Keeping Up With The Penguins

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101 Funny Book Tweets

We talk a lot of shit about Twitter, but it’s actually a wonderful platform for pithy jokes. To celebrate me finally getting in gear and properly starting a dedicated Keeping Up With The Penguins Twitter account, here are 101 funny book tweets. (Okay, fine, I also needed to find a use for the ridiculously large bank of screenshots taking up space on my phone…)

101 Funny Book Tweets - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Funny Book Tweets of 2022

Relatable Funny Book Tweets

Screenshot of tweet from @PatrickNathan
"me: "omg I can't wait to read this!"
me: *places it on shelf for six years*"

Funny Book Tweets About Pride And Prejudice

Read my review of Pride And Prejudice here.

Funny Book Tweets About Moby Dick

Read my review of Moby Dick here.

Funny Book Tweets About The Brontës

Read more about the Brontës here.

Funny Book Tweets About Frankenstein

Read my review of Frankenstein here.

Funny Tweets About Kids Books

Screenshot of a Tweet from @blackcindy: "Matilda was dead ass walking around with adoption papers fjjcjffc my good sis was ready to kick it"

Funny Book Tweets About Kafka

Funny Book Tweets About To Kill A Mockingbird

Read my review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

Funny Book Tweets About The Picture Of Dorian Gray

Read my review of The Picture Of Dorian Gray here.

More Funny Book Tweets

Screenshot of a Tweet by @joboyley: "My daughter has started a story and 'Rebecca' no longer has the greatest opening lines in literature." with a picture of a handwritten note that says: "As the day becomes night, the ghosts start to stir. Some littrely start to stir, because they are chef ghosts."

16 Historical Fiction Books About Real People

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but when I do, I find that the historical fiction books about real people have a little extra “zing”. Whether they’re household names, like Henry VIII or Lizzie Borden, or unsung heroes, like prisoners of war or long-suffering wives, it never ceases to amaze me the life and level of detail authors are able to bring to these books about historical figures. Here are 16 historical fiction books about real people that are well worth adding to your shelves.

16 Historical Fiction Books About Real People - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
And let’s be real: if you use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission.

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz - Heather Morris - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Heather Morris’s debut novel, The Tattooist Of Auschwitz, is based on the real-life stories of Lale Sokolov. Sokolov met his wife, Gita, in Auschwitz, and they managed – against all odds – to survive and start a life together after the end of WWII. Morris’s fictionalised Sokolov meets his future wife when he tattoos her identification number onto her arm when she is first imprisoned in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This Holocaust fiction novel has been controversial, with experts questioning the accuracy of elements in Morris’s story and others defending her use of creative license. Wherever you land in the debate, there’s no doubt that as far as historical fiction books about real people go, this is an interesting one.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There are real people everywhere you look in Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, the first in a trilogy of Tudor historical fiction novels. It’s a condensed fictionalised biography of Thomas Cromwell, a key player in the rise and reign of Henry VIII. Mantel has said that she spent five years researching Cromwell’s life and the Tudor period, making sure that her fictional account matched the historical record. Her focus was on putting the reader in the time and place, hopefully losing the judgemental lens of hindsight. Cromwell is a particularly interesting real person on whom to base a historical fiction novel, given his modest beginnings and his meteoric rise.

A Brief History Of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A Brief History Of Seven Killings - Marlon James - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Speaking of Booker Prize-winning historical fiction books about real people: Marlon James’s Booker Prize-winning novel A Brief History Of Seven Killings revolves around the true story of the 1976 attempted assassination of Jamaican musician Bob Marley. Just two days before he was set to play at the Smile Jamaica Festival, a band-aid on the wounds of recent political violence in the country, seven armed men raided Marley’s home and opened fire. Through this series of events, James weaves in a much deeper history of a country on the precipice.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Alias Grace is Margaret Atwood’s fictionalised account of the real life and alleged crimes of Grace Marks, once considered Canada’s most celebrated murderess. Marks and another servant from her household, James McDermott, were tried and convicted of the 1843 murders of the householder Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (slash secret lover) Nancy Montgomery. McDermott was sentenced to death and hanged, while Marks’s death sentence was commuted. Was she actually guilty, or was she wrongfully imprisoned? Atwood doesn’t necessarily answer the obvious question, but it’s still a really fascinating read. Read my full review of Alias Grace here.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Philippa Gregory has a PhD in 18th century literature. She’s written a number of historical romance novels, but The Other Boleyn Girl is the one for which she’s best known. It’s a semi-speculative historical romance, which posits that Henry VIII originally fell in love with then-14-year-old Mary Boleyn before famously divorcing his wife, and England from the Vatican, to marry her older sister Anne. Yes, Mary Boleyn was a real person, but disturbingly little is known about her today. Gregory has taken it upon herself to fill in the gaps. Read my full review of The Other Boleyn Girl here.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done - Sarah Schmidt - Keeping Up With The Penguins

We all know the rhyme, don’t we? Lizzie Borden took an axe / and gave her mother forty whacks / When she saw what she had done / she gave her father forty-one. It’s based on the real life murder of Lizzie Borden’s parents, but what if there’s more to the story? That’s what Sarah Schmidt explores in See What I Have Done, her fictional account of what really happened in the Borden household prior to the murders. From multiple perspectives, she interrogates all of the differing accounts of what “really” happened that day, echoing the real confusion as to Borden’s guilt that has persisted over decades.

True History Of The Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

True History Of The Kelly Gang - Peter Carey - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There’s a certain delicious defiance in calling historical fiction books about real people “true history”s, don’t you think? It’s especially so in the case of True History Of The Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. It’s a fictional story based rather loosely on the life of renowned bush-ranger Ned Kelly and his gang. He positions it as an autobiography, written in Kelly’s own hand; he modelled the dialect style off the most famous surviving piece of Ned Kelly’s own writing, The Jerilderie letter. You certainly can’t fault his attention to detail – which makes his generous use of the ol’ creative license easily forgivable. Read my full review of True History Of The Kelly Gang here.

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln In The Bardo - George Saunders - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Beloved American president Abraham Lincoln had a rough trot in many respects – but one of the roughest patches came after the death of his son, William “Willie” Wallace Lincoln. Willie was just 11 years old when he died of typhoid fever, at the White House no less, during his father’s presidency. George Saunders, noted American short story writer, heard a story about how President Lincoln used to visit Willie’s crypt at Oak Hill Cemetery to reportedly hold his son’s body, and it proved a spark of inspiration. His first full-length novel, Lincoln In The Bardo, is an experimental exploration of grief, death, and perspective, inspired by these real, tragic events.

The Swans Of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

The Swans Of Fifth Avenue - Melanie Benjamin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Whenever I find a book I really love, I find myself becoming curious about the author’s life off the page. That’s what drew me to The Swans Of Fifth Avenue, a historical fiction novel about the real life of author Truman Capote. Benjamin tells the story of how he infiltrated, and then betrayed, the socialites of Manhattan’s upper-est echelons. After the riotous success of In Cold Blood, he found himself in need of a story, so he befriended the Ladies Who Lunch and then used their lives as fodder. Yes, that really happened, and Benjamin wrote a novel about it! Read my full review of The Swans Of Fifth Avenue here.

A Room Made Of Leaves by Kate Grenville

A Room Made Of Leaves - Kate Grenville - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I don’t tend to read a lot of Australian historical fiction, mostly because I resent the wistful, whitewashed, romantic versions of our colonial past that it tends to present, but A Room Made Of Leaves is something special. It’s an entirely-believable imagined memoir of a real woman, Elizabeth Macarthur (1766-1850), the wife of wool baron John Macarthur, whom history has all but erased. Grenville dedicates it “to all those whose stories have been silenced”, and it speaks to those gaps in the archive – a work of historical fiction for the #metoo era. Read my full review of A Room Made Of Leaves here.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Blonde - Joyce Carol Oates - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Decades after her death, Norma Jeane Baker – alias Marilyn Monroe – remains the subject of public fascination and scrutiny. While much attention is paid to her roles as actress and “sex symbol”, Joyce Carol Oates took a closer look at the ugly truths of her life in Blonde. Oates stresses that this is a fictionalised account of Monroe’s life, but it’s one that will unsettle you and force you to look at the syrupy starlet very differently. As far as historical fiction books about real people go, this one is particularly shocking and revelatory and brilliant. (And Elena Ferrante highly recommends it!)

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Booth - Karen Joy Fowler - Keeping Up With The Penguins

John Wilkes Booth is one of the most infamous men in American history, responsible for the assassination of one of the country’s most beloved presidents, abolitionist Abraham Lincoln. Much has been written about him, but Karen Joy Fowler’s recent take is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating historical fiction books about real people I’ve ever read. Booth is not just a story about John Wilkes Booth: it’s the story of his whole, weird, super-dramatic family, and the whole, weird, super-dramatic times they lived in. Part-family saga, part-psychological interrogation, Booth is a must-read for fans of Hamilton. Read my full review of Booth here.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours - Michael Cunningham - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m pretty sure if you lined up every book written about Virginia Woolf, the line would circle the Earth twice (or something equally ridiculous). Her likeness appears frequently in historical fiction books about real people, because she’s a fascinating figure (and we have a grotesque interest in dark, brilliant women who meet sad ends). One of the better treatments of Woolf’s life I’ve read is that found in The Hours, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham. Woolf is one of three protagonists, three women whose lives are touched in some way or another by Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway. It’s a sad read, but a beautiful one. Read my full review of The Hours here.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Agnes Magnúsdóttir might not be a household name, but she still occupies an important place in world history: she was the last woman to be executed in Iceland, beheaded by axe in 1830. She’s slightly better known now than she was in the past (a particularly positive result of historical fiction books about real people), thanks to Hannah Kent’s book Burial Rites. The truth of what Agnes did at Ketilsson’s farm is blurred and lost to time, but it would appear that a series of romantic entanglements led to her and two accomplices stabbing and bludgeoning two people to death, and attempting to cover the crime with a fire.

At The Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino

At The Wolf's Table - Rosella Postorino - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Rosella Postorino’s historical fiction novel At The Wolf’s Table was inspired by Margot Wölk, a woman who didn’t reveal until very late in her life that she had been one of Hitler’s food tasters. Her (truly rotten, awful, no-good) job was to sample the genocidal dictator’s meal before he ate it, to test whether it had been poisoned or otherwise tampered with. Sadly, Wölk passed soon after revealing the truth of her role as Hitler’s food taster, so we have lost the opportunity to learn more about what that life was like, but we can be glad that Postorino has found a way to tell a version of her story to the world.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rodham - Curtis Sittenfeld - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sometimes, historical fiction books about real people merge with the speculative to produce really interesting results. One of the best examples is Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld’s version of what might have happened if Hilary Clinton had never married Bill and forged her own path. It’s a “what might have been” alternative history, one that is full to the brim with gossip and scandal. Oprah called it “a deviously clever what-if”, and both the New Yorker and NPR named it one of the best books of 2020.

Best Amazon Reviews Of Classic Books

If you’ve been a Keeper Upperer for a while, you’ll have noticed that with each book review, I share some of my favourite Amazon reviews of the book in question. The Amazon review section is one of the most magical corners of the internet, full of hilarity and hubris. The very, very best Amazon reviews are to be found on classic books, especially those that are likely to be included on high-school and college reading lists. Here are some of the best Amazon reviews of classic books I’ve encountered in my reviewing career…

The Best Amazon Reviews Of Classic Books - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“My personal legend is complete and the sun is setting on the mountains to the north. My treasure is having been able to complete this stupid book and put it away forever.” – Laura WG

Read my full review of The Alchemist here.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“What light-hearted fun this was! A comedy romp from beginning to end. Highly recommended if you need cheering up.” – Katie Krackers

Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

“The mass baby electrocution scene was epic. ZAP! That’s what you get for looking at books!” – John Sapinski

Read my full review of Brave New World here.

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

“I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if the author knew this or not, but the teen in this book does quite a bit of drinking and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to drink under 21. Now sure, we’ve all done it but does that make it right? Maybe. So I guess the real question here is, should we lower the drinking age? I don’t know. Ask JD Salinger.” – JACOB AND SUMMER

Read my full review of The Catcher In The Rye here.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

“I cannot like this book. How did this become a classic? The gibberish throughout hurts me. I feel dumber just attempting to read this ‘book’. My feelings are the characters are stupid. They beat people up, smoke, and cause trouble all in a language that is not English. Not fun to read. Not engaging. Not anything worth recommending. If I wanted to read nonsense I would find Dr Seuss books, at least those make sense.” – Amazon Customer

Read my full review of A Clockwork Orange here.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

“Sadly, no explicit sex, but terrific humor” – Francis Assaf

Read my full review of Cold Comfort Farm here.

Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“This book manifest a many-eyed demon in your soul, who will proceed to tear the blindfold off your inner child’s face, exposing him to the blinding light of truth as he falls headlong into the abyss while madly clawing at the smoking pits that were one his pure, innocent eyes.” – Amazon Customer

Read my full review of Crime And Punishment here.

Delta Of Venus by Anaïs Nin

“I suggest a more accurate title for this book, “Bored with Copulation” by Inane Nincompoop.
Don’t expect this shoddy diary to enhance your bag of sexual tricks to surprise your lover.” – Where Waldo?

Read my full review of Delta Of Venus here.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

“Drac should get a tan.” – Ryan

Read my full review of Dracula here.

The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene

“My third time out with Greene. The guy’s a bore. The End of the Affair is like having the Watchtower shoved at you by a Jehovah’s Witness with a really high opinion of himself.” – Fintan Ryan

Read my full review of The End Of The Affair here.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“This book sucks so much. It is the worst, most pretentious piece of crap I have ever read. I had to read it for school and I couldn’t even finish this poorly written atrocious piece of crap. If this book had a face, I’d punch it in the balls. Zero stars.” – Tyra Howell

Read my full review of Fahrenheit 451 here.

The Golden Bowl by Henry James

“I found the lives of people who had nothing better to do but visit each other and gossip, woefully uninteresting.” – Ms Katharine L. Kane

Read my full review of The Golden Bowl here.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“So, I’m only on page 478 of 619, but I’ve been disgusted at the amount of profanity. So far I’ve found more than 500 uses of profanity! On average every page (with relatively big writing, even) has more than one swear. Yikes!

I’m never going to read Grapes of Wrath again, and won’t be recommending it to anyone.If you don’t like profanity, be careful.” – Jef4Jesus

Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

“I was forced to read this book in my English class this year, and I almost died. For a more thrilling read, try a dictionary or a phone book.” – Brandon Rohrig

Read my full review of Great Expectations here.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

“This was the worst book I have ever read in my entire life. My whole family hates it too. Honestly, I could barley read it for 10 minutes without it putting me to sleep from Gulliver dragging on about garbage no one cares about. I would rather drink a gallon of mayonnaise then read this, actually I would BATHE in mayonnaise for a MONTh then read this book. And don’t even think about saying “oh I bet its not THAT bad,” because it IS THAT BAD! I wish I didn’t have to read this book for my class, but by the time i’m done, I might as well burn the book.” – AmazonShoper

Read my full review of Gulliver’s Travels here.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“Despite the fact that I bought this on the recommendation of a stupid jerk who acted like I hung the moon until one day he suddenly broke up with me the day after I’d been awake all night in the ER with a sick kid… OVER THE PHONE, NO LESS… WTF?!… it’s a really good book. You can’t blame Capote that there are terrible humans in the world, even if he did write about them really well. Maybe my boyfriend recommending a book about a gruesome family execution should have tipped me off. I dunno. You live, you learn. But yeah, good book.” – Jess

Read my full review of In Cold Blood here.

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

“I checked the ratings on Goodreads. This is what it showed:

5 stars: 33%, 4901

4 stars: 28%, 4064

3 stars: 22%, 3268

2 stars: 9%, 1414

1 star: 5%, 848

Meaning: 95% of these readers are flock-following, digression-loving, hobby-horse riding loonies who have swallowed the Kool-aid. There is nothing here but vacuous thundergunk. Pure, putrid unentertaining garbage. If I would have laughed once – just once – during the reading of this book, I would have given it a whole extra star, but it couldn’t even do that. I give him one star for spelling Tristram’s name right, and even then, it’s a made-up name anyway, so I may have been hoodwinked as well.” – Martin M. Bodek

Read my full review of The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman here.

Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

“I had to read this book for literature class I hated it. my teacher rattled on about the symbolizm in this book.It was so boring and kinda no girls, wasnt they suposed to repopulate the world after nuclear war so not possible with only boys. The one thing i found interesting was how they acted like wild animals after they had been on the island a while.that was kinda cool.But it was to confusing” – Amazon Customer

Read my full review of Lord Of The Flies here.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

“I was told this was about fishing. It’s not. Because a whale is a mammal.” – Joe Octane

Read my full review of Moby Dick here.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

“Catcher In The Rye… as told by middle-aged English farts. The party! The party! Let us listen to an old farty woman stream her consciousness to us to hear, pointless thoughts that go nowhere. That’s pretty much this book in a nutshell. Very boring. Mrs Dalloway whines about not marrying Peter Clark, but Pete’s been in India for five years. I’m sure she would have been unhappy either way, marrying him or not, him leaving or not; all she does is party, chill with friends, and rinse & repeat. Ughhh.” – Allen

Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

“This book is about as far away from biblical salvation as you can be. The main character had to work for his salvation which is not what the bible teaches. John 6:47, Romans 4:5, Eph 2:8-9If you wish to confuse someone and see your friend or relative in hell, get them this book.” – Dave Nesbitt

Read my full review of The Pilgrim’s Progress here.

The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

“I just wanted to say that this book made me wish that theyd legalise hand guns in the UK. It is the kind of book that makes little children cry. I have read more interesting stuff on the bake of crisp packets. In conclusion 9/10 phycopathic maniacs recomend reading The Pride of MJB before going on a random killing spree.” – Mr Cook’s Favourite Pupil

Read my full review of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie here.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“This book is, without question, the most boring peace of literature ever written. It makes the technical manual to my VCR look like “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. In fact, it’s so boring that I recommend a new synonym for boring, “Rebecca”. The book is about people who have disgustingly unbelievable personalities, who do really boring things, and make up mysteries about killing people that aren’t even in the story, then insist on telling you about it. The main character/narrator is the most overly emotional and sappy person in all of fiction, and could never ever be a real person, even in the 1920s when this book takes place. She insists on telling you about all of her problems, and how she can never “feel right” at Manderly, even though no sane person could EVER care. It’s enough to make you sick. The story really wasn’t that bad but it could have easily been told in about 1/10 of the amount of time. It’s like Dickens description without everything that makes Dickens good. Even after the thousands of atrocities committed by Hitler, I still consider him to be a great man, for burning THIS book. It’s that bad.” – person

Read my full review of Rebecca here.

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

“Mr Hyde was described as complete evil. Other than bumping into a kid and killing a man, what else has he done? I’m disappointed.” – Kevin Palmer

Read my full review of Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde here.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“Stupid book. Some dumb and eliterit redneck writed it but it has a whorible story. Janny is a nayeeve teenager who thinks about love in a economicol way. she does’nt no enything about supply and command.” – Mason Weinstock

Read my full review of Their Eyes Were Watching God here.

The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James

“There are no more commas left in the world for anyone else because Henry James USED THEM ALL.” – BarbMama

Read my full review of The Turn Of The Screw here.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

“Classic Victorian plot of everyone being too proud to be happy.” – Jamie K Devine

Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

Milkman – Anna Burns

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Milkman in the 2018 Better Read Than Dead Booker Prize giveaway. This book was a big deal back then (which feels like a lifetime ago). It went on to win the Booker Prize (shortly after I won it in my BRTD stack), making Anna Burns the very first Northern Irish writer to get the gong.

Get Milkman here.
(I hope I’m not milking it, but if you do, as an affiliate I’ll earn a small commission.)

As per the blurb: “In this unnamed city, to be interesting is to be dangerous… [Milkman is] a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.”

The “nameless” city is quite clearly Belfast, Burns’s hometown. Milkman is loosely based on her experiences growing up in that neck of the woods during the Troubles. Burns herself has called the setting as “a distorted version of Belfast”, but also that it could work as “any sort of totalitarian, closed society existing in similarly oppressive conditions”.

Burns nails the opening line, too.

The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died.

Milkman (Page 1)

It really sets the tone for this historical psychological novel. The narrator is an unnamed 18-year-old who is being stalked by an older man she calls “the milkman”. He also happens to be a paramilitary honcho. Despite her rebuffing his offers of “lifts” and “talks”, and her quasi-relationship with a more age-appropriate man she calls “maybe-boyfriend”, rumours start to spread around the insular community that she and the milkman are having a torrid affair. This sends the narrator’s mother off the deep-end, panicked that her daughter is practically an old maid and now her reputation is ruined.

It’s a hard plot to summarise, mostly because nothing and no-one is specifically named. Even the narrator only refers to herself as “middle sister” and “maybe girlfriend”. This is a heavy-handed but effective allusion to the culture of silence that surrounded the Troubles (see, once again, Seamus Heaney’s poem Whatever You Say, Say Nothing).

Also, much of the plot of Milkman is built around seemingly small events, things that might barely rate a mention if you and I were to discuss our day over a cocktail. Everything is heightened, everything is politicised, and everything is prone to being extrapolated upon by the community. A trip to the fish and chip shop becomes a harrowing experience with a major domino effect in the main character’s life, all because of a rumour that the proprietor heard about her love life.

(Important note: one not-small event that warrants a major trigger warning are particularly violent and horrifying animal deaths, about a hundred pages in. I had to skip my eyes down a couple of pages to get past it, it was making me queasy.)

Anyway, over the course of the novel, the milkman’s stalking escalates, to the point where he’s threatening to kill the narrator’s maybe-boyfriend if she doesn’t leave him. The narrator’s friend calls her out for her aberrant behaviour – like reading while walking, and running at the reservoir – which has apparently made her an easy target for this crazy stalker-slash-hardcore paramilitary. Oh, and she gets poisoned by a local kook. The poor lamb is having a rough month! Luckily, it all kinda-sorta works out by the end. Mostly.

If William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf had a love child who grew up in 1970s Belfast, they would write this book. Milkman won major praise – more than Woolf or Faulkner received for some of their works, even – with reviewers praising Burns’s voice and portrayal of the complex social politics of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. The Booker Prize judges said:

From the opening page her words pull us into the daily violence of her world — threats of murder, people killed by state hit squads — while responding to the everyday realities of her life as a young woman, negotiating a way between the demands of family, friends and lovers in an unsettled time. The novel delineates brilliantly the power of gossip and social pressure in a tight-knit community, and shows how both rumour and political loyalties can be put in the service of a relentless campaign of individual sexual harassment… an exploration of the universal experience of societies in crisis.

Booker Prize Judges’ comments on milkman, 2018

I think it’s best to inhale Milkman – read as much of it in a single sitting as you can. I was reading it bit-by-bit at first, and not really getting into it; then, one night, I had the time to read two-thirds of it all in one go, and that’s when I started to really feel the flow. I’d also recommend reading it immediately after Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, if you’re not particularly familiar with the Troubles. As a non-fiction and fiction pairing, they both explore the consequences of a culture of silence and complement each other superbly.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Milkman:

  • “I just can’t finish it, it hurts me to my core to try and read it.” – Danielle Mongeon
  • “While I was reading this book I seriously contemplated making a Dr appointment because I felt like nothing on the pages made any sense to me and I could not keep up with who the author was talking about. No one has any names and as far as I can tell this book has no meaning. I will most likely burn this winter if my house gets too cold.” – Aubrey
  • “Charming and funny, but serious too. If you are not a skilled reader with a sense of humor, though, you will probably not like this novel. In that case, don’t give it a low rating. Consider giving yourself a low rating instead.” – Reviewer
  • “It’s no fun being Irish. Or Reading Milkman. There. I just saved you 17 torturous hours.” – Michael Culp

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).

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


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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