Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

My 2021 To-Be-Read List

This might come as a shock, Keeper Upperers, but here’s the truth: my to-be-read list is out of control. Like every true booklover, I accumulate books way faster than I can read them. Often, I really struggle to prioritise, because I want to read them ALL in equal measure. As a little resolution-in-advance, I sat myself down with my spreadsheet (yes, there’s a spreadsheet) and forced myself to make a list of books I am definitely, definitely, definitely going to read and review in 2021. You can hold me to it!

My 2021 To-Be-Read List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Reminder: any time you buy something from a link on a Keeping Up With The Penguins post, I get a tiny commission that helps me add to my TBR!

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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

I was captivated by the blurb of A Tale For The Time Being from the first time I heard it. It’s narrated by two characters: a teenage Japanese American girl in Tokyo, who keeps a diary, and a Japanese American writer who finds the diary washed up on shore some time after the 2011 tsunami. Everything else I’ve heard about it just makes me want to read it more: Ozeki was the first practicing Zen Buddhist to be nominated for the Booker Prize, it’s her “most ambitious” novel, and it’s full of her “signature humour”.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement - Ian McEwan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Atonement was first published in 2001, which means 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of its release. Seems like a fitting time to finally get to it, eh? McEwan has a huge back-list, but Atonement is the one I’ve been meaning to read for the longest (it certainly seems to be the one for which he’s best known). It’s a WWII novel, which normally I’d shy away from, but it sounds like it has a really compelling family drama story at the centre. Plus, I need to read it in order to add the movie to my to-be-watched list!

Update: I did it! Read my full review of Atonement here.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s funny how the novel that best encapsulates the Vibe of 2020 was written years before it began: My Year Of Rest And Relaxation. Ottessa Moshfegh’s writing blew me away, her unique talent for crafting female characters in particular. So, I immediately set out on a hunt to find her previous novel, Eileen; it’s been sitting on my to-read shelf for nearly a year now. Now I hope, given the blurb (an unhappy 20-something woman who works in a prison), it isn’t equally prescient of what’s to come in 2021… but even if it is, I’m sure it’ll be a good read.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises by Fredrik Backman

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

I loved A Man Called Ove so much that I’ve been buying every other book by Fredrik Backman on sight. The one I was looking forward to reading most of all was My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises (translated slightly differently in some editions). It’s the story of a young girl who loses her grandmother, and slowly discovers more about her grandmother’s life and the lives she touched – sounds hilarious and heart-warming all at once, right? The thing is, I lost my own beloved grandmother in November, and I haven’t been able to face reading anything that might remind me of her ever since. Hopefully, 2021 will see the wound heal over, and I’ll be able to enjoy this one as planned.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’ve fallen into a fun pattern of reading one Jane Austen each year: first Emma, then Pride and Prejudice, and this year Sanditon (her final, incomplete novel). I’ve got a couple more to go, and I think 2021 might be the year for Northanger Abbey. It was the first manuscript that Austen completed, but it wasn’t published until after her death – a Gothic satire novel about a young woman, Catherine Morland, coming of age. It’s the “most youthful and optimistic” of Austen’s novels, apparently, and I reckon we could all do with a bit of that next year…

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room - Emma Donoghue - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It can’t all be super-literary all the time: I want to read a few fun page-turners in 2021, too. That’s why I’m bumping Room by Emma Donoghue up towards the top of the to-be-read list. It sounds really gripping, sad, and scary (what a combo!). The story was inspired by the Fritzl case (in which an Austrian woman and her children were held hostage for years), told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who was born and has spent his whole life in one small room.

The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Along the lines of my Austen thing, I also try to read a notorious book each year for Banned Books Week. One that I’ve been meaning to try for ages is The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian. It’s told from the perspective of 14-year-old Junior, a budding cartoonist who has spent his life on the Spokane Indian Reservation but now attends an all-white high school. It’s been repeatedly challenged and banned for a variety of reasons: “alcohol, poverty, bullying, violence, sexuality, profanity and slurs related to homosexuality and mental disability”. All sounds good to me!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One of the most-often-recommended-to-me-books-on-my-to-read-list is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I can’t quite explain why I haven’t got to it yet, except to say… I always mean to! It sounds deliciously Gothic and camp, with just the right drop of melodrama. An unnamed young woman fears she will always live in the shadow of her husband’s first wife, Rebecca, now dead but still beloved by the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers and the rest of the Manderley household staff. And once I’ve finally read it, I can watch the acclaimed adaptation released earlier this year!

Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay - Elena Ferrante - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My sojourn through the Neapolitan novels will continue in 2021 with Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay, the third installment of Elena Ferrante’s brilliant quartet. If the first two (My Brilliant Friend, and The Story Of A New Name) are anything to go by, it’s going to be amazing. They’re all translated into English by the inimitable Ann Goldstein. The second book ended with Lena as a newly published author, and her long-time crush Nino in the audience at her first reading. I can’t wait to see what happens next for her!

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Too Much Lip - Melissa Lucashenko - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Alright, this one isn’t so much a to-be-read as a to-be-finished: I was lucky enough to study an extract of Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko, and enjoyed it so thoroughly that I went out and bought the whole book to read in full. It’s a “dark comedy about ordinary people”, and it won the Miles Franklin award in 2019 for the “highest literary merit” and “presenting Australian life in any of its phases”. It’s rare that a book by an Indigenous Australian wins our country’s most prestigious literary prize, and even rarer still that a funny book wins it, so that alone is enough to make it a must-read!

Update: I got there! Read my full review of Too Much Lip here.


  1. I just got a copy of “Rebecca” a few weeks ago and it’s in my queue of books for 2021 as well!

    I’m still working on reading “Born a Crime”, and I’ve got a goal of trying to finish it by the New Year.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 18, 2020 at 8:44 AM

      Oooh, looking forward to hearing what you think of Rebecca! And good luck with polishing off your 2020 TBR 😉

  2. You should have read Rebecca with us in the book group buddy read! It’s great, I’ll be interested in your thoughts.
    Atonement is terrific, the book and the movie and same with Room, the movie was just as good as the book.
    I am yet to read beyond book 2 in the Neapolitan series, mostly because book two was a letdown for me in comparison to book 1.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 18, 2020 at 1:06 PM

      Argh, I know – I’m kicking myself in retrospect! I’m so terrible at getting my shit together for read-alongs or buddy reads, even book clubs 😅 But thoughts will be coming soon! And I’ll let you know if things pick up in the third installment of the Neapolitan novels… 😉

  3. My Grandmother Sends Her Regards… was delightful. You’ll love Rebecca. Ruth Ozeki’s My Year in Meats made me turn vegetarian for a while. I’ll have to try her newest book again.

  4. “Rebecca” is an amazing book and in my opinion, has one of the most haunting and captivating first lines ever. Also, there’s a movie “Rebecca” just released on netflix

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 20, 2020 at 4:46 PM

      Yes! I’ve been holding off on watching the adaptation until I’ve read the book, so I really need to get to it soon…

  5. “Rebecca” and “Atonement” are two of my all-time favourite books! I discovered “Atonement” late last year in a street library — the same edition as yours. It’s an incredibly masterful book, and moving too. I nearly cried at one point (you’ll know when you get to it).

    I also loved “My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises”.

  6. LOVE Northanger Abbey and Rebecca! Hope you enjoy them!

    I’ve been meaning to read A Man Called Ove for the last couple years but still haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe 2021 will FINALLY be the year. 🤞🏻

  7. I want to read A Tale for the Time Being this year too! Should we make a pact? I also have the Part-Time Indian on my shelf and want to read more Backmann…we are like reading list twins, at least 30%.

    You’re gonna love Northanger Abbey, it pokes fun at superstition and gullibility and as such it’s perfect for our time, but ends up with a cute romance. I think you’ll love Rebecca as well — not such a happy ending, but a wowza of a narrative.

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