Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

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8 Great Book Podcasts For Book Lovers

Well, after my memory lapse earlier this week (where I couldn’t remember which of the book podcasts I listen to recommended a great book to me), I got to thinking: why not just shout out a whole bunch of great book podcasts all at once? I’m a podcast junkie (in fact, that’s why I almost never get around to listening to audiobooks, no time!), and given my general area of interest, most of my favourite podcasts are bookish in nature. So, here’s a round up of all the best podcasts for book lovers…

8 Great Book Podcasts for Book Lovers - Text Overlaid on Image of Headphones - Keeping Up With The Penguins

One Great Book

One Great Book - Podcast Logo

Most people know Anne Bogel best for her What Should I Read Next? bookish matchmaking podcast, or her long-running Modern Mrs Darcy blog (both are fabulous, by the way!). But her newest book podcast is actually my favourite: One Great Book. In it, she digs through her reading archives and dusts off the hidden gems, those back-list books you might have missed while you were reading. These are short, bite-sized episodes, perfect to squeeze in when you’re after a reading recommendation but you don’t have a lot of time.

Best book recommendation: There have been a few (and more coming every season!), but I never would have picked up Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles without Anne’s recommendation.

Sydney Writers’ Festival

Sydney Writers' Festival - Podcast Logo

I’m an annual volunteer at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, so maybe I’m biased, but this has to be one of the best podcasts for book lovers who can’t always make it to large-scale inner-city literary events in person (I mean, no one can this year, but you get my drift). Volunteering means I can’t always attend events I’d like to see myself, but I go home happy, knowing that in a few weeks or months a recording of the session will be uploaded to the podcast feed. I swear, it’s just like being there! (Except better, because you can save your favourites to listen to over and over again, and rewind if you miss something.) I’m so grateful that the SWF crew goes to so much effort to provide such high-quality recordings – for free!

Best book recommendations: Definitely too many to list, but the first one that comes to mind is Her Body And Other Parties, which I picked up after listening to Carmen Maria Machado’s Curiosity Lecture on Law & Order: SVU.

Harry Potter And The Sacred Text

Harry Potter And The Sacred Text - Podcast Logo

Harry Potter And The Sacred Text is a great book podcast, but maybe not in the way that you’re expecting. As the title suggests, Vanessa and Casper are reading their way through the Harry Potter books chronologically (one chapter per episode), treating them as a sacred text. This means drawing life lessons, inspiration, hard truths, and new insights from the Harry Potter stories – the way we would religious texts, or other sacred writings. This book podcast has had more impact on my non-bookish life than any other, and it’s a must-listen if you’re searching for something on which you can meditate for a while.

Best book recommendation: Well, given the premise, it’s pretty obvious… but I’ve got to say, I’ve got a whole new appreciation for Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, having heard Vanessa’s read of Professor Umbridge.


Annotated

Annotated - Podcast Logo

Annotated is produced by the experts at Book Riot, so you know they know their stuff! This one is more of an in-depth look at book history and phenomena: The Babysitter’s Club, for example, or the crisis that caused the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature to be completely cancelled. No matter what the subject of any given episode, I always pick up fascinating trivia! All of the Book Riot book podcasts are great, but this one is the cream of the crop in my opinion.

Best book recommendation: again, not strictly a recommendation, but their episode on the publication history of Ulysses by James Joyce was super-helpful when I was putting together my own review!

Talking Words

Talking Words - Podcast Logo

Another potential bias alert: I was lucky enough to study with the host of Talking Words at university, and Better Read Than Dead (the bookshop that has taken the leap into producing book podcasts) is one of my favourite local haunts. That said, Olivia has managed to secure an ongoing series of interviews with truly fascinating authors right across the spectrum – memoirists, activists, award-winning fiction writers, and more. I love hearing them delve into the nitty-gritty of their subjects and the writing process.

Best book recommendation: hands down Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save The World!

Chat 10 Looks 3

Chat 10 Looks 3 - Podcast Logo

Alright, we’re briefly veering away from strictly-bookish territory. I can’t honestly call Chat 10 Looks 3 one of the best book podcasts… BUT it is definitely one of the best podcasts for book lovers! Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb talk about everything under the sun – music, movies, podcasts, cooking – but their book recommendations are the reason I tune in. Seriously, they’ve never recommended me a dud, not one! And while I subscribe for the book chat, I definitely hang around for the banter; nothing cheers me up more than hearing Crabb and Sales calling one another out on “smug bundts” (the Chatters out there understand).

Best book recommendation: Technically, they talked about She Said after I’d already read (and lovedlovedloved) it, so I’m going to go with Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodessa-Akner. But seriously, whatever they recommend is pretty much guaranteed to be a winner for me.


The To-Read List

I’m almost a little embarrassed about how much I love The To-Read List. I’m worried Bailey, Toby, and Andrew are going to think I’m lovingly-online-stalking them (I’m not, I swear… much). And it’s not just that I totally relate to the goal of the show (to read all of the 125 144 153 unread books on Bailey’s bookshelves). It’s the quirky episode titles, the trivia games, the dubstep remix of the show’s theme song for mini-episodes, the attempts to get Bailey’s husband to read the final installment of the Harry Potter series… Every time I listen, it’s like a wonderful little reminder of the joy of reading and the delight of talking about books with friends and family. This is the My Dad Wrote A Porno of book podcasts.

Best book recommendation: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – I was always hesitant, but I figured if Bailey could get through it in two weeks and take from it as much as she did, I could too!

The Garret

The Garret - Podcast Logo

Let’s be honest: most readers (if not all) harbour a secret desire to write their own books. Right? That’s where The Garret shines among podcasts for book lovers. To quote the show’s subtitle, it’s “interviews by writers, for writers”. Name any of the greats of Australian literature – Charlotte Wood, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Lucashenko – and you can be sure they’ve sat down with Astrid Edwards and shared incredibly personal and illuminating stories about their writing and their lives. The Garret is always fascinating, always inspiring, and a true pillar of the Aussie literary landscape.

Best book recommendation: The Garret is where I discovered J.P. Pomare, and I was so struck by his interview that I ran out and bought Call Me Evie right away!



Know of any more great book podcasts? Got your own list of podcasts for book lovers? Drop your suggestions in the comments below! (And, a friendly reminder: always rate, review, and subscribe to book podcasts you love – it really does help them out!)

Book Reviews By Title

A

The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
Adèle – Leïla Slimani
The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Age Of Innocence – Edith Wharton
Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
All The King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
All The Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
American Sniper – Chris Kyle
Amongst Women – John McGahern
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
Anatomy – Dana Schwartz
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
The Anomaly – Hervé Le Tellier
Any Ordinary Day – Leigh Sales
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson
An Artist Of The Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Arsonist – Chloe Hooper
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Attachments – Rainbow Rowell
Australia Day – Melanie Cheng

B

Bad Blood – John Carreyrou
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
Becoming – Michelle Obama
Before The Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Bi – Julia Shaw
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Bridgerton: The Duke And I – Julia Quinn
A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
Britt-Marie Was Here – Fredrik Backman

C

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman
The Call Of The Wild – Jack London
Calypso – David Sedaris
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
The Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger
The Chain – Adrian McKinty
The Children Act – Ian McEwan
Clarissa – Samuel Richardson
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett
Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
Crime And Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Cry – Helen Fitzgerald
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time – Mark Haddon

D

Daisy Jones And The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Dear Child – Romy Hausmann
Death At Intervals – José Saramago
Delta Of Venus – Anaïs Nin
Divergent – Veronica Roth
The Divine Comedy – Dante
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
Dracula – Bram Stoker
Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim – David Sedaris
The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham
The Dry – Jane Harper
Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
Dyschronia – Jennifer Mills

E

Educated – Tara Westover
Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
The Elegance Of The Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
Emma – Jane Austen
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal – Coming Soon!
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

F

The Factory – Hiroko Oyamada
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
The Family Law – Benjamin Law
Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
The Fault In Our Stars – John Green
The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer
The Fiancee Farce – Alexandria Bellefleur
Finding Nevo – Nevo Zisin
The Five – Hallie Rubenhold
Fleishman Is In Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Flowers In The Attic – VC Andrews
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Frankissstein – Jeanette Winterson

G

A Game Of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Anita Loos
The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins
Girl Online – Zoe Sugg
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo
The Golden Bowl – Henry James
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder – Holly Jackson
Good Talk – Mira Jacob
The Grapes Of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia – Anita Heiss (ed.)
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

H

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Happiest Refugee – Anh Do
Happy Endings – Thien-Kim Lam
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
Heartburn – Nora Ephron
The Heat Of The Day – Elizabeth Bowen
The Helpline – Katherine Collette
Her Body And Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix
The Hours – Michael Cunningham
Hunger – Roxane Gay
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

I

I Kissed Shara Wheeler – Casey McQuiston
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
I Love Dick – Chris Kraus
I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark – Michelle McNamara
If I Stay – Gayle Forman
If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler – Italo Calvino
If The Shoe Fits – Julie Murphy
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things – Iain Reid
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
The Importance Of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
In Order To Live – Yeonmi Park
Instructions For A Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell
Interview With The Vampire – Anne Rice – Coming Soon!

J

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
Julie And Julia – Julie Powell

K

Kim – Rudyard Kipling
The Kiss Quotient – Helen Hoang
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Know My Name – Chanel Miller

L

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
The Lake House – Kate Morton
Lakewood – Megan Giddings
Lanny – Max Porter
Less – Andrew Sean Greer
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls – David Sedaris
The Library Book – Susan Orlean
The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Laurence Sterne
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Like Water For Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
The Likeness – Tana French
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner
Lord Of The Flies – William Golding
The Lottery And Other Stories – Shirley Jackson
Luster – Raven Leilani

M

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project – Lenore Appelhans
The Martian – Andy Weir
The Maze Runner – James Dashner
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig
Milkman – Anna Burns
The Miseducation Of Cameron Post – Emily M Danforth
Misery – Stephen King
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Money – Martin Amis
Monkey Grip – Helen Garner
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
Murder In Mississippi – John Safran
Murphy – Samuel Beckett
My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix
My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin
My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises – Fredrik Backman
My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
Mythos – Stephen Fry

N

The Narrow Road To The Deep North – Richard Flanagan
The Natural Way Of Things – Charlotte Wood
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
Nineteen Nineteen – John dos Passos
Normal People – Sally Rooney
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Notes On A Scandal – Zoë Heller
The Nothing Man – Catherine Ryan Howard
Nothing To See Here – Kevin Wilson

O

Of Mice And Men – John Steinbeck
The Old Man And The Sea – Ernest Hemingway
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
One Hundred Years Of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory
Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

P

Paper Towns – John Green
Party Going – Henry Green
A Passage To India – E.M. Forster
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
Pizza Girl – Jean Kyoung Frazier
The Plot – Jean Hanff Korelitz
Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
The Power – Naomi Alderman
Pride And Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher

Q

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

R

Reading Lolita In Tehran – Azar Nafisi
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
Religion for Atheists – Alain de Botton
Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
Rodham – Curtis Sittenfeld
Room – Emma Donoghue
The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

S

Sadie – Courtney Summers
Sanditon – Jane Austen
Say Nothing – Patrick Radden Keefe
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Scoop – Evelyn Waugh
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Secrets Of Strangers – Charity Norman
The Sellout – Paul Beatty
Sense And Sensibility – Jane Austen
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
She Came To Stay – Simone de Beauvoir
A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Monica Lewycka
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
The Silent Treatment – Abbie Greaves
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered – Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
Stiff – Mary Roach
Still Alice – Lisa Genova
Story Of O – Pauline Réage
The Story Of The Lost Child – Elena Ferrante
The Story Of A New Name – Elena Ferrante
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule
Strangers Drowning – Larissa MacFarquhar
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
The Swans Of Fifth Avenue – Melanie Benjamin
Sybil – Benjamin Disraeli
Sybil – Flora Rheta Schreiber

T

A Tale For The Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Tampa – Alissa Nutting
The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
Terra Nullius – Claire G. Coleman
Thank You For Smoking – Christopher Buckley
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay – Elena Ferrante
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Too Much Lip – Melissa Lucashenko
Trace – Rachael Brown
Tracker – Alexis Wright
The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein
Tropic Of Cancer – Henry Miller
True History Of The Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
Turn Of The Screw – Henry James

U

Ulysses – James Joyce
Under The Dome – Stephen King
Under The Skin – Michel Faber
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

V

The Vagina Monologues – Eve Ensler
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
The Vegetarian – Han Kang
Vox – Christina Dalcher

W

Waiting For Godot – Samuel Beckett
Watership Down – Richard Adams
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
We Keep The Dead Close – Becky Cooper
We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
We’re Going To Need More Wine – Gabrielle Union
Well Met – Jen DeLuca
When You Are Engulfed In Flames – David Sedaris
The White Mouse – Nancy Wake
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
Willful Creatures – Aimee Bender
The Wind In The Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Wow, No Thank You – Samantha Irby
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

X

Y

The Year Of Living Biblically – A.J. Jacobs
Year Of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
Yes Please – Amy Poehler
The Yield – Tara June Winch

Z

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M Pirsig

Book Reviews By Author

A

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Watership Down – Richard Adams
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
The Power – Naomi Alderman
The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
Money – Martin Amis
Flowers In The Attic – VC Andrews
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project – Lenore Appelhans
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Emma – Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Pride And Prejudice – Jane Austen
Sanditon – Jane Austen
Sense And Sensibility – Jane Austen

B

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
Britt-Marie Was Here – Fredrik Backman
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises – Fredrik Backman
The Elegance Of The Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
The Sellout – Paul Beatty
She Came To Stay – Simone de Beauvoir
Murphy – Samuel Beckett
Waiting For Godot – Samuel Beckett
The Fiancee Farce – Alexandria Bellefleur
The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
Willful Creatures – Aimee Bender
The Swans Of Fifth Avenue – Melanie Benjamin
The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
Religion for Atheists – Alain de Botton
The Heat Of The Day – Elizabeth Bowen
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
Fleishman Is In Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Trace – Rachael Brown
A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Thank You For Smoking – Christopher Buckley
The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Milkman – Anna Burns

C

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler – Italo Calvino
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
True History Of The Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
Bad Blood – John Carreyrou
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
Australia Day – Melanie Cheng
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
Terra Nullius – Claire G. Coleman
The Helpline – Katherine Collette
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
We Keep The Dead Close – Becky Cooper
The Hours – Michael Cunningham

D

Vox – Christina Dalcher
The Miseducation Of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth
The Divine Comedy – Dante
The Maze Runner – James Dashner
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
Well Met – Jen DeLuca
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Sybil – Benjamin Disraeli
The Happiest Refugee – Anh Do
All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge
Room – Emma Donoghue
Crime And Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle

E

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Middlemarch – George Eliot
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
The Vagina Monologues – Eve Ensler
Heartburn – Nora Ephron
Like Water For Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo

F

Under The Skin – Michel Faber
As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
The Story Of The Lost Child – Elena Ferrante
The Story Of A New Name – Elena Ferrante
Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay – Elena Ferrante
The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde
The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
The Cry – Helen Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Narrow Road To The Deep North – Richard Flanagan
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
If I Stay – Gayle Forman
A Passage To India – E.M. Forster
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin
Pizza Girl – Jean Kyoung Frazier
The Likeness – Tana French
Mythos – Stephen Fry

G

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon
Monkey Grip – Helen Garner
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
Hunger – Roxane Gay
Still Alice – Lisa Genova
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Lakewood – Megan Giddings
Lord Of The Flies – William Golding
The Wind In The Willows – Kenneth Grahame
The Silent Treatment – Abbie Greaves
Party Going – Henry Green
Paper Towns – John Green
The Fault In Our Stars – John Green
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer
Less – Andrew Sean Greer
The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory

H

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time – Mark Haddon
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig
The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han
The Dry – Jane Harper
Dear Child – Romy Hausmann
A Brief History Of Time – Stephen Hawking
The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia – Anita Heiss (ed.)
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Notes On A Scandal – Zoë Heller
The Old Man And The Sea – Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix
My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix
The Kiss Quotient – Helen Hoang
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
The Arsonist – Chloe Hooper
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Nothing Man – Catherine Ryan Howard
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

I

Wow, No Thank You – Samantha Irby
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
An Artist Of The Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

J

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder – Holly Jackson
The Lottery And Other Stories – Shirley Jackson
Good Talk – Mira Jacob
The Year Of Living Biblically – A.J. Jacobs
The Golden Bowl – Henry James
Turn Of The Screw – Henry James
Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal – Coming Soon!
The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
Ulysses – James Joyce

K

The Vegetarian – Han Kang
Before The Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Say Nothing – Patrick Radden Keefe
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered – Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
Misery – Stephen King
Under The Dome – Stephen King
Kim – Rudyard Kipling
The Plot – Jean Hanff Korelitz
The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein
I Love Dick – Chris Kraus
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
American Sniper – Chris Kyle

L

Happy Endings – Thien-Kim Lam
The Family Law – Benjamin Law
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Luster – Raven Leilani
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian – Monica Lewycka
We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
The Call Of The Wild – Jack London
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Anita Loos
Too Much Lip – Melissa Lucashenko

M

Strangers Drowning – Larissa MacFarquhar
Her Body And Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
One Hundred Years Of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
A Game Of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Children Act – Ian McEwan
Amongst Women – John McGahern
Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor
The Chain – Adrian McKinty
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark – Michelle McNamara
I Kissed Shara Wheeler – Casey McQuiston
Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
Know My Name – Chanel Miller
Tropic Of Cancer – Henry Miller
Dyschronia – Jennifer Mills
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty
Beloved – Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
The Lake House – Kate Morton
Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
If The Shoe Fits – Julie Murphy

N

Reading Lolita In Tehran – Azar Nafisi
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin
The Secrets Of Strangers – Charity Norman
Tampa – Alissa Nutting

O

Becoming – Michelle Obama
Instructions For A Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell
The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
The Library Book – Susan Orlean
The Factory – Hiroko Oyamada
A Tale For The Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

P

In Order To Live – Yeonmi Park
Nineteen Nineteen – John dos Passos
My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M Pirsig
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Yes Please – Amy Poehler
Lanny – Max Porter
Julie And Julia – Julie Powell
The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett

Q

Bridgerton: The Duke And I – Julia Quinn

R

All The Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman
Story Of O – Pauline Réage
Daisy Jones And The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things – Iain Reid
Year Of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
Interview With The Vampire – Anne Rice – Coming Soon!
Clarissa – Samuel Richardson
Stiff – Mary Roach
Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney
Normal People – Sally Rooney
Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
Divergent – Veronica Roth
Attachments – Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
The Five – Hallie Rubenhold
The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule

S

Murder In Mississippi – John Safran
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Any Ordinary Day – Leigh Sales
The Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger
Death At Intervals – José Saramago
Sybil – Flora Rheta Schreiber
Anatomy – Dana Schwartz
Calypso – David Sedaris
Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim – David Sedaris
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls – David Sedaris
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
When You Are Engulfed In Flames – David Sedaris
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
Bi – Julia Shaw
I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly
We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
Rodham – Curtis Sittenfeld
The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
Adèle – Leïla Slimani
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
The Grapes Of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Of Mice And Men – John Steinbeck
The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Laurence Sterne
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Dracula – Bram Stoker
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
Girl Online – Zoe Sugg
Sadie – Courtney Summers
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

T

The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Anomaly – Hervé Le Tellier
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

U

We’re Going To Need More Wine – Gabrielle Union

V

W

The White Mouse – Nancy Wake
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
All The King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
Scoop – Evelyn Waugh
The Martian – Andy Weir
Educated – Tara Westover
The Age Of Innocence – Edith Wharton
The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
The Importance Of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde
The Picture Of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Nothing To See Here – Kevin Wilson
The Yield – Tara June Winch
Frankissstein – Jeanette Winterson
The Natural Way Of Things – Charlotte Wood
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
Tracker – Alexis Wright

X

Y

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

Z

Finding Nevo – Nevo Zisin
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Party Going – Henry Green

I think we all know by now that if you take a handful of rich people and put them in a confined space, you’re going to get some good drama. It’s a formula that’s worked for reality TV for years, and before that, Henry Green used it as the premise for his 1939 novel Party Going.

Party Going, according to the blurb, is a “darkly comic valediction to what W.H. Auden famously described as the ‘low dishonest decade’ of the 1930s”. It’s a slim volume, closer to a novella in length than a novel. Most editions don’t actually publish it stand-alone; it’s usually packaged alongside two of Green’s other novels (Living, and Loving). The introduction to this copy was written by Amit Chaudhuri, and it’s full of name-drops. Henry Green was a contemporary of Graham Greene. He was an Oxford friend of Evelyn Waugh. John Updike called him a “saint of the mundane”. And Virginia Woolf’s imprint, the Hogarth Press, published Party Going. As to Green’s style, Chaudhuri says this book is a “masterpiece of literary impressionism”.

“Green in fact stands somewhere between James Joyce, in his tendency to be intolerant of ‘normal’ English syntax and punctuation, and Virginia Woolf, in his sense of how narrative can be shaped by things outside of event.”

Amit Chaudhuri, Introduction

There aren’t a whole lot of “events” in this plot, really, so it’s a good thing there’s other stuff to shape the narrative, otherwise I don’t know where we’d be. Six young, wealthy people – Max, Amabel, Angela, Julia, Evelyn, and Claire – all gather at a train station en route to a house party in France. They find that all the trains are delayed due to severe fog, so they take rooms in the adjacent railway hotel (rather than linger on the platform with the unwashed masses). That’s about all of the action, really; the rest of the story plays out in their relationships and gossiping, and Green tells different versions of it simultaneously.



The historical context for Party Going is important. Yes, they’re all idle rich bitches, and idle rich bitches are equally vapid and shallow, no matter where or when they are, but the reader should bear in mind that this all takes place in England right before the outbreak of WWII. It’s a dark contrast, really: the minutia of their sparkly lives and scandals, set against the backdrop of an emerging conflict that will devastate the world. These characters, oblivious and self-obsessed, are “waltzing blithely towards oblivion”. An English major might say that the train-delaying fog actually represents the cold, menacing threat of the future.

Party Going consists mostly of talk, which is mostly about nothing. Once the premise of the delayed train is established, the only real “action” to be found is a battle between Julia and Amabel for the affections of playboy Max. And there’s one strange woman, Miss Fellowes (Claire’s aunt): she falls subject to a mysterious “illness” (Green seems to imply drunkenness, but I could be wrong), and becomes obsessed with a dead pigeon she finds. While her aunt is flailing and wailing about the pigeon, Claire focuses on trying to convince everybody that she’s not heartless for wanting to leave to party with them instead of sticking around to care for the old biddy. Well, it seems important to Claire at least that everyone knows that; no one else really gives a shit. Suffice to say that all of these characters are spoiled, selfish, and horny. They treat their staff (maids and porters) like commodities, to be traded and summoned at will. All they think about is how best to fiddle the social abacus to benefit themselves.

There’s not much else to say about Party Going, really. If you didn’t enjoy Mrs Dalloway, then this is not the book for you. It’s more readable, yes, and less intensely modernist, but at the end of the day, it’s still a short book that takes a long time to read, about a bunch of privileged white people lolling about and preparing for a party.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Party Going:

  • “Short on wit.” – uncle tom
  • “John Updike is one of my favorite writers, but I found reading Henry Green like reading Upstairs, Downstairs in ultra-slow motion.” – J.M. Walker



50 Books To Read Before You Die

It’s a new year, and that means it’s reading resolution time. I’ve written before about how to read more, how to read more classic books, and how to read more diversely, so you can check out those posts if that’s what you’re after. But if you’re setting a more general goal this year, or looking for a fun reading challenge, this is the list for you. I’ve pulled together this list of 50 books to read before you die.

Now, these aren’t necessarily the “best” books, they’re not even the books I enjoyed the most – heck, I haven’t even read a few of them myself (yet). I certainly wouldn’t say these are the only books you should read, or that reading this list will make you definitively “well read” somehow. These are simply fifty of the books I think are well worth reading, listed here (in no particular order) alongside the reason I think you should give them a go…

50 Books To Read Before You Die - Text Overlaid on Image of Bookshelves Leading To Heavens - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Affiliate links below – if you buy a book (or fifty), I’ll be forever grateful!

1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte's Web - EB White - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Let’s ease into it with a children’s book, something swift and sweet. Even if you already read Charlotte’s Web as a child, it’s wonderful to revisit it as an adult. This book has much to teach us about friendship, diversity, and determination.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I know Jane Eyre isn’t without it’s problems (there’s the Creole wife locked in the attic by the romantic lead, for starters), but it’s a classic for a reason. It’s compulsively readable, beautifully rendered, and this Brontë sister has been called the “first historian of private consciousness”. Reading this book will show you where masterful first-person narration truly began. Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.

3. How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Oi! If you’re scrolling past this one, thinking “I don’t read self-help books” with a smug smile, you stop right now! How To Win Friends And Influence People isn’t so much a self-help book as it is a guide to being more polite and nice to others in your day-to-day life. I think the world could do with a bit more politeness and niceness, don’t you?

4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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

In Cold Blood wasn’t the first true crime book, but it can (probably) claim the title of the first “non-fiction novel” without much contest. In Capote’s account of a mass murder in Kansas, we can see the origins of all contemporary true crime and investigative journalism. Set aside your qualms about his liberal creative license – it’s a cracking yarn! Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

5. Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary Of A Young Girl - Anne Frank - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The first, and most obvious, reason to read Diary Of A Young Girl is an act of remembrance: the story of Anne Frank, and the countless others who perished and suffered alongside her, should be remembered by all who continue to populate this planet. I’d like to add a second, literary reason: I have yet to read a WWII historical fiction novel that comes even close to capturing the hope, horror, and heart-wrenching honesty of this young woman’s record of her experiences.

6. A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones - George R R Martin - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Even if you’re not normally a fantasy reader – I’m certainly not! – A Game Of Thrones is a good one to start with, mostly due to the enduring popularity of the HBO series. If you’ve seen it (and probably even if you haven’t) you’ll find the plot and characters at least somewhat familiar. That makes the whole thing easier to follow. And, let’s be honest, the main reason to read this book before you die is so that you can look down your nose at the know-it-alls who claim they never watched the series because they read the books. Who are they kidding? Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.

7. A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Even if you don’t necessarily need to know, in your day-to-day life, the origins of our universe and everything in it… it can’t hurt to have some idea, can it? A Short History Of Nearly Everything will give you the beginner’s guide to answering some of the big scientific questions of our time. Bonus: it’s all written in a highly accessible, folksy style that lets the mind-boggling facts speak for themselves without bogging you down in academic jargon. Read my full review of A Short History Of Nearly Everything here.

8. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You could probably read Mrs Dalloway fifty times over before you die, to the exclusion of all else, and still not understand quite everything Woolf was trying to say. I found it tough to persist with it when I knew that so much was flying over my head, but I still think it was a book worth reading. Mrs Dalloway has much to teach us about gender, perspective, human relationships – and even if we finish it having understood only a little, we still come out ahead, right? Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah - Chimananda Ngozi Adichie - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’ve seen her TED talk, you already know that Adichie is amazing, and her best known book – Americanah – will certainly give you a lot of food for thought. I realise that many of the books on this list are from the American literary tradition, so consider this book a kind of counterpoint to that. In it, Adichie examines the symbolism of America as a concept, and the ramifications of cultural imperialism across the world.

10. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Almost everyone was forced to read The Catcher In The Rye in high school, but it’s worth re-visiting (and definitely worth reading for the first time, if you managed to escape that particular rite of passage as I did). It’s a gritty coming-of-age novel, without the sparkle we’ve come to associate with hopeful young adult offerings of the 21st century. Plus, Holden Caulfield isn’t half as unlikeable as everyone makes out. Read my full review of The Catcher In The Rye here.

11. The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This is the original collection of short stories that birthed a huge body of work around the world’s most famous fictional detective, and you should read it before you die on that basis alone. But if that’s not enough to lure you in, trust me when I say The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes is a fun read! The stories aren’t particularly scary or spooky, but they’re always delightful and clever. It’s also a great example of how we can say a lot with a few words: Doyle was the master of economical use of language. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.

12. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Elena Ferrante, whomever she might be, is (in my humble opinion) one of the greatest writers of literary fiction in our time. Sure, it’s fun to venture down the rabbit-hole of sussing out her true identity, but the real reason to read My Brilliant Friend is bigger than that. These English editions are beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein (#namethetranslator), in a way that retains the rolling lyricism of the original Italian. They paint vivid pictures of life in mid-20th century Naples for two young girls growing into adulthood from poverty. A must-read before you die! Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.

13. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This is the book that saw a fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie, forcing him into hiding for many years. And with a title like The Satanic Verses… come on, don’t you want to see what all the fuss was about?



14. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

1984 - George Orwell - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This is the book that “activated” me as a teenager, the one that opened my eyes to the way my world could be manipulated and distorted by power structures beyond my young imagining. Nineteen Eighty-Four remains the pinnacle of dystopian fiction because it takes on startling new resonance every single year, with every crazy event of our increasingly mixed-up world.

15. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

The Fault In Our Stars - John Green - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, The Fault In Our Stars isn’t a great work of literature. I’m not sure it’s even a good work of contemporary young adult literature. But it is beloved by an entire generation of teens that are growing up fast. I think we should all read it now so that we’ll have something in common to discuss with the doctors who care for us in our nursing homes. Read my full review of The Fault In Our Stars here.

16. Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I know – I know – that even if you’ve never read this classic novella, you’ve used the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde”, or heard it somewhere and (thought you) understood what it meant. I say you owe it to the English idiom to read its story of origin, Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. For bonus points, you can check out Catch-22 as well! Read my full review of Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde here.

17. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The trial(s) regarding the prohibition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover were world-changing, in the sense that they provided a legal basis upon which we get to access ground-breaking and subversive literature today, even when governments and school boards would prefer that we didn’t. However, when you actually read this supposedly-erotic tome, it really serves as a good reminder that controversy sometimes amounts to no more than a storm in a tea cup. Read my full review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover here.

18. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick - Herman Melville - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I can feel you rolling your eyes! And, believe me, I understand. Moby Dick is a six-hundred page book about whales. The size of whales. The smell of whales. The slew of artworks featuring whales. The stories of whales in religion. There’s only so many whales a reader can take! But I would suggest you give it a go, and stick with it for as long as you can. Melville experimented with form and style throughout, so some chapters and passages read completely differently to the last – there’s surely something for everyone (even if they’re not that big on whales). Read my full review of Moby Dick here.

19. The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year Of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s a sad fact that at some point in life, each and every one of us will experience loss, grief, and mourning. The Year Of Magical Thinking is widely considered to be the epitome of memoirs on that experience, Joan Didion’s account of the year following the death of her husband. It’s a must-read before you die, so that you might be a little better prepared for another’s death (or better understand a long-ago passing).

20. Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

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

If you ask a random stranger on the street to name a “classic book”, with no other prompting, most of them will probably say Pride And Prejudice. It’s another one of those books that we all think we “should” read, and sometimes that kind of pressure is too much. I know I tried many times, and failed, until I finally picked it up at the right moment. Austen penned a brilliant and timeless tale of a man who changes his manners and a woman who changes her mind – stick with it until it sticks with you! Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.

21. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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

Maybe it’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason: To Kill A Mockingbird is the poster-child of books you should read before you die. It was Harper Lee’s only true novel, and what a novel it was! It has shaped politics, legal thinking, and morality debates in America and around the world for decades now. Not to mention the legion of kids named Atticus, after the eternal patriarch and impassioned lawyer… Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

22. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

This is a selfish inclusion on this reading list, I grant you, but I stand by it: I think everyone should read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, if for no other reason than I want them to. There’s a huge plot twist about 70 pages in, and – desperate as I am to talk about this book – I live in constant fear of spoiling it for someone. I won’t stop recommending this book until every reader has read it, and I can have spoiler-y discussions to my heart’s content! Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

23. Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Most other lists of books to read before you die include Marquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude. It’s a great book, no contest here, but I think that Love In The Time of Cholera is a better one to start with, especially if you’re new to the literature of South America and the tradition of magical realism.

24. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a miraculously poetic autobiography (well, perhaps not so miraculous, given that Angelou was, in fact, a poet). You will want to clutch this book to your chest and give it a great big hug. It’s tells the (true!) story of a young woman transformed, how she overcame indignity and prejudice to reach a place of self-possession and determination. Read my full review of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings here.

25. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter And The Philosophers Stone - JK Rowling - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

OK, this is technically seven books (making this a list of 56 books to read before you die, if you want to be a rule ninny), but who could pick just one from the series that changed the world? And, come to that, who hasn’t read at least one of the Harry Potter books yet? Come on! Get caught up with the rest of the world, if you haven’t already. This one’s a gimme.

26. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s a crying shame that more readers haven’t yet encountered Cold Comfort Farm. It lurks in the shadows of early 20th century classic literature, mostly because Stella Gibbons thumbed her nose at the “literati” (D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf in particular). She refused to play by the rules of networking and deference, and her sales and reputation suffered for it. You should read this book before you die, just to make sure Gibbons’s comedic brilliance won’t be forgotten, no matter how much the literary giants wanted it to be. Read my full review of Cold Comfort Farm here.

27. Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting For Godot - Samuel Beckett - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A couple of blokes stand around, chatting, waiting for their mate – don’t you want to know if he ever shows up? It’s a tragi-comedy, sure to tickle the funny bone of all readers with a darker sense of humour. Plus, Waiting For Godot is a play, and that was definitely Beckett’s natural talent, the best way to experience his (at-times very esoteric) writing. Read my full review of Waiting For Godot here.

28. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

Call Me By Your Name - Andre Aciman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you could use a little romance in your life (without all the naff cliches that are normally found in the pages of Harlequins, or Fabio clutching a buxom blonde on the cover), Call Me By Your Name is the salve for what ails you. Your heart will wrench, your toes will tingle, as you read this beautiful account of a clandestine love affair in 1980s Italy. Read my full review of Call Me By Your Name here.

29. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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

For too many years, Little Women was written off as foolish, simplistic, fluff “for girls”, and excluded from the literary canon. My challenge to all of you is this: find an edition with a decent introduction that describes Alcott’s life and politics, and then read this subtle but subversive story. You’ll see it in a whole new light, as I did! Read my full review of Little Women here.

30. Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M Pirsig - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance holds the world record (literally, it’s in the Guiness book) for being – get this – the most-often rejected book that went on to be a best-seller. I can only imagine the strength of will and self-belief it took for Pirsig to persist after receiving his 121st rejection letter… all that zen thinking must have done wonders! Read my full review of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance here.

31. How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

How Proust Can Change Your Life - Alain de Botton - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, if we’re being honest (which, of course, we always are), the main reason to read this book before you die is to work out whether it’s worth giving Proust himself a go. In Search Of Lost Time is the longest book in circulation, too long to bind in a single edition, so let de Botton decide for you whether or not to pick it up. Hopefully, reading How Proust Can Change Your Life, you’ll get an idea of whether it’s worth it. It probably is, but even if not, it’s nice to know that Proust could change your life, at least.

32. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families - Philip Gourevitch - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The literary world has dedicated millions and millions of pages to accounts of the world wars, but there are other conflicts just as worthy of our attention. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families is one such crucial account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which over one million people met their untimely violent deaths.

33. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Yes, I’m including yet another children’s book, because sometimes they have more to teach us than anything written for grown-ups. In this case, read Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland to experience and marvel at Carroll’s masterful word play – it just doesn’t quite translate in its full glory to the Disney screen adaptation (or any other!). Read my full review of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland here.

34. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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

It’s rare that a book is so good that it makes me angry: The Grapes Of Wrath is one on that short list. I was so gripped by the story of the Joads, a family attempting to escape the economic desolation of the Dust Bowl, that I found myself furious that no one had ever told me how damn good it was! Plus, this book will (sadly) have a recurring timeliness as we inch closer to a climate change doomsday… Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

35. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

The Feminine Mystique - Betty Friedan - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Second-wave feminism has long been superseded, and it’s easy for us now to decry it for all its problems, but I think it still behoves us to examine its origins as we continue to beat a path towards gender equality. The Feminine Mystique is the book widely credited with kicking things off for the second wave, and it holds up surprisingly well compared to some other feminist texts of the time.

36. The Trial by Franz Kafka

The Trial - Franz Kafka - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you can’t quite bring yourself to pick up Crime And Punishment (though you shouldn’t be afraid, it’s actually really good!), here’s a more accessible alternative. The Trial tells the story of a man who is arrested and put on (you guessed it) trial, answerable to a remote authority that we don’t quite understand, for supposed crimes that are never quite revealed to us.

37. Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman

The Complete Poems of Walt Whitman - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Picking up a copy of Leaves Of Grass is kind of like opening a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Whitman first published it as a collection of twelve poems in 1855, but then spent many years re-writing and adding to it, so that the final compilation included well over four hundred pieces. Whichever edition you choose, you’ll find it to be a wonderfully sensual collection that straddles philosophies, movements and themes.

38. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s another slim tome that we should all read for the pure fun of it: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It’s ridiculous, satirical, and comforting all at once – not to mention hilarious! Plus, you’ll finally get to understand all those hip references to taking towels on holiday, and the number forty-two, and that constant refrain “don’t panic”… Read my full review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy here.

39. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterley

Hidden Figures - Margot Lee Shetterley - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Shetterley spent six years working on this biographical story, an account of the lives and works of three NASA mathematicians that history might otherwise have forgotten (thus, the title: Hidden Figures). If you’re asking yourself why their figures may have been hidden from view: well, they were women, for one thing, and women of colour at that, working in a field heavily dominated by men. Their contributions to the space race were invaluable, and this book seeks to set the record straight. Read my full review of Hidden Figures here.

40. Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement - Ian McEwan - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

McEwan is pretty damn prolific, and yet somehow the premises of his stories are always jaw-droppers. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, I would recommend starting with this one, his best-known book, Atonement. In it, one young girl’s mistake has spiralling ramifications. Lives are ruined, including her own, and she has to contend with how to (you guessed it) atone for her role in the whole mess. Read my full review of Atonement here.

41. The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God Of Small Things - Arundhati Roy - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The God Of Small Things was Roy’s debut novel, and it made one heck of a splash – can you imagine winning the Booker Prize your first time out? Not only that, she did a Harper Lee, and stepped back from writing and publishing for twenty years! Her follow-up wasn’t published until 2017 (sophomore slump be damned!). But for a fine examination of how small things affect our lives in big ways, you’ve got to go back to the start with this one.

42. Inferno by Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It seemed only right to include at least one foundational text, a story that has influenced literature in such a way that we still hear its echoes today, in this list of books to read before you die. I chose Inferno, the first of Dante’s Divine Comedy trilogy. It’s a narrative poem, depicting Dante’s descent through the circles of Hell. Reading it as a contemporary reader, you’ll appreciate how it illuminates the endurance of human nature. We really haven’t changed all that much since Dante dreamed up fitting punishments for our sins in the 14th century… Read my full review of The Divine Comedy here.

43. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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

It never ceases to amaze me how the wowsers can completely miss the point when it comes to literature. The Color Purple has been consistently censored and banned in various ways ever since it was first published in 1982, usually on the grounds of its “explicit” depictions of violence. And yet, the whole point of the story was to reveal to an indifferent audience the violence wrought upon black women in the American South in the 1930s. Read this book before you die, and show the nay-sayers where they can stick their “concern” for your delicate sensibilities! Read my full review of The Color Purple here.

44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eugenides reportedly sat down to write Middlesex, an intersectional bildungsroman and family saga, after finding that other accounts of intersex lives and anatomies were insufficient in promoting understanding. In so doing, he’s woven together two intricate experiences: that of intersex people, and that of Greek immigrants, in 20th century America. It’s a lot to tackle all at once, but Eugenides got a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts, and that ain’t no small thing. Read my full review of Middlesex here.

45. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Remember the fifteen-year-old girl who was shot by the Taliban for standing her ground when it came to her right to an education? This is her story, I Am Malala. It plays out against the horrifying backdrop of the rise (and fall) of the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan. This book is so detailed, so earnest and fierce, that it is still banned in many schools of that region – making it, in my eye, all the more essential reading.

46. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Handmaid’s Tale was originally published in 1985, but boy-howdy did it come into its own these past few years! I felt like I couldn’t take a step in any direction without running into Gilead-themed protests, the HBO adaptation, the sequel, or some other homage to Atwood’s dystopian story of ideology and control. Read my full review of The Handmaid’s Tale here.

47. This House Of Grief by Helen Garner

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

Helen Garner is an unimpeachable darling of the Australian literary community, and it’s tough to narrow down down this selection to just one book from her incredibly varied back-catalogue… but in the end, I went with This House Of Grief. It’s her account of the murder conviction of a man who drove his three children into a dam, killing them, in 2005. It is haunting in the extreme; you won’t be the same after reading it (just as Garner has said she was never the same after writing it).

48. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved - Toni Morrison - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Did you know that Beloved is actually based on the real-life story of an African-American slave? Her name was Margaret Garner, and she escaped Kentucky in 1856. She fled to Ohio, by then a free state. Morrison, who by then was already regarded in some circles as America’s greatest novelist, came across Margaret’s story, and she was driven to write this imagined account of a former slave living in Ohio. She dedicated it to “sixty million and more” – the number of Africans, and their descendants, who died as a result of the slave trade.

49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Anita Loos - Books Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I will never, never, stop being bitter about the fact that The Great Gatsby is held up as the definitive Jazz Age novel, when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is so much better! Why would you want to read about a miserable rich stalker throwing fancy parties, when you could instead read the fictional diaries of a woman willing to exploit the gender roles of 1920s America for all they’re worth? It’s hilarious, it’s brilliant, and it’s taught me more about that period than anything Fitzgerald ever scribbled down. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.

50. Ulysses by James Joyce

Ulysses - James Joyce - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Yes. It’s here. On this list. If I have to read Ulysses (and the Keeping Up With The Penguins reading list dictates I must), then you have to read it. At least give it a go! I’m a firm believer that we should all read the books that intimidate us, like trying new foods or travelling someplace unfamiliar, and hey – it might not be as bad as we all think! Read my full review of Ulysses here.

Want more books worth reading? Check these out:

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