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20 Books Set In The Deep South

The American Deep South captivates us in fiction, for many reasons. I think it’s the combination of sunshine and dark history that draws us in. Even all the way on the other side of the world (Sydney, Australia), I find myself tearing through books set in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina and feeling absolutely transported. Here are twenty books set in the Deep South that y’all should really read (see what I did there?).

20 Books Set In The Deep South - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Harper Lee was an Alabama native, so it’s no surprise she chose the rural town of Maycomb, AL for her only true novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. This is one of the classic books set in the Deep South, read across the world and loved by people of all ages and backgrounds. Many of the events Lee depicts in this novel resemble things that actually happened in her hometown (Monroeville), and the “boy next door” character was based on her own childhood friend, Truman Capote. And, of course, it’s impossible to ignore that many of the themes in this book reflect the ugly history of racism and oppression in the Deep South. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

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“In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.” – isn’t that a cracker of an opening line? Even though it doesn’t explicitly reveal that The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is set in the Deep South, it definitely hints at the haunting nature of the story set in a small Georgian mill town. Or, really, it’s multiple stories, of characters yearning to escape – especially Mick Kelly, an avatar of sorts for McCullers, a young girl who rejects gender norms and dreams of playing the piano. This Oprah’s Book Club pick will transport you, moving you in more ways than one. Read my full review of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter here.

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil by John Berendt

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Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil is one of the most iconic books set in the Deep South, as well as a classic of the true crime genre. John Berendt truly immerses himself (and the reader) in the scene of the crime, stretching far beyond the details of a murder to craft careful portraits of the Savannah residents tangentially linked to it. This book showcases the diversity to be found in the South if you care enough to look closely: drag queens, society ladies, antiques dealers, rednecks, voodoo priestesses… all of them with plenty of dirty laundry that Berendt is just dying to air out.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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How’s this for a(nother) great opening line: “You better not never tell nobody but God.” Chills, right? It’s a powerful opener for a powerful book, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. It sets the stage for a story told largely through letters to God, from a black woman named Celie who grows up in Georgia. When she starts writing these letters, she is just fourteen years old, and yet she has already seen and experienced a lifetime’s worth of hardship. While life has historically sucked for black women in the Deep South, Celie’s is particularly tough – but through her relationships with other women, and her inner reserves of strength, she comes out the other side. Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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The Vanishing Half begins in Mallard, a small Southern town primarily populated by light-skinned black Americans “who would never be white but refused to be treated like Negroes”. It’s the hometown of twin girls who grow up together, but whose lives diverge in surprising and significant ways. One grows up to “pass” as white, while the other marries a dark-skinned man and has a dark-skinned daughter. Through this multi-generational family saga, Brit Bennett plays out the domino effect of reductive labels, and the echoing impact of internalised racism across generations. Read my full review of The Vanishing Half here.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

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South Carolina might seem like an unlikely setting for a supernatural teenage romp concluding with a literal exorcism, but in Grady Hendrix’s hands, My Best Friend’s Exorcism just works. It turns out demonic possession makes for a fascinating metaphor, and you can read a lot of meanings into it. It’s about coming-of-age, obviously, but also the frustrations of living in a small Southern town, the widening wealth divide between the working and middle classes, and the double standards when it comes to sex and gender. Hendrix makes Deep South suburbia every bit as terrifying as the darkest urban paranormal horror story. Read my full review of My Best Friend’s Exorcism here.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

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Jesmyn Ward has written several books set in the Deep South – she’s definitely one of the most powerful contemporary author voices to come out of Mississippi in the past while. The one for which she’s best known, at this point in her career, is Sing, Unburied, Sing. The story starts with thirteen-year-old Jojo, figuring out what it means to be a man. His role models are his dignified Black grandfather and his absent white father – coupled with the inconsistent presence of his mother, Leonie, in his life, it’s a confusing mix. Ward’s third novel is dark and compelling, exploring race, gender, and inherited trauma across generations through an odyssey across rural Mississippi.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

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William Faulkner’s writing often sounds a lot like drunk texting, but he won the Nobel Prize For Literature in 1949, so clearly there’s more to it than confused rambling. As I Lay Dying is the story of a Southern woman’s death, and a perverse kind of funeral procession as her family transports her coffin across the Deep South so that she can be buried in her hometown. It’s narrated by no fewer than fifteen characters, and all of them have something a bit crazy going on, aside from the matriarch’s death. It’s a challenging read, but it’s also one of the defining books set in the Deep South, so it’s worth checking out. Read my full review of As I Lay Dying here.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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An American Marriage is the book that Oprah says “redefined the traditional American love story”. It’s about Roy and Celestial, a middle-class Black couple living in Atlanta. They are educated, employed, upwardly mobile – pretty much the exact opposite of the stereotype of young black lovers fighting poverty or substance addiction on the mean streets. Still, even though they’re newlyweds and they’ve “done everything right”, their lives are torn apart when Roy is accused of sexually assaulting a woman. He’s sent to prison, and Celestial is forced to confront a life very different to the one she had envisaged for them. Read my full review of An American Marriage here.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone-With-The-Wind-Margaret-Mitchell-Book-Laid-on-Wooden-Table-Keeping-Up-With-The-Penguins

Ah, Gone With The Wind. If your feelings about this one are complicated, you’re not alone. It’s a white-washed, rose-coloured caricature of a very dark period in America’s history, one that skips over anything uncomfortable or unpleasant about slavery and plantation life in favour of lovely dresses and romantic embraces and spunky (white) anti-heroes. And yet, it’s been so widely-read and made such a huge cultural impact that any list of books set in the Deep South is incomplete without it. Read it for the epic that it is, but take everything it represents about Southern life during the Civil War with the bitterest grain of salt.

Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice

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Anne Rice combines the best of the Deep South setting with classic gothic/paranormal horror in Interview With The Vampire – and it’s strangely sexy. Louis de Pointe du Lac was once a young Louisiana plantation owner, before he was driven mad with grief after the loss of his brother. In the throes of angst, he encountered Lestat de Lioncourt, a vampire who offers Louis companionship and eternal life. 200 years later, Louis tells his life story to a reporter, thus the book’s title. Follow Louis from Louisiana to New Orleans, across Austria and Transylvania, through Paris and into the darkest recesses of our basest impulses. Read my full review of Interview With The Vampire here.

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

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Bree is 38 years old, she uses canvas bags, she’s a former board member of several charities, and she’s a doting mother to two teenage daughters and a “surprise” infant son. Her perfect life in suburbia is shattered when she looks away for just a moment, and her son is taken. Then, the phone rings: “Go home. Tell no one. Do not call the police. Do not call your husband. Be at your house by 5:15pm or he’s gone for good.” It’s a fairly standard (if horrifying) opening for a high-octane mystery, but Jackson has a few surprises in store for readers of Mother May I. This is one of the most chilling and thought-provoking thriller books set in the Deep South. Read my full review of Mother May I here.

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

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In Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men, the character Willie Stark bears striking resemblance to the real-life Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long. They both earned themselves many political enemies (Long in the real world, Stark in the fictional one) while retaining huge popular appeal with their constituents. They also meet the same end, assassinated by a physician in the state capitol building. Even though the parallels are abundantly clear, Warren strenuously denied that he intended to honour Long through the Stark character, and also rejected the theory that he intended to declare support for the man’s assassination. In fact, Warren claimed that it was “never intended to be a book about politics” (which makes Deep South politics a strange choice of subject matter). Read my full review of All The King’s Men here.

Murder In Mississippi by John Safran

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Murder In Mississippi is actually titled God’ll Cut You Down for U.S. editions. John Safran explained that, while “Murder In Mississippi” sounds very exotic and interesting to us Aussies, for Americans it’s the equivalent of calling a book “Murder in New South Wales”. Whatever it’s called, this is a fascinating true crime story told by one of Australia’s most notorious pranksters. Safran fancied himself a Capote-style newshound, following the news of a white supremacist’s murder by a black man all the way to Mississippi. He thought he was going EXPOSE INJUSTICE and FIX RACISM… and, of course, nothing of the sort came to pass. Read my full review of Murder In Mississippi here.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

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Casey McQuiston is a bit of a storytelling chameleon, blending stories seamlessly into any setting. In their debut, it was the White House. In their follow-up, it was New York City. And now, in I Kissed Shara Wheeler, it’s a Catholic high school in Alabama – quite the change(s) of pace, don’t you think? Chloe Green has a hard time with her family’s relocation from California to the Deep South, but she channels her fears and frustrations into her quest to become valedictorian of her new school. Shara Wheeler is her main competition – until Shara kisses Chloe, and promptly disappears. This is a fun and hilarious rom-com, all the better for the queer desire at its heart and its Southern setting. Read my full review of I Kissed Shara Wheeler here.

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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Most people don’t even realise that Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda – the beloved queer YA romance novel – is actually set in the Deep South. So, here’s your FYI: the story takes place in mid-2010s suburban Atlanta. Understanding that actually makes the story richer, once you know the “big reveal”. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a cracker! Simon is a closeted teen who begins an anonymous pen-pal friendship with another secretly-gay student at his high-school. The identity house of cards could all come tumbling down, though, when a bully blackmails Simon by threatening to out him and his new friend – who Simon is developing feelings for, and he thinks the feeling is mutual, as long as their secrets stay safe.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

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Maybe the pageant scene isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Deep South, but it’s a captivating spectacle all the same. Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ takes that scene for its setting, a small Texas town where Willowdean Dixon is determined to take the crown as Miss Clover City. She doesn’t take after her former-beauty-queen mother when it comes to body size, but she’s determined to feel at home in her own skin. Alongside a cast of other unlikely characters, she faces down her fear in order to show the town (and herself) that she belongs on that stage just as much as anyone else. Read my full review of Dumplin’ here.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes Were Watching God is a book set in the Deep South about a woman’s search for respect, disguised as a woman’s search for love. Janie finds love and freedom with a poor man, in stark contrast to what is “expected” of her (not to mention available to her) in her rural Florida town. Her first two husbands offer her stability, which is comfort of a kind, but expected that she be defined by her marriage to them – in Tea Cake, she finds a man who wants her to have and be anything she chooses, and supports her regardless of his own role in her life. It’s a beautiful story of both love and devastation, connections and divides within the Black community. Read my full review of Their Eyes Were Watching God here.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Of all the books set in the Deep South that expose injustices and brutal racism, The Nickel Boys is the one sure to turn your stomach the most. The Pulitzer Prize judges called it “ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption” when they awarded him the 2020 Prize for Fiction (his second win, making him only the fourth writer to get the gong twice). The story begins with an investigation into the by-then defunct Nickel Academy, a “reform school” with a horrifying history. Bodies are found in unmarked graves, and former “students” slowly, tentatively, come forward to tell the truth of what happened to them there. This is a painfully accurate account of what happened to many children in some chapters of Deep South history. Read my full review of The Nickel Boys here.

Bonus: check out my full review of Colson Whitehead’s earlier novel, The Underground Railroad, here. It’s set (partially) in the Deep South, too!

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

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Susan Orlean has a knack for sniffing out delightfully niche true crime stories and spinning them into fascinating tales. In 1998, she published The Orchid Thief, “a true story of beauty and obsession” she found on the southern edge of Florida. It revolves around notorious horticulturalist John Laroche, and the illegal poaching of rare orchids – a much bigger trade than you’d think! Laroche found a legal loophole that he thought might let him get away with it, one “that he claimed allowed the Seminole natives to remove endangered species from the swamp”. But this story ends up stretching far beyond the bounds of the Deep South, where Laroche’s claims can’t protect him.

The Big List Of Author Birthdays

Literally what it says on the tin: a big list of author birthdays. I tracked down the birthday of every author I could think of, and put them all into one big list, just for you! If you can think of any author of note I’ve missed, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can add them in.

The Big List Of Author Birthdays - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Author Birthdays in January

1 January: E.M. Forster – Read my full review of A Passage To India here.
1 January: J.D. Salinger – Read my full review of The Catcher In The Rye here.

2 January: Andre Aciman – Read my full review of Call Me By Your Name here.

3 January: J.R.R. Tolkien

7 January: Zora Neale Hurston – Read my full review of Their Eyes Were Watching God here.

9 January: Simone de Beauvoir – Read my full review of She Came To Stay here.
9 January: Philippa Gregory – Read my full review of The Other Boleyn Girl here.
9 January: Wilbur Smith
9 January: Judith Krantz

11 January: Jasper Fforde – Read my full review of The Eyre Affair here.
11 January: Diana Gabaldon – Read my full review of Outlander here.

12 January: Jack London – Read my full review of The Call Of The Wild here.
12 January: Haruki Murakami
12 January: Julia Quinn – Read my full review of Bridgerton here.

17 January: Anne Brontë – Read my full review of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall here.
17 January: Emily M. Danforth – Read my full review of The Miseducation Of Cameron Post here.

19 January: Edgar Allan Poe

21 January: Casey McQuiston – Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

22 January: Stephen Graham Jones

24 January: Edith Wharton – Read my full review of The Age Of Innocence here.

25 January: Stephen Chbosky Read my full review of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower here.
25 January: Virginia Woolf – Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

27 January: Lewis Carroll – Read my full review of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland here.

29 January: Olga Tokarczuk
29 January: Anton Chekhov

30 January: Susannah Cahalan – Read my full review of The Great Pretender here.

31 January: Norman Mailer

Author Birthdays in February

2 February: James Joyce – Read my full review of Ulysses here.
2 February: Ayn Rand

7 February: Charles Dickens – Read my full review of David Copperfield here.
7 February: Karen Joy Fowler – Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

8 February: Rachel Cusk – Read my full review of Second Place here.
8 February: John Grisham

9 February: J.M. Coetzee
9 February: Alice Walker – Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

12 February: Judy Blume

13 February: Samantha Irby – Read my full review of Wow, No Thank You here.

18 February: Toni Morrison – Read my full review of Beloved here.

19 February: Jonathan Lethem – Read my full review of The Arrest here.
19 February: Carson McCullers – Read my full review of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter here.
19 February: Amy Tan – Read my full review of The Joy Luck Club here.
19 February: Jeff Kinney

20 February: Sally Rooney – Read my full review of Normal People here.

21 February: W.H. Auden
21 February: David Foster Wallace
21 February: Anaïs Nin – Read my full review of Delta of Venus here.

23 February: Bernard Cornwell

24 February: Gillian Flynn – Read my full review of Gone Girl here.
24 February: Yuval Noah Harari
24 February: Rainbow Rowell – Read my full review of Fangirl here.

25 February: Anthony Burgess – Read my full review of A Clockwork Orange here.

26 February: Victor Hugo

27 February: Joshilyn Jackson – Read my full review of Mother May I here.
27 February: John Steinbeck – Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

Author Birthdays in March

2 March: Dr Seuss

4 March: Khaled Hosseini – Read my full review of The Kite Runner here.

5 March: Sarah J. Maas

6 March: Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Read my full review of One Hundred Years Of Solitude here.

7 March: Anna Burns – Read my full review of Milkman here.
7 March: Bret Easton Ellis – Read my full review of American Psycho here.
7 March: E.L. James

8 March: Jeffrey Eugenides – Read my full review of Middlesex here.
8 March: Kenneth Grahame – Read my full review of The Wind In The WIllows here.

9 March: Lindy West

11 March: Douglas Adams – Read my full review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy here.

12 March: Jack Kerouac – Read my full review of On The Road here.
12 March: Maggie Nelson – Read my full review of The Argonauts here.
12 March: Ruth Ozeki – Read my full review of A Tale For The Time Being here.

19 March: Philip Roth – Read my full review of Portnoy’s Complaint here.

21 March: Oyinkan Braithwaite – Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

22 March: James Patterson

25 March: Gloria Steinem

26 March: Patrick Süskind

Author Birthdays in April

1 April: Jesmyn Ward

2 April: Sofie Laguna – Read my full review of Infinite Splendours here.

4 April: Maya Angelou – Read my full review of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings here.
4 April: Delia Owens

5 April: Caitlin Moran

6 April: Leigh Bardugo

8 April: Barbara Kingsolver – Read my full review of Demon Copperhead here.

12 April: Jon Krakauer

13 April: Samuel Beckett – Read my full review of Waiting For Godot here.
13 April: Michel Faber – Read my full review of Under The Skin here.

15 April: Jeffrey Archer
15 April: Henry James – Read my full review of The Golden Bowl here.

17 April: Nick Hornby

21 April: Charlotte Brontë – Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.

22 April: Janet Evanovich
22 April: Vladimir Nabokov

23 April: William Shakespeare
23 April: Trent Dalton

24 April: Sue Grafton

26 April: Anita Loos – Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

27 April: Patricia Lockwood – Read my full review of No One Is Talking About This here.

28 April: Harper Lee – Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.
28 April: Terry Pratchett – Read my full review of The Colour Of Magic here.
**Psst: if you’re scrolling through this list to look for which authors share your birthday, I don’t blame you. This is mine!

Author Birthdays in May

1 May: Joseph Heller – Read my full review of Catch-22 here.

5 May: Hank Green

7 May: Peter Carey – Read my full review of True History Of The Kelly Gang here.

8 May: Thomas Pynchon

9 May: Richard Adams – Read my full review of Watership Down here.

10 May: Jon Ronson

13 May: Daphne du Maurier – Read my full review of Rebecca here.

18 May: Lionel Shriver – Read my full review of We Need To Talk About Kevin here.

19 May: Nora Ephron – Read my full review of Heartburn here.
19 May: Jodi Picoult – Read my full review of My Sister’s Keeper here.

20 May: Ottessa Moshfegh – Read my full review of Lapvona here.

22 May: Arthur Conan Doyle – Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.

25 May: Robert Ludlam

27 May: Maggie O’Farrell – Read my full review of Instructions For A Heatwave here.

28 May: Muriel Barbery – Read my full review of The Elegance Of The Hedgehog here.
28 May: Patrick White
28 May: Bernardine Evaristo – Read my full review of Girl, Woman, Other here.
28 May: Ian Fleming

31 May: Walt Whitman

Author Birthdays in June

1 June: Colleen McCullough

2 June: Fredrik Backman – Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.
2 June: Thomas Hardy

5 June: Ken Follett
5 June: Rick Riordan

6 June: VC Andrews – Read my full review of Flowers In The Attic here.
6 June: Alexander Pushkin

7 June: Elizabeth Bowen – Read my full review of The Heat Of The Day here.
7 June: Adam Silvera – Read my full review of They Both Die At The End here.

8 June: Nino Haratischvili – Read my full review of The Eighth Life here.

9 June: Paul Beatty – Read my full review of The Sellout here.
9 June: Patricia Cornwell

10 June: Saul Bellow – Read my full review of The Adventures Of Augie March here.

12 June: Adam Kay

13 June: Audrey Niffenegger – Read my full review of The Time Traveler’s Wife here.

14 June: Harriet Beecher Stowe

16 June: Joyce Carol Oates
16 June: Andy Weir – Read my full review of The Martian here.
16 June: Evie Wyld – Read my full review of The Bass Rock here.

18 June: Richard Powers

19 June: Salman Rushdie

21 June: Ian McEwan – Read my full review of Atonement here.
21 June: Jean-Paul Sartre

22 June: Dan Brown

23 June: Markus Zusak – Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

25 June: George Orwell
25 June: Eric Carle

28 June: Kate Atkinson – Read my full review of Life After Life here.
28 June: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

29 June: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – Read my full review of The Little Prince here.

Author Birthdays in July

2 July: Hermann Hesse

3 July: Franz Kafka
3 July: Carmen Maria Machado – Read my full review of Her Body And Other Parties here.
3 July: Matt Haig – Read my full review of The Midnight Library here.

4 July: Nathaniel Hawthorne – Read my full review of The Scarlet Letter here.

6 July: Jonas Jonasson – Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.
6 July: Hilary Mantel

8 July: Janet Malcolm
8 July: Erin Morgenstern – Read my full review of The Starless Sea here.

9 July: Dean Koontz
9 July: Barbara Cartland

15 July: Clive Cussler

18 July: Elizabeth Gilbert
18 July: William Makepeace Thackeray – Read my full review of Vanity Fair here.
18 July: Hunter S. Thompson

20 July: Cormac McCarthy

21 July: Ernest Hemingway – Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

23 July: Raymond Chandler – Read my full review of The Big Sleep here.
23 July: Lauren Groff

24 July: Alexandre Dumas
24 July: Madeline Miller

26 July: Aldous Huxley – Read my full review of Brave New World here.

28 July: Beatrix Potter

30 July: Emily Brontë – Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.
30 July: Celeste Ng – Read my full review of Little Fires Everywhere here.

Author Birthdays in August

1 August: Herman Melville – Read my full review of Moby Dick here.

2 August: Isabel Allende

4 August: Tim Winton

5 August: David Baldacci

10 August: Suzanne Collins – Read my full review of The Hunger Games here.

11 August: Enid Blyton

12 August: Ann M. Martin

14 August: Danielle Steel
14 August: Sayaka Murata – Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

17 August: Jonathan Franzen

19 August: Samuel Richardson – Read my full review of Clarissa here.
19 August: Veronica Roth – Read my full review of Divergent here.

21 August: Alexander Chee

22 August: Ray Bradbury – Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

23 August: Curtis Sittenfeld – Read my full review of Rodham here.

24 August: Paulo Coelho – Read my full review of The Alchemist here.
24 August: Stephen Fry – Read my full review of Mythos here.
24 August: John Green – Read my full review of The Fault In Our Stars here.
24 August: Alexander McCall-Smith
24 August: Jean Rhys
24 August: Ali Smith
24 August: Jorge Luis Borges

25 August: Martin Amis – Read my full review of Money here.

26 August: Christopher Isherwood – Read my full review of A Single Man here.

27 August: Jeanette Winterson – Read my full review of Frankissstein here.

29 August: Mieko Kawakami – Read my full review of Breasts And Eggs here.

30 August: Mary Shelley – Read my full review of Frankenstein here.

31 August: Dolly Alderton

Author Birthdays in September

3 September: Malcolm Gladwell
3 September: Jenny Han – Read my full review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before here.

4 September: Alex Michaelides – Read my full review of The Silent Patient here.

6 September: Robert M. Pirsig – Read my full review of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance here.

7 September: Jennifer Egan

9 September: Leo Tolstoy – Read my full review of Anna Karenina here.

10 September: Alison Bechdel

11 September: D.H. Lawrence – Read my full review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover here.

13 September: Roald Dahl
13 September: E. Lockhart – Read my full review of We Were Liars here.

14 September: Geraldine Brooks

15 September: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
15 September: Agatha Christie – Read my full review of And Then There Were None here.

17 September: Cheryl Strayed – Read my full review of Wild here.

19 September: William Golding – Read my full review of Lord Of The Flies here.

20 September: George R.R. Martin – Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.
20 September: Angie Thomas – Read my full review of The Hate U Give here.
20 September: Hanya Yanagihara – Read my full review of A Little Life here.

21 September: Stephen King – Read my full review of Misery here.
21 September: H.G. Wells

24 September: F. Scott Fitzgerald – Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

25 September: William Faulkner – Read my full review of As I Lay Dying here.
25 September: Kristin Hannah
25 September: bell hooks

26 September: Mark Haddon
26 September: T.S. Eliot

29 September: Miguel de Cervantes – Read my full review of Don Quixote here.
29 September: Elizabeth Gaskell

30 September: Truman Capote – Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

Author Birthdays in October

2 October: Tara Moss

4 October: Rupi Kaur
4 October: Anne Rice – Read my full review of Interview With The Vampire here.
4 October: Jackie Collins

7 October: Sherman Alexie – Read my full review of The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian here.
7 October: Rachel Kushner

8 October: R.L. Stine

10 October: Nora Roberts

14 October: Miles Franklin – Read my full review of My Brilliant Career here.
14 October: Kate Grenville

15 October: Italo Calvino – Read my full review of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler here.
15 October: Roxane Gay – Read my full review of Bad Feminist here.

16 October: Oscar Wilde – Read my full review of The Picture Of Dorian Gray here.

17 October: Arthur Miller

19 October: Tracy Chevalier

21 October: Carrie Fisher – Read my full review of The Princess Diarist here.
21 October: Ursula K Le Guin

22 October: Doris Lessing – Read my full review of The Golden Notebook here.
22 October: Ann Rule – Read my full review of The Stranger Beside Me here.
22 October: Debbie Macomber

23 October: Augusten Burroughs
23 October: Michael Crichton

24 October: Emma Donoghue – Read my full review of Room here.
24 October: Amor Towles

25 October: Zadie Smith

26 October: Taffy Brodesser-Akner – Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

27 October: Anthony Doerr – Read my full review of All The Light We Cannot See here.
27 October: Sylvia Plath – Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

28 October: Evelyn Waugh – Read my full review of Scoop here.

29 October: Lee Child

31 October: Susan Orlean – Read my full review of The Library Book here.

Author Birthdays in November

1 November: Susanna Clarke – Read my full review of Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell here.

6 November: Michael Cunningham – Read my full review of The Hours here.
6 November: Colson Whitehead – Read my full review of The Underground Railroad here.

7 November: Albert Camus
7 November: Helen Garner – Read my full review of Monkey Grip here.

8 November: Kazuo Ishiguro – Read my full review of Never Let Me Go here.
8 November: Julie Murphy – Read my full review of Dumplin’ here.
8 November: Bram Stoker – Read my full review of Dracula here.

10 November: Caroline Kepnes
10 November: Neil Gaiman

11 November: Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Read my full review of Crime And Punishment here.
11 November: Min Jin Lee
11 November: Kurt Vonnegut

13 November: Robert Louis Stevenson – Read my full review of Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde here.

15 November: Liane Moriarty – Read my full review of Big Little Lies here.

16 November: José Saramago – Read my full review of Death At Intervals here.

17 November: Becky Albertalli

18 November: Margaret Atwood – Read my full review of The Handmaid’s Tale here.

20 November: Don DeLillo

21 November: Andrew Sean Greer – Read my full review of Less here.

22 November: George Eliot – Read my full review of Middlemarch here.
22 November: Lisa Genova – Read my full review of Still Alice here.

24 November: Marlon James
24 November: Arundhati Roy

26 November: James Dashner – Read my full review of The Maze Runner here.

28 November: Richard Osman

29 November: Louisa May Alcott – Read my full review of Little Women here.
29 November: C.S. Lewis

30 November: Tayari Jones – Read my full review of An American Marriage here.
30 November: David Nicholls
30 November: Jonathan Swift – Read my full review of Gulliver’s Travels here.
30 November: Mark Twain – Read my full review of The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn here.

Author Birthdays in December

2 December: Ann Patchett
2 December: George Saunders

5 December: Joan Didion

8 December: Bill Bryson – Read my full review of A Short History Of Nearly Everything here.

10 December: Emily Dickinson

11 December: Colleen Hoover

14 December: Shirley Jackson – Read my full review of The Lottery And Other Stories here.

15 December: Edna O’Brien – Read my full review of Girl here.

16 December: Jane Austen – Read my full review of Pride & Prejudice here.
16 December: Philip K. Dick – Read my full review of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? here.

19 December: Brandon Sanderson

20 December: Alain de Botton – Read my full review of Religion For Atheists here.
20 December: Taylor Jenkins Reid – Read my full review of Daisy Jones And The Six here.

21 December: Benjamin Disraeli – Read my full review of Sybil here.

23 December: Donna Tartt – Read my full review of The Secret History here.

24 December: Mary Higgins Clark
24 December: Stephenie Meyer

26 December: Henry Miller – Read my full review of Tropic Of Cancer here.
26 December: David Sedaris – Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.

30 December: Rudyard Kipling – Read my full review of Kim here.

31 December: Nicholas Sparks

10 Classic True Crime Books

Every genre has a few defining books, pillars of the canon that changed the game or played it so perfectly that they achieved icon status. With all of the recent scrutiny of the true crime genre, and new directions in how we report and engage with true crime across all formats, I got to thinking about all the Big(TM) true crime books over the last 50 years or so. It seems like every Murderino has read these – and if they haven’t yet, they really should. Here are ten classic true crime books to tick off your to-read list.

10 Classic True Crime Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission at NO cost to you! How cool is that?

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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

Truman Capote definitely believed he was changing the game with In Cold Blood. It was an instant classic upon publication in 1965, and has remained popular ever since. Capote was the first to popularise a literary style of true crime, where he used the techniques of fiction to tell the story of the Clutter murders in Kansas. Ethically, it strays to the dark end of the gray area, with Capote getting inappropriately close to the murderers (which undoubtedly coloured his coverage), exploiting witnesses, and barely acknowledging his friend Harper Lee’s extensive work in research and manuscript development – but it’s a cracking good read, all the same. Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside Me - Ann Rule - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Stranger Beside Me is one of the most captivating classic true crime books, largely due to Ann Rule’s relationship with the subject, notorious serial murderer Ted Bundy. Rule knew Bundy when they worked together at a suicide hotline (of all things), and when she followed the cases of local girls murdered brutally in their homes, she had little idea that it was her good friend Ted who wielded the weapon. The resulting book is unique in that it is both biographical and autobiographical; Rule is able to testify as to what Bundy was like in ‘real life’, and give us access to the psychological effects of learning that your friend is a killer. That Rule is a talented writer and can Bring It on the page makes it all the better. Read my full review of The Stranger Beside Me here.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

It’s hard to find words to describe the tragedy of the Columbine High School massacre. I’m amazed that Dave Cullen was able to delve so deeply into the unspeakable in his definitive true crime book about the shooting, called simply Columbine. In alternating chapters, he describes Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s evolution from disgruntled teens to active shooters, and the impact of the school shooting on the community over the following decade. Cullen won dozens of awards for his work, especially in dismantling the mythology and misconceptions that had grown around the massacre in the years since. Be warned, though: even though this one is a classic of the true crime genre, and a worthy read, it is very graphic and explicit in its depictions.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If copies sold was the only gauge by which we judged classic true crime books, Helter Skelter would top the list. It is the best-selling true crime book of all time. Vincent Bugliosi had unique access to the case of the Manson Murders, being the prosecutor in the 1970 trial of Charles Manson. He gives a first-hand account of the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of Charles Manson and other members of the Manson Family. Unfortunately, Bugliosi devotes comparatively little time to the lives of the victims or the wider impact of the Manson Family’s crimes, meaning the book falls short of many of the ethical standards we set for true crime today. Still, it is one of the classics of the genre, and an essential read all the same.

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

In the footsteps of In Cold Blood followed Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, a classic true crime book about the murder of Danny Hansford by his boss in Savannah, Georgia. Thirty-odd years after Capote topped the best-seller lists, John Berendt revisited the idea of a true crime novel set in the Deep South, with comparable success. Berendt employs the tropes of the Southern Gothic, and casts his net wide for details about the Savannah setting and its eccentric cast of “characters”. It makes for an immersive, if at times overwhelming, read. It’s evocative and detailed, though beware: Berendt took some liberties with the timeline to make the real-life events fit his ‘plot’ structure, so it’s best not to take the story as gospel.

Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss

Fatal Vision - Joe McGinniss - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Fatal Vision became one of the classic true crime books for strange reasons (more on those in a minute below). On its face, it’s a book about Captain Jeffrey R. MacDonald, who was convicted of the 1970 murders of his wife and child. MacDonald maintained his innocence throughout the investigation and trial, claiming that his home had been invaded and his family attacked by ‘hippies’ high on acid. He hired Joe McGinniss to write his story, giving him unparalleled access to privileged conversations and court proceedings, in the believe that McGinniss would write a book proclaiming his innocence. However, McGinniss was quite convinced of MacDonald’s guilt, and published this book saying as much. MacDonald went on to sue McGinniss, and the author was widely criticised for behaving unethically.

The Journalist And The Murderer by Janet Malcolm

Remember how I said Fatal Vision became a classic under unusual circumstances? Well, here they are. Janet Malcolm was so intrigued-slash-infuriated by how McGinniss deceived and betrayed his subject in writing that book that she wrote a whole other book about how fucked up it was – The Journalist And The Murderer. She re-interviewed all of the major players in the case (including lawyers, members of the jury, and witnesses) to reconstruct not only the crime, but the ways in which it was misrepresented in McGinniss’s book. Her book became not only one of the classic true crime books, but also one of the classic books on journalism; it’s still used in academic classrooms to teach journalistic ethics today.

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

No true crime case haunts the minds and search histories of Murderinos more than that of the Zodiac Killer, a series of unsolved murders in the San Francisco area in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Robert Graysmith dissects what we know, and what we think we could know, about the case in Zodiac, his 1986 true crime book. He covers the various investigations across all levels of law enforcement – the LAPD, the FBI, the CIA – that failed to unmask the killer, despite thousands of man hours and tips and evidence logged. He incorporates his own theories, even pointing to two (pseudonymous) suspects that he believes may be responsible. We may never know the truth of the culprit, but at least we got one of the most captivating classic true crime books out of it.

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

John Grisham is unbelievably prolific, and yet his back-catalogue contains only one true crime book: The Innocent Man. And boy, it’s a corker! Unlike many other classic true crime books, Grisham finds the golden goose, a wrongful conviction that he can expose (thus, the title). Ron Keith Williamson was a minor league baseball player wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter. He was sentenced to death, and spent eleven years on Death Row until he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1999. Grisham used this, and other cases of wrongful conviction, to expose the capacity of police departments and courts to prosecute on flimsy evidence, and the psychological ramifications for the accused. Williamson’s story is a tragic one, and all the more important to examine, given the recent trend towards trial by media.

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

The Executioner's Song - Norman Mailer - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1979 true crime book, The Executioner’s Song. Mailer used the story of the execution of Gary Gilmore to examine the wider ramifications of the death penalty, reinstated in the United States in 1976. Gilmore actually advocated for the death penalty, insisting that his sentence be carried out “as soon as possible”, with all rehabilitative efforts and judicial recourse exhausted. Mailer’s progressive approach to his subject – extensive and meticulous, interrogating the impact of Gilmore’s crimes and execution on all sides, including that of his victims – was widely lauded and ahead of its time. This is one of the classic true crime books from a most unlikely source.

100 Years Of Good Reads

I came across something fun on Goodreads the other day. They’ve put together a list of “the most popular books published over the past 100 years, as determined by Goodreads members’ digital shelves”. What a great use of the data they’ve collected from us obsessive book loggers!

100 Years Of Good Reads - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
(There are some affiliate links on this page, just FYI – I’ll earn a small commission if you buy your next good read!)

It’s actually pretty fascinating: There are plenty of old-school masterpieces, of course, and a good supply of those books most likely to be found in required school curricula. But you’ll also find gonzo journalism, children’s classics, international literature, Arabic poetry, existentialist dread, and even graphic novels.

Goodreads (100 Years of Popular Books on Goodreads)

Just for fun, I thought I’d go through the list and add a little commentary for you. (Okay, and I also wanted to tally up how many of them I’d already read – sue me!)

1922: Ulysses by James Joyce

I don’t want to be that girl, but I promise you: Ulysses is not the crisis situation you’re imagining! Read my full review of Ulysses here.

1923: The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

1924: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

1925: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

UGH! Why? Why? Why? If I never have to see The Great Gatsby on a best-of book list ever again, I’ll die happy. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.

1926: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

A soldier gets his dick blown off, and remains such a misogynist that he never figures out how to go down on the lady he loves. The Sun Also Rises? More like The Lady Also Deserves To Finish. Read my full review of The Sun Also Rises here.

1927: To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

1928: The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

1929: Passing by Nella Larsen

1930: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

A truly pleasant surprise! As I Lay Dying is short, weird, and an excellent example of why men can write from a woman’s perspective (occasionally). Read my full review of As I Lay Dying here.

1931: The Joy Of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer

1932: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Sex, drugs, and feelies? The “dystopian” future that Huxley imagines in Brave New World doesn’t sound so bad, really. Read my full review of Brave New World here.

1933: In Praise Of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki

1934: Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

1935: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

1936: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

1937: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God is rich and wonderful and devastating – and Tea Cake is my ride-or-die classic book boyfriend. Read my full review of Their Eyes Were Watching God here.

1938: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Did you know that Rebecca has never been out of print? Never, not once, in the nearly-hundred years it’s been a good read? It’s gothic, it’s spooky, it’s fun, and it’s more than deserving. Read my full review of Rebecca here.

1939: The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

When I finished The Grapes Of Wrath, I was angry. Angry that no one had ever told me – warned me! – how damn good it is. I’m still angry! Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

1940: Native Son by Richard Wright

1941: The Library Of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

1942: The Stranger by Albert Camus

1943: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince works precisely because doesn’t get bogged down in making things “realistic” for the grown-ups. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves,” de Saint-Exupéry writes on page 6, “and it is exhausting for children always and forever to be giving explanations.” Bring tissues. Read my full review of The Little Prince here.

1944: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

1945: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

1946: The Member Of The Wedding by Carson McCullers

1947: No Exit by Jean Paul-Sartre

1948: I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

1949: 1984 by George Orwell

1950: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

1951: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

1952: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

1953: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Did you know that books don’t actually burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit? Ray Bradbury asked an expert for help naming his novel, but they misunderstood the question. Paper auto-ignites at that temperature, but burns much, much lower. That fun fact is honestly more interesting to me than Fahrenheit 451 was. Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

1954: The Fellowship Of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

1955: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

1956: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

1957: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

1958: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

1959: The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

1960: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yes, I know, it’s problematic. White saviours are bad, and Atticus Finch is the whitest-saviouriest of them all. But To Kill A Mockingbird is still such a good read! And Harper Lee’s only (true) novel! Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

1961: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is funny… for the first hundred pages or so. Beyond that, you’re just reading the same joke over and over again. It’s good to know where the idiom came from, though! Read my full review of Catch-22 here.

1962: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

1963: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

It’s infuriating how good The Bell Jar is. Like, seriously, I wanted to throw it down on the floor and just give up. So good. And the Faber editions are so pretty! Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

1964: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

1965: Dune by Frank Herbert

1966: Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

1967: One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years Of Solitude has a cracker of an opening line – the famous one about Colonel Buendía facing the firing squad. Beyond that, I didn’t love-love-love it, but I didn’t hate-hate-hate it, either. Read my full review of One Hundred Years Of Solitude here.

1968: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

1969: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I think critic Opal Moor put it well: “Though easily read, [I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings] is no ‘easy read’.” It’s confronting, it’s brilliant, and it’s an enduring classic for a reason. Read my full review of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings here.

1970: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Morrison has said that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she was “interested in talking about black girlhood”. It seems sadly inevitable that a book on that subject would end up a foundational text about the impact of Euro-centric beauty standards and internalised loathing. Read my full review of The Bluest Eye here.

1971: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

1972: Ways Of Seeing by John Berger

1973: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

1974: Carrie by Stephen King

I’ve got this one on a to-read shelf, that I might get to… some day… probably…

1975: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

1976: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

1977: Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison

1978: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

1979: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

1980: The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

1981: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

1982: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple is still – to this day – being challenged, banned, and removed from high school reading lists. Common reasons for scrapping it from reading lists include the explicit sexual content, language, violence, and lesbianism (the horror! eye roll). Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

1983: The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

1984: The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

1985: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Even though it might feel like “The Handmaid’s Tale is coming true!” with everything going on at the moment, the truth is that Atwood didn’t use a single thing that hasn’t already happened, or isn’t already happening, to create the dystopian world of Gilead. Just a heads up! Read my full review of The Handmaid’s Tale here.

1986: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

1987: Watchmen by Alan Moore

1988: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is a beautiful fable, a wonderful read… for hippies. Read my full review of The Alchemist here.

1989: The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

1990: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

1991: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Time travel to 18th century Scotland, marriage of convenience with a Scot in a kilt… but make it horny! It’s not a great work of literature, but Outlander does exactly what it says on the tin. Read my full review of Outlander here.

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I’m sorry to say that The Secret History, is every bit as good as everyone always says it is. Read my full review of The Secret History here.

1993: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

1994: The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

1995: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

1996: A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game Of Thrones might never have made it onto a list like this, if not for the HBO adaptation that had the whole world glued to their screens for eight seasons. But here we are! Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.

1997: Guns, Germs And Steel by Jared Diamond

1998: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

1999: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

2000: House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielwski

2001: The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

2002: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

2003: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I reckon this one is destined to become a classic. It’s clever, and it’s creepy as heck. Well deserving of its place on this Goodreads list! Read my full review of Never Let Me Go here.

2006: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

2007: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Look, if you’re in the mid- to upper-end of the Young Adult bracket and you’re just starting to understand the significance of WWII, The Book Thief is a brilliant, life-changing read. For the rest of us… well, it’s a good reminder that literacy is important. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

2008: The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Do you remember when it felt like everyone and their book club was reading The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society? You might’ve skipped it because of all the hype, but it’s actually not bad. Read my full review of The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society here.

2009: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

2010: The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

To call The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks a “biography” is reductive. It’s so much more than the dates and facts of a life. It’s a study of bioethics, a masterclass in accessible science writing, and a testament to the human consequences of scientific discovery. And it’s compelling as heck! Read my full review of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks here.

2011: The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller

2012: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If you haven’t read Gone Girl yet, monks could use the rock you’ve been living under as an off-the-grid retreat. You need to hop to it, if for no other reason than it’s miraculous it hasn’t been spoiled for you yet. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

2013: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

2014: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

It wasn’t quite the blockbuster success that Little Fires Everywhere was, but Everything I Never Told You is still a masterful, gripping domestic drama, fully deserving of its place on any list of good reads. Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.

2015: Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

2016: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

2017: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

It’s incredible how timely The Hate U Give was at the time of its release – and it’s incredibly sad that it’s still so timely, even more so, years later. Read my full review of The Hate U Give here.

2018: Educated by Tara Westover

When it comes to writing memoirs, you’ve either got to have talent for storytelling or a life so fascinating that talent (or lack thereof) doesn’t matter. Luckily, Tara Westover has both. Even in the hands of a real bore, Educated would be a fascinating read. Read my full review of Educated here.

2019: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue, unbelievably, lives up to the hype. Of course, it’s targeted at younger readers, but I can vouch for the fact that it resonates for young-at-heart readers, too. I’d especially recommend it for fans of The West Wing and anyone who needs a bit of starry-eyed optimism. Read my full review of Red, White & Royal Blue here.

2020: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Through this multi-generational family saga, Brit Bennett plays out the domino effect of reductive labels. The Vanishing Half is a must-read for your book club; there’s a lot to unpack here. Read my full review of The Vanishing Half here.

2021: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Alright, I’ve read 33 of these so far, and reviewed most of them, too! Not bad! How about you? Drop your total in the comments! And thank you Goodreads for putting together this list – nice to see you using your powers for good.

18 Pulitzer Prize Winning Books

The Pulitzer Prizes are a set of awards given each year for achievements in American journalism, literature, and composition. You might have noticed that quite a few of the books I’ve read and recommended here on Keeping Up With The Penguins are lauded as Pulitzer Prize-winners – for some reason, I seem to share a literary sensibility with the panel of judges. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (formerly the Pulitzer Prize for Novel) is awarded “for distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life”. Here are eighteen great Pulitzer Prize-winning books from the past 100 years.

18 Pulitzer Prize Winning Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you purchase one of these Pulitzer Prize winning books through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll earn a small commission.

March by Geraldine Brooks

March - Geraldine Brooks - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2006

In her 2005 novel, March, Geraldine Brooks reimagines Louisa May Alcott’s children’s classic Little Women from the perspective of the mostly-absent March patriarch. The Pulitzer Prize judges commended Brooks for adding “adult resonance to Alcott’s optimistic children’s tale to portray the moral complexity of war, and a marriage tested”. They called March “a lushly written, wholly original tale steeped in the details of another time”.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1940

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath is now widely considered a classic of American working class literature, and a strong contender for the Great American Novel moniker. In the year following its 1939 release, Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Novel, and the National Book Award, for his searing social commentary. It was also the best-selling novel of the year (an astonishing 430,000 copies), and the Armed Services Edition went through two full print runs. Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015

Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See explores the depth and breadth of human nature through a story about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross in unlikely circumstances over the course of WWII. According to the Pulitzer Prize judges, Doerr “illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another”. They called this New York Times best-seller “dazzling … a magnificent, deeply moving novel”. Read my full review of All The Light We Cannot See here.

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man And The Sea - Ernest Hemingway - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1953

The Old Man And The Sea was first published in 1952, the last major work of fiction by Hemingway to be published during his lifetime. The deceptively short and simple story revolves around an aging Cuban fisherman, and his struggle to reel in a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream. Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the year following its release, and it was also cited specifically in the judges’ comments when he received a Nobel Prize for Literature (which Hemingway, in turn, dedicated to the people of Cuba). Read my full review of The Old Man And The Sea here.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2003

Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 novel Middlesex tells the uniquely intertwined history of Cal, an intersex third-generation Greek American. The Pulitzer Board described it as a “vastly realized, multi-generational novel as highspirited as it is intelligent … Like the masks of Greek drama, Middlesex is equal parts comedy and tragedy, but its real triumph is its emotional abundance, delivered with consummate authority and grace,”. Read my full review of Middlesex here.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory - Richard Powers - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019

Richard Powers’ The Overstory is “a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance”, one that earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among several other awards and short-listings in 2019. It contains the stories of nine fictional Americans, each of whom share some special connection to trees, despite their disparate circumstances and eras. The Pulitzer Prize website describes it as “an ingeniously structured narrative that branches and canopies like the trees at the core of the story whose wonder and connectivity echo those of the humans living amongst them,”.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone-With-The-Wind-Margaret-Mitchell-Book-Laid-on-Wooden-Table-Keeping-Up-With-The-Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1937

Gone With The Wind is best known these days as the classic film, but back in 1936 it was an astonishingly popular novel by American author Margaret Mitchell. It was an instant best-seller, with hundreds of thousands of copies flying off the shelves long before the 1939 film adaptation. It depicts a questionable coming-of-age story against the backdrop of a horribly white-washed version of Southern plantation life immediately prior to and during the Civil War. It doesn’t stand up to today’s critical scrutiny, but at the time it was a phenomenon, and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Novel the year following its release.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours - Michael Cunningham - Keeping Up With The Penguins115

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1999

As the ’90s drew to a close, Michael Cunningham was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for The Hours, a novel that draws upon the life and work of Virginia Woolf “to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair”. It is a “passionate, profound, and deeply moving” novel, one that is still widely recognised as Cunningham’s most remarkable literary achievement. Read my full review of The Hours here.

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2011

A Visit From The Goon Squad is “an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed”. Egan centres the story on the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker, and his employee, the young and passionate Sasha. Told through a series of creative and innovative formats, this story “captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both”.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved - Toni Morrison - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1988

Toni Morrison was awarded a slew of prizes for her 1987 novel Beloved, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among them. It seems particularly fitting, given that she hoped for the novel to stand in as a memorial testament to the lives lost and damaged beyond recognition by the Atlantic slave trade (“There’s no small bench by the road,” she said, “and because such a place doesn’t exist, that I know of, the book had to.”) In this unique story, of a former slave living a haunted life in Cincinnati, Morrison captures a universal pain and shame. Read my full review of Beloved here.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

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

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018

It’s so rare that a truly funny book wins the Pulitzer Prize – which makes it all the more special when one does! Less got the gong in 2018, and it was very well deserved. The story revolves around Arthur Less, an aging gay man so desperate to avoid the wedding of his ex-lover that he accepts every invitation to every half-baked literary event around the world. Less is “a scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, [and] a bittersweet romance of chances lost”. Read my full review of Less here.

The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age Of Innocence - Edith Wharton - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1921

In 1921, Edith Wharton became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, for The Age Of Innocence. It was a controversial choice, but not (necessarily) because of the author’s gender. The Pulitzer Prize for Novel was originally set to go to Sinclair Lewis for Main Street, as per the choice of the Prize’s jury at the time, but the board overruled them and awarded the prize to Wharton instead. The apparent reason for the switch was Lewis’s novel having “offended a number of prominent persons in the Middle West”, and Wharton said in a note to Lewis that she “despaired” over the decision. Read my full review of The Age Of Innocence here.

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2008

Junot Diaz has fallen from grace since being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008, having been called out for despicable behaviour as part of the #MeToo reckoning. Despite the revelations, however, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao is still sold in editions with a Pulitzer Prize seal embossed on the cover. The story itself is a fascinating window into an aspect of American life – a Dominican-American who dreams of overcoming the challenges of his ghetto home to find love and success – but can we really separate the art from the artist?

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

All The King's Men - Robert Penn Warren - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Novel 1947

Who would’ve thought, when Robert Penn Warren was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Novel in 1947 for his fictionalised account of the troubled term of a populist governor, that it would still be so resonant over seventy years later? All The King’s Men traces the political career of Willie Stark, a cynical Southerner who seems destined for the life (and death) of a messianic figure. The New York Time Book Review called the book “magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue sparks,”. Read my full review of All The King’s Men here.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017

The Underground Railroad is a semi-speculative alternative history of the antebellum South, one that Barack Obama called “terrific” and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2017. It “combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America,”. According to the judges, “The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.” Read my full review of The Underground Railroad here.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple - Alice Walker - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1983

Alice Walker became the first ever black woman to win a Pulitzer when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Color Purple in 1983. It has retained its cultural currency across the intervening decades – so much so that it continues to be banned and challenged in schools and libraries, which seems to be a rite of passage for any meaningful work of literature. The story of a young black girl, told through her letters to God, is a challenging read, but a vital and perennially relevant one. Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road - Cormac McCarthy - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2007

Cormac McCarthy is a notoriously reclusive contemporary writer, but he granted rare and special insight into his writing process and creative mind after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Road in 2007. He told Oprah that it took him only six weeks to write the haunting post-apocalyptic novel. The idea came to him after a road trip with his son in El Paso, where he found himself wondering what the road might look like in a hundred years’ time. “It is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of,” according to his publisher.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1961

To Kill A Mockingbird has been widely considered one of the most iconic American novels of all time since its release, so it was hardly a surprise when Harper Lee received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. The judges were openly disappointed in the literary offerings from established writers that year, but credited Lee with “revitalising American fiction” and producing a novel of “unusual distinction”. Her friend, Truman Capote, was happy for her – but remained bitter that she had won a Pulitzer, while he hadn’t for In Cold Blood, until his death. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

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