of the world.

The Killing Season: Uncut by Sarah Ferguson

The Killing Season - Sarah Ferguson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I might be showing my age when I say this, but what the hell: the first Australian election in which I felt properly and politically engaged was the one that elected Kevin Rudd’s government in 2007. Shortly thereafter, he was usurped by Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister. Then, in a move shocking to every non-Australian in the world (seriously, we change leaders more frequently than we change underpants down here), Rudd resumed the leadership before a spectacular election defeat in 2013. Obviously, everyone behind-the-scenes has a very different version of these events – each of which Sarah Ferguson investigated when making the documentary program The Killing Season. In the book version, she recounts details she couldn’t put to air at the time. Heck, maybe I’m the only one who cares, but this is the first of the non-fiction books by women about Australian politics that truly gripped me.

The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan

The Great Pretender - Susannah Cahalan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Ever heard of the Rosenhan experiment? A brilliant psychiatrist sent a bunch of people into psychiatric hospitals with feigned benign symptoms, and they were all diagnosed with stigmatising mental illnesses and fed huge quantities of psychoactive medication. This outcome changed the course of psychology and psychiatry forever, and it has had significant real-world impacts on the lives of people living with mental illness today. Susannah Cahalan took it upon herself, having narrowly escaped misdiagnosis and institutionalisation herself, to uncover the truth of this experiment and the man who instigated it, in The Great Pretender. It is a fascinating, and terrifying, read.

She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

She Said - Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You might think you “know” the Harvey Weinstein story, but until you’ve read She Said, I can promise you that you don’t. Not only are the details of Weinstein’s crimes horrific, but the lengths that he went to cover them up (and the number of people who enabled him along the way) are almost literally unbelievable. I’m so grateful to Kantor and Twohey for sharing with us the story behind the story, how they worked to break the sexual harassment story that changed the world – they’ll teach this in journalism classes for years to come.

See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill

The all-too-common refrain when it comes to domestic abuse is “why didn’t she leave?” or “why did she stay?”. See What You Made Me Do is the first book I’ve read to turn that on its head. The questions Jess Hill poses are more along the lines of “why did he hit her?” and “what ‘counts’ as domestic abuse?”. I’ll admit, this book will turn your stomach – Hill doesn’t shy away from the sheer horror of lives lived in the shadow of domestic abuse, and the very worst of where and why it happens. That said, I’ve made it my personal mission in life to make sure more men read this book. I want “nice guys”, “good blokes”, “wonderful fathers”, and all the rest of them to read this one. Can you imagine what would happen if they did?

Pain And Prejudice by Gabrielle Jackson

Pain And Prejudice - Gabrielle Jackson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Imagine if I told you that 176 million people worldwide were affected by one insidious disease, one for which we cannot definitively determine a cause, and one for which the “cures” on offer are (at best) guesswork. Then, imagine that I told you that between 30-60% of the people who could develop this disease couldn’t correctly identify the parts of their anatomy where it might originate. You’d be floored, right? I know I was when I read Pain And Prejudice by Gabrielle Jackson, a book about the ways the medical system has under-served people with uteruses for far too long. This is an amazing, personal account of the patriarchal assumptions that undermine the health of half the population.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

It takes a rare talent to write about sex in a way that is both enthralling and immersive, but never titillating. Three Women is not an erotic book, but a clear-eyed account of women’s sex lives and the experiences that shape them. Over the course of eight years, Taddeo investigated the sexual histories of three women: Lina, Maggie, and Sloane. Her meticulously detailed reporting evokes Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, drawing upon thousands of hours of interviews and documentation to verify the truth as she presents it to you. This book is controversial (inevitably, given its subject matter and Taddeo’s frank treatment of it), but in that lies the beauty of its premise: finally, finally, non-fiction books by women are triggering conversations about the lived experience (and sex lives) of women. Hurrah!

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look - Helen Garner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A young inner-city women loving Helen Garner is somewhat of a cliche, but I’m steering into the skid – it’s a cliche for a reason. All of her books are worth reading, of course: fiction, diaries, true crime, and everything in between… But my personal favourite, and possibly her least lauded (ironically enough), is her essay collection Everywhere I Look. Most of the essays have been previously published elsewhere, but there’s something especially wonderful about having them all back-to-back on paper. She applies her keen insight and acerbic wit to topics as varied as making a house a home, true crime, heroes, grandchildren, and Russell Crowe movies.

Best Selling Books On Racism in 2020

Earlier this year, in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, widespread protests and blanket media coverage drew unprecedented attention to issues of racial justice in the U.S. Because book people are the best people, many of us turned to books about racism and dismantling systemic discrimination to understand how we got here, and how to move forward. This week, I read and reviewed Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race; it was published back in 2017, but this year it soared to the top of the sales charts and became the first (and only) black woman to top the UK’s best-seller list. I decided to take a look at some of the other best selling books on racism in 2020…

Best Selling Books On Racism in 2020 - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Just for a little more context: industry trackers showed a 330% increase in sales for books about civil rights, and a simultaneous 245% increase for books about racial discrimination, from the week of 17 May 2020. The books listed below, most published months or years beforehand, outsold even hotly-anticipated new releases with established followings (like the Hunger Games prequel).

These sales were no doubt boosted not only by the goodwill of concerned booklovers, but also the circulation of anti-racism reading lists by activists. This proves that books by and about people of colour are bankable, they can generate huge return on investment for publishers, when they’re given the attention they deserve. My hope is that, in constructing my own list here and continuing to read and amplify others, the interest in books on racism continues to grow (which will mean we see more of them on our shelves, which means more people will read them, and so on to infinity).

When you buy a book from one of the links below, I’ll get a tiny cut for referring you – but that’s not why I’m doing this. Please do consider seeking these books out at an independent bookstore, or requesting them at your local library, to support those vital resources in our communities.

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want To Talk About Race addresses a lot of the practical questions that have been front and center of our minds this year (the reason we’ve turned to books on racism in 2020 to begin with). How should we respond to a racist joke? How can we explain white privilege to someone who doesn’t believe it exists? What are we doing that perpetuates systemic racism, and how can we stop? So You Want To Talk About Race hit the top of the New York Times Best-Seller list this year, so hopefully a lot of those conversations have improved as a result.

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Once you acknowledge that racism exists and your role in it, what’s next? That’s what How To Be An Antiracist lays out for you: how to set about dismantling systems that perpetuate prejudice and privilege. As per the blurb, “Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and re-energises the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.” Not only did How To Be Anti-Racist soar to the top of the best seller lists, the New York Review Of Books named it one of the best books of the year.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Most of the best selling books on racism in 2020 were published at least a few years ago, but The Fire Next Time was actually published nearly sixty years ago. It would seem that James Baldwin’s words in this extended essay on civil rights still ring as true today as they did then. Drawing on his own youth in Harlem, and his insight into the real-world experience of injustice, it is both an exposition of racism and a rallying cry to fight it. Many of Baldwin’s other works went on to hit the best seller lists, too.

Me And White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Me And White Supremacy is the book you turn to when you need to take a long, hard look at yourself. It started with a personal development challenge on Instagram, one that called on people to examine their own biases and blind-spots, and is now a foundational self-help text in the fight against racism. Of course, it’s not just journal prompts and to-do lists: Saad includes important context, extended definitions, and directions to further reading that will set you on the path to fighting for civil rights.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Even though most best selling books on racism in 2020 have been written by people of colour, there’s one notable exception: White Fragility. The author, Robin DiAngelo, is a white woman, and she actually coined the title phrase (“white fragility”, meaning a state of hypersensitivity and intolerance for issues of race, which trigger defensive responses when confronted). Even though the initial reception was mixed, this book hit the best seller lists alongside all of the other books on racism listed here. I think it’s an important example of white people taking responsibility for starting conversations and educating each other, as opposed to leaving all of that emotional labour to people of colour.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

It’s not just non-fiction books on racism in 2020 that soared to the top of the best seller lists! Iconic fiction titles, including Beloved by Toni Morrison, also saw a huge spike in sales. The dirty pragmatists among us might question the logic – after all, shouldn’t we be reading about the real world in order to learn how to fix it? But in fact, reading fiction actually increases empathic responses and, in being more emotive, gives us stronger internal motivation to push for change. Fiction and non-fiction go hand-in-hand when it comes to opening our minds and combating racism, and Beloved is as good a place to start as any.

10 Best True Crime Books

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a true crime devotee. In my defence, I was doing it before it was cool. Long before Serial or Making A Murderer, I was a teenager snuggling up with a copy of World’s Worst Serial Killers as bed-time reading. That said, I really appreciate that my secret shame has become Cool and Hip. I’m absolutely spoiled for choice now when I scan the true crime shelves at my favourite bookstore, or scroll the charts for podcasts! It seems only fitting that I put together a list of my favourites – the best true crime books (and never fear, there’s something here for everyone, beginner through to expert!).

10 Best True Crime Books - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Treat yourself to any of the best true crime books through a link on this page, and I’ll get a tiny commission at no extra cost to you – it’s a win-win!

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil by John Berendt

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil - John Berendt - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s a question you’ll hear frequently in true crime: was it self-defence, or murder? And that’s the very question at the centre of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. In the Old South, a shooting in Savannah’s grandest mansion takes twists and turns that you couldn’t possibly make up. (Here’s another one: the truth is stranger than fiction, you heard it here first!) This classic of true crime books has everything you could ask for: Southern belles, drag queens, reclusive ne’er do wells, and even a Voodoo priestess.

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief - Susan Orlean - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I think part of the reason true crime gets a bad rap is that people assume it’s all schlocky, grisly serial killers and stuff. In fact, the best true crime books are fascinating and bizarre, written about the kind of crimes you wouldn’t even imagine. Case in point: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. In 1994, a group of Native Americans were arrested for poaching orchids from a state reserve. Apparently, there is a huge black market for these beautiful flowers, and Orlean’s investigation into the crime reveals more than you’d bargain for.

See also: The Library Book

Zealot by Jo Thornely

Zealot - Jo Thornely - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Why would anyone join a cult? That’s what Jo Thornely endeavours to find out in Zealot. From the outside, it seems literally unbelievable, the way that people are lured – hoodwinked, brainwashed, whatever you want to call it – into handing over their money, their lives, even their children to groups with malevolent intent. What are we missing? Thornely examines all the biggies – The Family, Jonestown, The Branch Davidians – in search of answers.

Trace by Rachael Brown

Trace - Rachael Brown - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I can’t remember how exactly I first stumbled upon the Trace podcast, but in my mind it looms large as the best-of-the-best in true crime podcasting. Rachael Brown investigated a cold case so chilling that I couldn’t believe I’d never heard about it before. The chase for Maria James’ killer zigs and zags across the map (religion, divorce, disability, abuse) but leads only to a series of terrifying dead ends. I waxed so lyrical about this incredible show that my sister-in-law bought me the book Brown wrote about it, also called Trace, for Christmas. If podcasts aren’t “your thing”, this is the perfect alternative: one of the best true crime books about a would-be solvable crime out there.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Bad Blood - John Carreyrou - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Let’s be real: sometimes (not all of the time, but sometimes) the best true crime books are the ones that allow us to bask in the glorious schadenfreude of watching the rich and fabulous get what’s coming to them. I think that’s why Bad Blood hooked me. I can’t speak for the rest of you, of course, but a Silicon Valley start-up that duped millions of dollars out of the obscenely wealthy on the basis of a fake blood testing “development”? That’s a yes, please and thank you.

Murder In Mississippi by John Safran

Murder In Mississippi - John Safran - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m a John Safran fan-girl since the old days of Sunday Night Safran (Triple J just ain’t the same without it!). When he alluded to the fact that he was researching and writing a true crime book – one for which he listened to endless hours of white supremacist ranting, no less – I squealed with delight. Murder In Mississippi (called God’ll Cut You Down in the U.S., because apparently even though Mississippi sounds very exotic and mysterious here, it’s basically the equivalent of calling a book “Murder In NSW” over there – can any American Keeper Upperers confirm?) totally lived up to all of my already-inflated expectations. It’s somehow become even more relevant in the current age of inflamed race relations – Safran is truly a man ahead of his time.

This House Of Grief by Helen Garner

This House Of Grief - Helen Garner - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s the endless debate of Helen Garner’s oeuvre: is she at her best writing thinly-veiled autobiographical fiction, essays, or true crime? I change my mind more often than I change my underpants. Either way, there’s no doubt that some of the best true crime books to come out of Australia have come from her desk and pen, and This House Of Grief is the best – by which I mean the most haunting, gut-churning, and heart-wrenching – of all. Few writers could tackle the trials of a man who drove his children into a dam, killing them, with such insight, nuance, and discernment.

See also: Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Reasonable Doubt by Xanthé Mallett

Reasonable Doubt - Xanthe Mallett - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Most of the best true crime books out there seek the same thing: justice. Usually, that means seeing someone who did a terrible thing punished accordingly. But what about the convictions gone wrong, the miscarriages of justice that lead to innocent people being imprisoned? Dr Xanthé Mallet, internationally-renowned forensic scientist and criminologist, sets out to restore the balance and shine a spotlight on this neglected issue in Reasonable Doubt. Mallett uses a series of case studies to explore the systemic failures of our criminal justice system. By examining how and why miscarriages of justice occur, she reveals opportunities for us to avoid them, and highlights the importance of making adequate restitution where they do occur.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reading In Cold Blood is like time-travelling back to where it all began, the “first true crime novel”. In 1959, the Clutter family was murdered in their Kansas farm home, and Capote read a short article about it in The New Yorker. He immediately packed his bags and headed out there to investigate. After six years, and eight thousand pages of notes, he produced In Cold Blood, the book that still defines the genre to this day. (And no, I don’t care that he took some liberties with the truth: it is such a gripping and compelling read that I’ll forgive any and all creative license.) Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist - Chloe Hooper - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if a true crime book is “too soon”. It’s been over a decade since the Black Saturday bushfires here in Australia, but reading The Arsonist proved that the wounds are still raw. Hooper unravels the actions of Brendan Sokaluk that day, the man convicted of lighting at least two of the most dangerous fires. Don’t come to it expecting “answers”. It’s not a thrilling police procedural where the bad guy is hunted down by the good guys and gets what’s coming to him. It’s an intimate portrait of a man who was found guilty of a horrendous crime, with many questions left lingering as to how, why, and even whether. Read my full review of The Arsonist here.

How To Read Audiobooks

I’m very sure that I’m far too young to use the phrase “back in my day”… but back in my day, audiobooks were clunky collections of CD-roms that you had to play in your Discman (changing out the AA batteries every couple of hours). Times have changed, Keeper Upperers. With a family history of both book-loving and macular degeneration, I’ve long been a staunch advocate of audiobooks. I’ve made many an impassioned, self-righteous speech about how reading audiobooks is reading, and anyone who says otherwise needs to pull their ableist head out of their proverbial arse. But, I had to admit: I never actually read them myself. Here’s the story of your ride-or-die paperback reader learned how to read audiobooks.

How To Read Audiobooks - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I might never have undertaken this audiobook project at all, had it not been for the scourge of COVID-19. I’m sure that seems counter-intuitive. After all, doesn’t the imposition of self-isolation and social distancing give one more time to sit at home, alone, with a paperback? In theory, yes, but there’s a confluence of factors at play, here. First off, I’m a podcast junkie: I live with headphones in, listening to all manner of chatter about a range of topics, regardless of what’s going on in the world. Second, I’m a cheapskate, and I never could bring myself to shell out for an Audible subscription on a whim. And, finally, even though I knew that my local library had a program for loaning digital audiobooks, I never quite got around to actually downloading the app and figuring out how to use it. That’s where COVID comes in.

See, libraries have been pillars of our community for as long as books have been around. They are one of the most adaptable, agile, and accommodating systems that the human race has developed (and, yes, that’s a hill I’m willing to die on – fight me!). I’ve always known it, and this knowledge was reinforced by reading The Library Book, and the onset of a global pandemic. Libraries around the world had found ways to continue to serve and protect (I use that phrase very deliberately, ahem) our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, even in the face of unprecedented pressure and constraint. Some have been transformed into testing clinics, some have found safe ways to offer entertainment and engagement to isolated families, all have provided refuge and support in a time of crisis.

Being the pinko leftie I am, I wanted to find a way to support my local library the way it has supported my community this year. With most branches closed, and my representatives at all levels of government sick of my advocacy emails, I had to get creative. I had always meant to try audiobooks, and here was the perfect opportunity: I would download the library app, showing my support by using their resources (which would inevitably show up in a spreadsheet somewhere, validating their worth) in a way that didn’t deplete the capacity of the librarians themselves, and I’d tick an item off the bucket-list into the bargain. Win-win!

I actually felt kind of silly for having put it off for so long. My library offers a free app with a simple interface that required nothing more than my library card number and my email address. Digital audiobooks and eBooks are all offered on the same platform, with separate and generous lending limits. It took me five whole minutes to master the thing from end-to-end. What on earth had I been waiting for?

I decided against borrowing eBooks (my phone screen is too small for extended reading, and as I’ve said, I’m committed to paper-and-ink), but there were thousands – literally thousands – of audiobooks available to download at the tap of a button. I had the option to reserve ones that were currently on loan (the same way I would physical books in the library building). I could borrow audiobooks of every conceivable genre, age, and origin. Really, the biggest struggle was figuring out how to narrow down the options I had available to me.

In the end, I just picked a few that were accessible immediately, and pressed play. I popped my cherry with Everywhere I Look, narrated by Helen Garner herself, and I was hooked! I moved on to Tiny, Beautiful Things – also narrated by the author, Cheryl Strayed. My podcast library languished, accumulating dozens of new episodes by the day.

I turned to Peter FitzSimon’s biography of Nancy Wake (a woman in whom I have a long-standing interest), and hit a snag. I was almost instantly bored. It was as though I could understand, logically, that the content was worthy of my attention but… couldn’t sustain it, somehow. I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering. I returned it after only a couple of chapters, and didn’t mark it as read on my Goodreads.

Here’s the thing that every audiobook reader has ever told me, but I’ve never really understood until now: your personal taste matters, and it will affect how you read audiobooks. Don’t expect your taste for audiobooks to be the same as your taste for traditional paper formats. Some people read exclusively non-fiction audiobooks, because they find fictional stories just can’t sustain their attention. Others love reading fiction in the audio format, because it feels like being read a bed-time story. Horses for courses, and all of that.

I’ve now burned my way through nearly a dozen, and here’s what I’ve established about my own audiobook tastes:

  • Books with short chapters work best, or essays (see: Everywhere I Look, and Tiny, Beautiful Things above)
  • I have a general preference for audiobooks with Australian narrators (not a hard-and-fast rule, but I find myself soothed by the familiar twang of my homeland)
  • I’m more interested in books I wouldn’t read otherwise, or books I’ve already read (like Pride And Prejudice). Reading a book on my Official To-Read List in the audiobook format doesn’t lend itself to taking notes or paying serious attention, the way I do for books I review here on Keeping Up With The Penguins.
  • I like lighter content, the treat-yourself fluffy books that you might read on the beach. Simon Vs The Homo-Sapiens Agenda was a winner, as was The Rosie Effect.

So, here’s my advice, if you’re curious and you’re wondering how to read audiobooks: just start. You don’t need to pay for a subscription service (though Audible offers a free trial, and they’ve introduced a more affordable pricing structure – and, of course, if you’re kind enough to sign up for one through a link from this site, I’ll get a tiny commission that helps me keep the lights on, and you’ll get my eternal gratitude as well as a library of audiobooks at your fingertips). Head to your local library’s website, and I can all-but-guarantee they’ll have a digital Discman-free option for you. If you’re stuck in the dark ages, they’ll probably still have a (smaller) stock of CDs on hand, to get your feet wet. It won’t be half as hard as you’re imagining, and it’ll be twice as rewarding as you expect.

Don’t be put off if the first (or second, or third) audiobook you try doesn’t hold your attention. Try, and try again. Think about how long it took for you to learn to read paper-and-ink books: where would you be if you’d given up after one or two failed attempts?

As for me, I’m a convert. I can’t bring myself to abandon podcasts entirely, but audiobooks have been worked into the rotation permanently. I probably won’t purchase a subscription to any service while my library offers such a huge range, free of charge. I also probably won’t specifically review audiobooks here on Keeping Up With The Penguins, but I probably will go back and re-read books I have previously reviewed – in fact, I’ve got The Age Of Innocence tee’d up and ready for me as soon as I’ve finished writing this post…

Do you read audiobooks? How did you learn to let go of paperbacks and love the earbud? Let me know in the comments!

7 Fiction Books About Siblings

As an only child, pretty much everything I know about sharing a life with brothers or sisters has been drawn from fiction books about siblings. It started with Famous Five books when I was a kid, and it continues on to this day. I prefer fiction books about siblings that show the good, the bad, and the ugly – sharing parents ain’t all beer and skittles, I know that much. Here’s a list of books that I reckon fit the bill…

7 Fiction Books About Siblings - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

I never miss a chance to plug We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I’ve made it my life’s mission to get more people to read this book. Luckily, today I don’t even have to do any convoluted backwards engineering to make it fit the theme of this list! Unfortunately, though, it’s a little tricky for me to explain exactly why it makes the cut, as there’s a HUGE sibling-related spoiler about 70 pages in… Suffice to say, this book will change the way you think about sibling relationships, and the nature of personhood, altogether. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister The Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite - Keeping Up With The Penguins

How far would you go to save your sibling? That’s the question at the heart of My Sister, The Serial Killer. Even though the premise is a bit preposterous – a woman compelled to help her sister hide the bodies after she dispatches unsuitable boyfriends – there’s an emotional core to this book that will resonate with everyone who’s ever been called upon to sacrifice. At the end of the day, sibling or otherwise, we all have someone we’d call to help us drag a body across the floor… don’t we? Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

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

There are few writers as iconic as Jane Austen, and few families as iconic as the Bennets, as immortalised in her beloved novel Pride And Prejudice. Even though everyone (it seems) comes for the marriage plot, the relationships between the five sisters are really the heart of this story. It’s Lizzie’s advice that leads Jane to play coy with Bingley, after all, which in turn leads to his doubting her affection. It’s Lydia’s scandal that gives Darcy the opportunity to ride in on his white horse, and shows Wickham for the scoundrel that he is. Face it: P&P just wouldn’t work without the complex relationships that evolve between five daughters under one roof, and the men who try to woo them. Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Vanishing Half made one heck of a splash when it was first published earlier this year, and we’re still feeling the ripples today. It’s a brilliant premise: twin sisters, identical, brought up in a Southern black community, who go on to lead very different lives. One passes as white, keeping her heritage a secret from even her (white) husband, while the other claims her black identity, for better and for worse. This is an intriguing way to examine race and racial justice, but like other contemporary fiction books on this subject (An American Marriage comes to mind), it does so without coming across as a thinly veiled argument – it’s a truly emotive, complex story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Few fiction books about siblings have had the enduring cross-generational appeal of Little Women. I think it’s because just about every woman can identify strongly with at least one of the sisters. Are you Meg, the responsible one? Jo, the head-strong creative? Beth, the kind and gentle? Or Amy, the beautiful and determined? C’mon, if you’ve read this classic, you know which one you are (I’m a Jo, through-and-through). By crafting multiple characters so engaging and relatable, Alcott conquered new ground in the All American Girl trope and won our minds; making them sisters was how she won our hearts. Read my full review of Little Women here.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Is there anything more intoxicating than enigmatic, beautiful, unattainable sisters? Not for the boys who worshipped them in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, and tell their story in chorus. The Lisbon girls are raised in sweet ’70s suburbia, and are shielded from the world by their Catholic parents. Mr and Mrs Lisbon soon discover that no parental love, protection, or permissiveness can save their daughters from themselves. One by one, their daughters are lost to them, and even decades later no one can be entirely sure why. This is one of the darker fiction books about siblings, but one that is seared into the memory of everyone who reads it.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If your sibling asked you to donate a kidney, you would, wouldn’t you? Well, what if you knew you were born specifically for that purpose? The quandaries of family obligation, and the ethics of “designer babies” or “saviour siblings”, are explored in the perennially popular My Sister’s Keeper. Thirteen-year-old Anna Fitzgerald sues her parents for medical emancipation, citing her right to refuse to undergo dangerous and invasive surgery against her will. But her elder sister, Kate, has acute promyelocytic leukemia, and will likely die if Anna succeeds. Are we our sisters’ keepers? This question continues to divide readers, even now!

« Older posts