Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

My Unpopular Opinions About Popular Books

We all have them: unpopular opinions about popular books. Whether it’s a classic that just didn’t quite work for us, or a best-seller that made us roll our eyes, there are books we’d rather not admit we didn’t love in mixed company. Well, I’m ripping the bandage off our collective secret shame today by sharing my very own unpopular opinions about popular books. Have at it!

My Unpopular Opinions About Popular Books - Book Discussion - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You’ll be popular with me if you use an affiliate link on this page to buy a book – I’ll earn a small fee for referring you.

It Ends With Us actually does a good job of countering myths about domestic violence

Criticism of It Ends With Us – some of it from very authoritative sources – stems from the view that it “romanticises” domestic violence. As I read it, though, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way she depicted the insidiousness of violence in this kind of relationship.

People don’t fall in love with people who beat them or are cruel to them. They fall in love with someone who seems wonderful, who treats them well, and makes them feel loved and safe. It’s only later, often very gradually, that violence occurs.

To ignore the romance of relationships that turn violent is, ultimately, dangerous. If we’re only on alert for bad guys under the bed or behind the closet door, we’ll miss the danger that’s right in front of us.

Read more (with additional context and caveats) about domestic violence in It Ends With Us here.

The Sun Also Rises is heteronormative nonsense

I realise I’m hardly blowing your mind by proposing that Hemingway was a drunk misogynist – but the number of times I’ve expressed this opinion to shocked countenances warrants its inclusion.

The Sun Also Rises basically boils down to a veteran who got his dick blown off bemoaning the fact that he can never fuck the woman he loves (and, as such, can never make her love him).

And that’s how we know that Hemingway never went down on a single woman in his life.

Seriously, the notion that there is no way to fuck without a full and functioning penis is completely ridiculous – as is the idea, by extension, that a woman can’t return your romantic feelings if you can’t have sex with her.

For all his faults, Hemingway still managed to write some brilliant pieces. This just isn’t one of them.

Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

The Great Gatsby is not the definitive Jazz Age novel

If you’re a regular Keeper Upperer, you’re probably sick of hearing me bang on about this – so I’ll forgive you if you skip down the page. This unpopular opinion has become more of my personality than I care to admit.

The thing is, The Great Gatsby stinks. The prose is overwrought. The metaphors are clumsy. And the plot is just… ugh. A rich guy gets shot after the woman he’s been stalking for years commits vehicular homicide, then his mate has a sook that nobody comes to the funeral. The narrator thinks he’s the first person to discover that drinking with pretty girls is fun. I mean, why do people like this novel?

Especially given that there is a much, much better alternative out there: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Most people don’t realise that it was a brilliant book before it was turned into an iconic film. I suspect that’s because Anita Loos wrote funny stories instead of tragic ones, irreverent stories instead of earnest ones, and interrogated the inner lives of women instead of men.

She deserves to be a household name, dammit – I won’t rest, etc etc.

Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

Read my full review of (the far superior) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

Ulysses is a better read than Mrs Dalloway

I suppose I have to hand in my feminist card for this one, but I stand by it. Even though it’s longer and whinier and more self-indulgent, Ulysses is a better read than Mrs Dalloway. I got more out of reading it, and think back to it more often. It had a much stronger sense of place, and much more ambition. Woolf basically just wanted to “top” Joyce anyway, because she thought Ulysses sucked, whereas Joyce’s motivations were a little more organic.

I’ll prove it: read the opening chapter of Mrs Dalloway alongside the final chapter of Ulysses (the best of each, in my view), and tell me which one is more powerful.

Read my full review of Ulysses here.

Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

Not every Dan Brown book is terrible

Everyone loves to shit on The Da Vinci Code, using it as short-hand for the pulpy mass-produced adventure thrillers that you buy in an airport for lack of better options – but that’s not all Dan Brown has written. It’s just his most “popular” book.

His earlier novels, Digital Fortress and Deception Point, are much better in my view, and I’ve got copies of both on my shelves (not in pride of place exactly, but still, they’re there). They’re not great works of literature, they probably wouldn’t stand up to intense critical scrutiny, but they’re cracking good reads that made me think. Is there really any more we can ask of them?

The Hunger Games movies are better than the books

I’m probably angering a legion of millennial young adult readers here, but so be it. I’ve read endless complaints about the Hunger Games films – that they cut out Peeta’s disability, they skipped important scenes, they added stuff that wasn’t necessary – and yet none of them have been able to convince me.

The thing is, the narration of the Hunger Games books is infuriating. The mind of a teenage girl isn’t a fun or interesting place to be when the writing isn’t sophisticated and superb. I lived through it once, I don’t need to do it again in fiction. Katniss Everdeen’s train of thought drove me nuts at times, and with the film format, I got to thoroughly enjoy Suzanne Collins’s dystopia without having to put up with the protagonist’s thoughts about it.

In fact, I enjoyed the films so much – not just the story, but the costumes! the staging! – that I’ve watched them multiple times. They’re comfort watches for me, the same way that the books are comfort reads for so many others my age.

Read my full review of The Hunger Games here.


  1. To this day I can’t talk to people about The Kite Runner because I hated it so much. 🤣

  2. omggg i am a newbie to your blog and let me say I LOVE everything about it!!! thank youuuu for your writing..
    this following comment had me giggling at work and had to contain myself! but i did share it with my fellow coworker who is also a reader and she couldn’t stop laughing! :

    “And that’s how we know that Hemingway never went down on a single woman in his life.”

    like,, very well said 👏🏻 👏🏻 👏🏻

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