Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: Features & Discussion (page 1 of 46)

10 Books I Picked For The Title

We all know that we’re not meant to judge a book by its cover… but judging it by its title should be fine, right? Along with the cover, a book’s title is the most important attention-grabber. A title that stands out on the shelves, or sticks in a reader’s mind, gets the author most of the way towards having their book read. Here’s a list of ten books I picked for the title.

10 Books I Picked For The Title - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If any of these book titles grab you and you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission 🙂

How To Lose Friends And Alienate People by Toby Young

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How To Win Friends And Influence People is the O.G. self-help book, chock-full of useful advice like “remember people’s names” and “make them feel good when you’re around them”. It works, but it’s cliche as all heck. That’s why my eyes were drawn to How To Lose Friends And Alienate People – a dark satirical take on one of the best-selling smarmy-charm books of all time? Yes, please! This is one of the first books I picked for the title, and also one of the books I picked up because I enjoyed the movie.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson

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Anyone who has ever felt like they don’t quite fit in will surely relate to the title of Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. The tone of the title changes depending on how you read it. When I first saw it (which made this one of the books I picked for the title), I thought it was a funny, wry take on “being yourself”. But the content of the book reveals that it’s darker and more serious than that. A bit of a bait-and-switch, but that’s what happens when you make snap judgements about books and their titles/covers!

I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf by Grant Snider

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Of all the books I picked for the title, this is the one that all booklovers will understand: Grant Snider’s I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf. It’s a slightly-snarky but otherwise-innocuous sentence that will resonate with anyone who has ever had a perve at the shelves of a new friend. Or anyone who spent the whole pandemic squinting to see the spines in someone’s Zoom background. The contents will make bibliophiles Feel Seen, too. It’s a collection of Snider’s comics about bookishness in all its forms and the love of reading.

They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

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Avoiding spoilers is basically a full-time job. If there’s something popular you want to watch or read without knowing the ending, you have to avoid the news, your emails, all forms of social media… which is why They Both Die At The End is one of the books I picked for the title. Silvera is my hero for thumbing his nose at the convention of secrecy and giving it all away up front. This profound novel proves that even if we “know” the ending, there’s still joy and wonder to be found along the way (or something less sappy than that).

My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life by Georgia Pritchett

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My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life – haven’t we all felt that way at one point or another? If you’re some kind of incredible superpowered unicorn that has never fumbled their words when overly anxious, you might not understand why this is one of the books I picked for the title, but the rest of you mere mortals will get it. Pritchett is a TV writer and producer by trade, and this is her memoir – told in “gloriously comic vignettes” – about learning to live, even thrive, with anxiety. The title perfectly captures her refreshingly honest and humourous approach. Read my full review of My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life here.

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck - Mark Manson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Remember that delightful trend of self-help books with profanity in the title? It kind of gave way when the pandemic happened and self-help wasn’t cutting it for any of us, but if you cast your mind back you’ll recall it all began with The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck. Mark Manson posits that we should reject the culture of toxic positivity that has given us all the mistaken impression that we can fix our lives with happy thoughts. It’s a compelling thesis, but it’s the book’s title that really grabbed the world’s attention and made the book a best-seller.

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus

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I Love Dick is one of those books I picked for the title because, no matter where you read it or who’s around you, someone will raise their eyebrows and/or get weird about it. And it’s hilarious, every damn time! In fact, a while back I even decided that I Love Dick would make My Kondo 30 (the 30 books I would keep if I were to go minimalist) because just having it on your shelves is such a great conversation starter. Even for people who have never read it, never heard of Chris Kraus, have no opinion on autofiction or psychosexual obsession – the title is enough to keep the chat going.

Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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In much the same spirit, Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows is an amazing conversation starter, as far as book titles go. Surprisingly, the title isn’t just for shock factor: the story it contains is actually about erotic stories for Punjabi widows. The daughter of Indian immigrants falls on hard times, and takes a job teaching “creative writing” at a community centre to make ends meet. When one of her students shares a book of sexy stories with the rest of the class, a whole lot of new stories are revealed. I picked this book for the title because it sounded like fun, and it delivers!

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

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I knew nothing about Samantha Irby – I hadn’t read either of her previous books, or her blog – when I first saw Wow, No Thank You, but based on the title alone I knew I had to have it. In those four little words, this book title communicates a certain frankness, a wry honesty to which I aspire in my life. How often do we say “yes please” when we’d really rather say “wow, no thank you”? This is a collection of essays about being in your forties and turning down things you “should” jump at (also about bodily fluids, awkwardness, and making the most of a shit sandwich). Read my full review of Wow, No Thank You here.

You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

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If you never said anything along the lines of You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead as an angsty teenager, then we probably don’t have a lot in common. Marieke Hardy is living the dream, though – she’s grown out of her angsty teenage years and actually named her memoir for the lament! This book is “a chronicle of broken hearts, fervid pursuits, passionate friendships, deranged letter-writing, the allure of the bottle, the singular charms of musicians, the lost song of youth, and three very awkward evenings with varying prostitutes-exactly zero percent of which the author’s parents will want to read”.

12 Wonderful Queer Love Stories

For too long, queer love stories were miserable and tragic. Queer lovers died, or were torn apart by time and circumstance, or were forced to keep their love hidden due to the prevailing social mores. Thankfully, we’re moving on, and allowing queer love stories – real and fictional – to be celebrated, loud and proud. Here are twelve wonderful queer love stories to pick up before the end of Pride.

12 Wonderful Queer Love Stories - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon

Where better to start for a list of queer love stories than one with a book club at its heart? The romantic leads of Meet Cute Club are Jordan – founder of the fledgling titular club – and Rex – a “frustratingly obnoxious and breathtakingly handsome” bookseller who makes fun of Jordan for buying books “meant for grandmas”. Naturally, they’re destined to be together. This is a wonderfully sweet rom-com with relatable characters, and an important message about (forgive me) not judging a book by its cover.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop - Casey McQuiston - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One Last Stop is, quite frankly, one of the most delightful queer love stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The central character, August, is new to New York City, but she’s already got the cynicism down. That is, until she meets Jane – a beautiful stranger on a train, with a bewitching smile and a leather jacket. How was August to know that Jane had come unstuck in time, from her home in the 1970s, and falling in love with her would cause all kinds of trouble? Yes, it’s a queer romance with a time-travel element, and it’s snort-laugh funny to boot! Read my full review of One Last Stop here.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

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The Argonauts is a pillar of the contemporary queer canon, so frequently invoked that it’s practically become cliche. It’s been so thoroughly read, analysed, and critiqued that it’s hard to believe that there’s any stone remaining unturned… but I really think that the queer love story at its heart deserves more attention. Nelson’s love for her partner, Harry, absolutely shines on every page. Even when they disagree, even when they’re scared, even when things are awful. Even if a lot of the academic auto-theory goes over your head, The Argonauts is worth reading for that alone. Read my full review of The Argonauts here.

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

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In Only Mostly Devastated, summer loving had Ollie ablast… but not even queer love stories are immune to the keen sting of summer’s end. When his holiday dreamboat Will Tavares ghosts him, Ollie regretfully lets him go. Until, that is, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and moved across the country, and he finds none other than Will Tavares at his new high-school. Will isn’t “out” at school – he isn’t even nice. This is a boy-meets-boy spin on the Grease storyline, and it’s a must-read for anyone who ever pined for their first love.

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee

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Noah Ramirez has painted himself into a bit of a corner. His blog – Meet Cute Diary – is a collection of real queer love stories and trans happy-ever-afters… only they’re all fake. Noah has made them all up. “What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe”, and now a troll has exposed the truth. There are a number of logical, rational ways to handle this disaster, so naturally Noah chooses to start fake-dating Drew, a “real” queer romance to convince his followers that it is possible. What could go wrong?

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours - Michael Cunningham - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You can see the evolution of queer love stories across the three generations depicted in The Hours. Virginia Woolf (yes, based on the real-life writer) is forced to keep her Sapphic feelings hidden, barely daring to express them in private let alone in public. Then there’s Laura, a 1940s housewife for whom a clandestine expression of her true desires represents escape from her stifling life of domesticity. And finally, there’s Clarissa, who lives a full and open life in love with her partner in 1990s New York. Really, though, the true queer love story in The Hours is that of Clarissa and her best friend, Richard – they could have been lovers (sexuality being fluid and all), but instead they prioritised their bond of friendship, which lasted a lifetime. Read my full review of The Hours here.

Simon Versus The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

SImon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Simon Versus The Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of Gen Z’s most iconic queer love stories. Simon reaches out to an anonymous poster on his high school’s Tumblr page (yes, times have changed), and they begin exchanging emails. When Simon is blackmailed, with a bully threatening to out him and his still-anonymous online pen pal, Simon has to figure out what’s most important, getting what he wants or keeping others from getting hurt. The identity of Simon’s crush will keep you guessing right up until the end, but there’s no doubt as to the heady passion of their youthful first-love.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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

Arthur Less is sure that he is “the first homosexual to ever grow old”. He finds himself suddenly single, dumped by his long-time (much-younger) fuck-buddy for a more age-appropriate suitor. And now they’re getting married. And they’ve invited Arthur to the wedding. What’s Arthur to do? Concoct a scheme to avoid attending, of course! Arthur doesn’t intend to find himself in his trip around the world, but of course he does – and he finds true love, too. (Bonus: Less is one of the few queer love stories I’ve found that won a Pulitzer Prize!) Read my full review of Less here.

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

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In The Charm Offensive, “disgraced tech wunderkind” Charlie Winshaw needs to rehabilitate his image. How better than to re-make himself as Prince Charming for the millions of viewers of reality dating show Ever After? He’s relying on producer Dev Deshpande to make him look good – though that’s easier said than done. On screen, Charlie is stiff, awkward, and clearly a fish out of water among the female contestants. Off screen, sparks are flying between him and Dev. This sweet romantic comedy is great fun, and also prompts us to think about when and how queer love stories are told.

Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters

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Detransition Baby is certainly one of the more complex queer love stories on this list – but if you can follow, it’s so, so worth it! Reese believes she’s on the cusp of living the kind of life generations of trans women have only dreamed about: decent job, New York apartment, and the love of her life… until her girlfriend decides to detransition, and return to life as Ames. Oh, and he knocks up his (cis) boss, into the bargain. Can the three of them figure out how to make a family out of this mess? This is a truly beautiful story about family, commitment, and rolling with the punches.

Love, Hate & Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Love, Hate & Clickbait - Liz Bowery - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Thom is a political consultant: suave, manipulative, and calculating. Clay is a data analyst, and basically the complete opposite: awkward, lanky, and new to politicking. In Love, Hate & Clickbait, their boss – a California governor and future presidential candidate – forces them to pretend for the cameras that they’re dating, to cover for her own homophobic gaffe. You’ll think you can see where this one is going, but this queer love story has some surprises still in store for you! Read my full review of Love, Hate & Clickbait here.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Here’s one of the wonderful queer love stories you’ve definitely seen all over #Bookstagram: Red, White & Royal Blue. Imagine if American’s First Son fell in love with the Prince of Wales – what could possibly go wrong? In McQuiston’s debut, Alex Claremont-Diaz and Prince Henry find out (spoiler: a whole hell of a lot can go wrong, but it’s definitely worth it). These two heartthrobs, despite their shaky start, seem made for each other. Their cute banter and quiet yearnings are a true delight to read. Pick this one up when your faith in love (or politics) has been shaken, and you’ll find it restored quick smart! Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

What’s The Difference Between Autobiography And Memoir?

For about as long as we’ve been making up stories about other people, we’ve been telling our own stories, too. There are two main book genres for people writing about their own lives: autobiography and memoir. Autobiography comes from Greek, translating roughly to “self life write”, while memoir comes from the French mémoire, meaning memory or reminiscence. It’s easy to smush these two categories together (as I do when categorising my reviews), but they’re actually quite distinct… most of the time. Here’s my guide to the difference between autobiography and memoir (and all of the exceptions to the rules).

What's The Difference Between Autobiography And Memoir? - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Similarities Between Autobiography and Memoir

You’d be forgiven for thinking autobiographies and memoirs are pretty much the same thing. Both are shelved in the non-fiction section. Both contain stories about the author’s own life, written from the author’s perspective (and here’s the first of many exceptions-to-the-rule: sometimes authors play with convention, like Carmen Maria Machado cleverly using second-person in In The Dream House).

So, if both types of book are authors telling their own story, what’s the difference between autobiography and memoir?

Subject: Autobiography vs Memoir

This key difference between autobiography and memoir comes down to the popularity and/or notoriety of the author.

Autobiographies are typically written by/about people of note, people who have made a significant contribution to public life or history, people with long Wikipedia entries.

Often, autobiographies are written with the assistance of a ghost writer (especially for celebrities who aren’t writers themselves, such as sports stars and political figures). This helps ground their perspective and keep the narrative on track.

Memoirs, on the other hand, can be written by just about anyone. In fact, some of my favourite memoirs have been written by people we might otherwise never have heard of (e.g., Educated by Tara Westover). If someone has some kind of life experience that would be interesting or resonant for others, they’re well placed to write a memoir.

The fuzzy grey area in between this definition are professional memoirists. Writers like David Sedaris have made their name through writing about their own lives, even though they never escaped North Korea or lived in the White House. David Sedaris has achieved the level of popularity/notoriety that would normally warrant an autobiography, but his books are still definitively memoirs because of their other features.

Focus: Autobiography vs Memoir

A related difference between autobiography and memoir is the focus of the author’s story.

An autobiography’s main focus is presenting the facts and historical context of the subject’s life. The view is usually quite broad, taking into account any number of aspects and points of interest.

A memoir, on the other hand, is more narrow in focus (or, at least, it can be). A memoir is focused more on the author’s feelings and personal experience of events.

To put it in terms of the five Ws, an autobiography would usually focus on the what/when/who questions, while a memoir might focus on why/how.

Timeline: Autobiography vs Memoir

Maybe the easiest-to-spot difference between autobiography and memoir is their timeline.

An autobiography typically covers the subject’s whole life, starting from birth (or even earlier). That’s why the best autobiographies are written later in the subject’s life, once they’ve done most of the interesting stuff they’re going to do. They also usually cover events in a linear chronological order, following the natural progression of life and time (though, as always, there are exceptions).

Memoirs are a lot more flexible in terms of their timeline. They might cover most of a subject’s life, or only a few years – even just a few weeks or days. Memoirs are anchored by key events in the subject’s life, so they can skip over the irrelevant stuff that came before or after. (So, bonus: a well-written memoir is almost always much shorter than a well-written autobiography.)

Tone: Autobiography vs Memoir

The final – and most difficult to define – difference between autobiography and memoir is the tone.

Basically: the vibes are different.

Autobiographies – with their neat chronological timeline and focus on facts – tend to be more formal in tone, and more traditional in style.

Memoirs can be formal too… but they can also be very informal, reflective in tone, even totally bizarre and experimental.

A reader of autobiographies would probably be put off by the casual/conversational/dialectic tone of many memoirs. A reader of memoirs would likely find a lot of autobiographies too stilted and solemn.

But as I said, this is the most difficult difference between autobiography and memoir to define, and there are far too many exceptions to call it a hard-and-fast rule. Nancy Wake’s autobiography was very laid back in style, while Chanel Miller’s memoir was quite serious, for instance. So, it’s really no use trying to judge the difference between autobiography and memoir based on tone alone.

The Main Difference Between Autobiography and Memoir

Ultimately, the main difference between autobiography and memoir is whether the publisher prints “autobiography” or “memoir” on the cover.

Normally, bookshops – and book reviewers, like me! – will shelve them together, because these sub-genres have more in common than they do otherwise.

What are your favourite autobiographies or memoirs? Tell us in the comments!

40 Best Oscar Wilde Quotes

I’m not quite sure there has ever been a pithy wit quite like Oscar Wilde’s. Reading his work is to have your highlighter in hand, covering the page with it, as every line is quotable. It’s a travesty that he didn’t live in the age of Twitter – his feed would have been straight fire. I reckon there’s an apt Oscar Wilde quote for every occasion, and this is my chance to prove it. Here are 40 of the best Oscar Wilde quotes.

40 Best Oscar Wilde Quotes - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Funny Oscar Wilde Quotes

Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.

An Ideal Husband (1895)

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune… to lose both seems like carelessness.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895)

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

The Relation Of Dress To art (1885)

I can resist everything except temptation.

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

A poet can survive everything but a misprint.

The Children Of The Poets (1886)

To win back my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I wouldn’t do – except take exercise, get up early, or be a useful member of the community.

A Woman Of No Importance (1893)

He is really not so ugly after all, provided, of course, that one shuts one’s eyes, and does not look at him.

The Birthday Of The Infanta (1892)

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895)

One can survive everything nowadays except death.

Oscariana (1907)

Inspiring Oscar Wilde Quotes

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

An Ideal Husband (1895)

The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.

The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891)

Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.

The Critic As Artist (1891)

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.

The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891)

Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.

The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891)

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

The Critic As Artist (1891)

Don’t imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or possessing external things. Your perfection is inside of you. If only you could realise that, you would not want to be rich. Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you.

The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891)

Oscar Wilde Quotes About Love, Marriage, and Sex

Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.

A Woman Of No Importance (1893)

In married life, three is company, and two is none.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895)

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring.

The Epigrams Of Oscar Wilde

The number of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895)

Women have become too brilliant. Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman… Or the want of it in a man.

A Woman Of No Importance (1893)

If we men married the women we deserved, we should have a very bad time of it.

An Ideal Husband (1895)

Oscar Wilde Quotes About Society and Friendship

It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal.

The Portrait Of Mr W. H. (1889)

My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people’s.

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1890)

Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (1887)

The growing influence of women is the one reassuring thing in our political life.

A Woman Of No Importance (1893)

The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.

Phrases And Philosophies For The Use Of The Young (1894)

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895)

Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is by far the best ending for one.

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1890)

Resonant Oscar Wilde Quotes

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

The Portrait Of Mr W. H. (1889)

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891)

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

All art is immoral.

Intentions (1891)

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891)

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

The Critic As Artist (1891)

Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.

The Soul Of Man Under Socialism (1891)

It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895)

10 Books About Low-Stakes Problems

I don’t know about you, but if I’ve had a bad day or a hard week, it’s tough to unwind with a book that has life-or-death stakes. There’s a lot of pressure on authors to “ramp up the stakes” of their stories, as though the only way we readers could be compelled to read on is if we’re worried the world might end before the epilogue. The thing is, the truly masterful writers out there can make the low-stakes problems of their characters gripping without an adrenaline rush, and keep us reading while soothing and entertaining us. Here are some of my favourite books about low-stakes problems.

10 Books About Low-Stakes Problems - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Important note: I started feeling super-guilty as I was putting this list together, as if I were minimalising or trivialising the problems of the characters in these books (and, by extension, minimalising or trivialising the real-life problems of readers that mirror them). Low-stakes problems can still be stressful and awful! Your concerns are valid, I promise! To me, “low-stakes” doesn’t mean “not important” or “silly”, just not life-and-death and/or easy for me personally to read about.

Loner by Georgina Young

Loner - Georgina Young - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Loner explores the anxieties and complexities of contemporary youth in a way that feels realistic and grounded. Basically, it’s a book about the weird in-between time after high school but before Real Life. Lona’s big problem is that she doesn’t really know who she is, and she doesn’t really know what the heck she’s doing with herself. Surely, we’ve all been there… Being an introvert in a world built for extroverts and slowly figuring it out doesn’t make for life-or-death dramatics, but it’s great fodder for books about low-stakes problems. Read my full review of Loner here.

There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

There's No Such Thing As An Easy Job - Kikuko Tsumura - Keeping Up With The Penguins

2020 was a year of very high-stakes problems, which is why There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job was such a welcome respite. It managed to capture the mood without fuelling the fire of existential dread. It’s the story of a young woman who wants a job that’s close to home and not too taxing, a 2020 mood if there ever was one. Each chapter is devoted to a different “easy” job she takes on, each with its own unique set of at-times farcical challenges. It was translated into English from the original Japanese by Polly Barton (#NameTheTranslator!). Read my full review of There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job here.

In A New York Minute by Kate Spencer

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Have you ever clicked on one of those viral videos: “This woman’s dress ripped on the subway, you won’t believe what happens next!”-type of videos? Well, in In A New York Minute, Franny and Hayes find themselves the stars of one such video, recognised as the #SubwayQTs all over their city. Only they don’t know each other, and if first impressions are any indication, they don’t care to. Will they be able to make their real-life relationship into one worthy of all the online attention? Will Franny be able to parlay their online popularity into a successful business? Read my full review of In A New York Minute here.

Julie And Julia by Julie Powell

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Julie Powell’s life in the early ’00s was a bit of a bummer. On the verge of existential crisis, she did what so many of us do: she sought out a Project, and she found it in her mother’s battered copy of Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Julie And Julia is one of the few memoirs about low-stakes problems, based on Powell’s blog about her attempt to cook every one of Julia Child’s recipes in just a year. Even though she has Big Stuff going on in her life, she takes the pressure and deals with it by proxy, cooking up a storm, which is a welcome relief. Read my full review of Julie And Julia here.

Happy Endings by Thien-Kim Lam

Happy Endings - Thien-Kim Lam - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Romances are great books about low-stakes problems; usually, the will-they-or-won’t-they tension is as bad as it gets. In Happy Endings, though, the couple are tearing each other’s clothes off from the beginning. Their real problem is that they’re each trying to get their respective businesses off the ground, and it’s solved by finding a surprising synergy between their talents: selling sex toys with demonstrations in a soul food restaurant. Their relationship is pretty much a foregone conclusion, so with just the businesses to contend with, it makes for a fun low-stakes read. Read my full review of Happy Endings here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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

Arthur Less surely doesn’t see his own problems as low-stakes in Less. He fears he is “the first homosexual to ever grow old”. His boy-toy dumped him, found a more age-appropriate suitor, and got engaged. And now, Arthur Less has received an invitation to the wedding. He has no choice but to accept every other invitation to every half-baked literary engagement that’ll have him, no matter where they are in the world, if only to save himself the shame of attending the wedding and watching the love of his life walk down the aisle to someone else. It’s farcical, it’s ridiculous, and it’s a brilliant book. Read my full review of Less here.

The Importance Of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Who among us hasn’t faked a reason to escape a tiresome situation? The Importance Of Being Earnest is basically the origin of “my mum says no”. Two men both have their own custom-made long-held standing excuses to leave home: for John, it’s his ragamuffin “brother” Ernest, and for Algernon, it’s his sickly “friend” Bunbury. These ruses work well for years, until a woman falls in love with John and swears that she would only ever marry a man named Ernest, and Algernon poses as the fake-brother to win the affections of John’s ward. Oscar Wilde knew that low-stakes problems could make great drama – he even gave the play the subtitle, “a trivial comedy for serious people”. Read my full review of The Importance Of Being Earnest here.

The Helpline by Katherine Collette

The Helpline - Katherine Collette - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Helpline is a charming, heart-warming story for anyone who loves a good oddball protagonist (and books about low-stakes problems). Germaine is in her late-thirties, she’s far better with numbers than she is with people, and she recently learned (the hard way!) that there’s very little demand in the job market for senior mathematicians. She’s forced to accept the only job she can get, answering calls to the local council’s Senior Citizens Helpline, and soon finds herself drawn into a web of petty corruption and stubborn oldies. Read my full review of The Helpline here.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Like most Jane Austen novels, Northanger Abbey is a romance, with the marriage and honour of the heroine at stake – really, any of them would be at home in a list of books about low-stakes problems, but this one is the most fun. In addition to the love triangle, where the wholesome hero contends with the charismatic wealthy villain for the naive heroine’s affections, Austen throws in her unique satirical take on the tropes of Gothic fiction for good measure. Really, the biggest risk facing the characters of Northanger Abbey is that their own gossip will get them in the end. Read my full review of Northanger Abbey here.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All The Boys I've Loved Before - Jenny Han - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s only as a grown-up (relatively speaking) that I can concede that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of the best young adult books about low-stakes problems. As a teenager, it would have been a horror story, a terrifying prospect that would have fuelled my nightmares well past the end of adolescence. In reality, Lara Jean’s predicament – that her secret love letters to her crushes were actually sent to them, and she was forced to fake-date the hottest guy in school for a while – isn’t life or death. It makes for a marvellous read, though! Read my full review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before here.

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