Keeping Up With The Penguins

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20+ Sad Girl Books

Sad Girl books are kind of the Taylor Swift of book categories. There’s a solid rabid fan base, a swathe of detractors, and now and then one of the hits achieves mainstream cut-through. Sad Girl books are the kind that should come with a Lana Del Rey soundtrack, usually with a white woman protagonist in her 20s or 30s. She’s struggling with something – grief, trauma, mental illness – and she usually makes some kind of determined change in her life, which falls to shit. If you’re new to Sad Girl books, this is the list you need, a comprehensive reading guide to get you started.

20 Sad Girl Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation is the queen bee of sad girl books. The unnamed narrator is the pinnacle of sad girl fitness. She’s beautiful, she’s hateful, she’s narcissistic, she’s grieving, she’s rich, and she’s come up with the most ridiculous solution to her problems in the history of the world. She decides to sleep for an entire year, a clinophile dream fuelled by the disgraceful prescribing practices of the eccentric Dr Tuttle. You won’t be able to look away as she sleeps her way through most of 2001 in her Manhattan apartment, knowing exactly what awaits her when she “wakes up” in September.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Bell Jar is the O.G. sad girl book. Sylvia Plath was bumming everyone out and making depressed girls feel Seen(TM) long before it was cool. The story is loosely autobiographical (except that Plath’s real life had a far more tragic end). The main character, Esther, has recently finished a summer internship in New York City, and she comes out of it more lost and perplexed than ever. As the “bell jar” of depression descends over her life, she beats against the cage she feels her gender has built for her. If any book deserves a trigger warning for depression and suicidality, it’s surely this one. Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People - Sally Rooney - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Millennial wunderkind Sally Rooney is (at least mostly) responsible for the burgeoning trend towards sad girl books. Normal People is her magnum opus, a character-driven novel depicting the hopelessly destructive relationship between two small-town Irish teenagers. Their romance-cum-friendship-cum-rivalry ebbs and flows across the course of their lives, and your allegiances to each of them will shift accordingly. Neither Marianne nor Connor are particularly likeable, and neither of them come out of this book with their hands clean. This is the sad girl book for anyone who’s in a situationship that has passed its use-by date. Read my full review of Normal People here.

Bonus recommendation: Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations With Friends, is actually the superior book (in my opinion). In it, a sad girl finds herself in a love quadrangle with her ex-girlfriend and a married couple, and (once again) all of them suck. Read my full review of Conversations With Friends here.

Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster - Raven Leilani - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Raven Leilani’s protagonist, Edie, might not be white – but she’s definitely a sad girl. She’s barely holding it together at her job due to her growing obsession with the married middle-aged white man, Eric. When she is inevitably fired, a series of convenient coincidences sees her moving in with Eric’s wife Rebecca and their adopted (Black) daughter. This is an explicit, wry novel full of self-destructive sex and violence, a testament to the power of millennial ennui in the big cities. Luster was big-time book club fodder when it came out in 2020, one of the few sad girl books to cut through to the mainstream. Read my full review of Luster here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister The Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sad girl books can be fun, too! My Sister, The Serial Killer is case in point. The conceit is laid out in the title. Korede is the person that her sister, Ayoola, calls to help hide a body – literally. See, Ayoola has the unfortunate habit of killing her boyfriends when she’s done with them, and Korede feels like she has no choice but to put her medical expertise to use, helping her keep getting away with it. That all changes, though, when Ayoola sets her sights on the hunky doctor at Korede’s hospital, the one that Korede has had her eye on for months. Who will she choose: her murderous sister, or her long-time crush? Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

Breasts And Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

Breasts And Eggs - Mieko Kawakami - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s not every day you come across a sad girl book recommended by Haruki Murakami – in fact, I think this might be the only one you ever find. He called it “breathtaking”, and has described Mieko Kawakami as his “favourite novelist”. That’s some high praise, right there! Breasts And Eggs is the first of her novels to be translated from the original Japanese into English (by David Boyd), and the sad girlies fell head-over-heels in love with it upon release. The story is told in two parts, each of which could stand alone but are brought together by their narrator (Natsuko, a writer living in Tokyo) and themes (womanhood, motherhood, and self-discovery). Read my full review of Breasts And Eggs here.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not many sad girl books are written by men (as you can see from this list), but The Virgin Suicides broke the mold. It was the sad girl book of the ’90s, its popularity skyrocketing after the film adaptation directed by Sofia Coppola. The alluring contradiction is represented in the title: the “pure” Lisbon sisters, affected by the “dark” scourge of mental illness and suicidality. Another unusual twist can be seen in the narration; the primary perspective is that of the boys of the suburban neighbourhood where the Lisbon sisters live, as they watch their “perfect” lives unravel from afar.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Girl Interrupted - Susanna Kaysen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Girl, Interrupted is better known as one of the ultimate sad girl movies (a blonde Angelina Jolie leading a young Winona Ryder astray after they bond in a mental institution? yes, please!). But the cult classic film was actually based on a memoir, one of the rare non-fiction sad girl books. (Why are so few sad girl books true stories? I don’t know, exactly. I guess they’re just too sad.) Kaysen depicts a kaleidoscopic world inside the McLean psychiatric hospital of the 1960s, forcing us to interrogate how much we really understand about mental illness and its treatment.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian - Han Kang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.” Isn’t that just… chef’s kiss? It’s the opening line of The Vegetarian, and it promises a wonderful sad girl novel to come. It’s a story about Yeong-hye, an ordinary woman with an ordinary husband, who up-ends her life and the lives of those around her by deciding to commit to vegetarianism. This is a sad girl book for the vegan girlies, and the ones who have any kind of food intolerance or aversion. And, by the by, it was “elegantly translated into bone-spare English” by Deborah Smith. Read my full review of The Vegetarian here.

New Animal by Ella Baxter

New Animal - Ella Baxter - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“Raw” is an over-used word for honest and forthright stories about sex and death, but that’s exactly what New Animal is: it’s the steak tartare of literature. Perhaps that means it’s not for everyone, but the sad book girlies went absolutely nuts for it. Amelia is the cosmetician in her modern family’s funeral parlour, “well known in this town full of retirees and clumsy tradespeople” (ha!). She also likes to de-stress from her days of dressing corpses with the company of young men (ahem). She’s an expert compartmentaliser, but even she struggles to keep her emotions in order when the grim reaper comes too close to home. Read my full review of New Animal here.

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead - Emily Austin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not all Sad Girl books are hopelessly morose trauma-dumps. Some of them are delightfully wry and self-aware, like Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead. Gilda can’t stop thinking about death (given the state of the world, it’s hard to blame her). In desperation, she responds to a flyer for free therapy from her local church – but instead of healed, she finds herself installed as their new receptionist. For a queer atheist with intense anxiety, this presents many problems. Her anxious apathy and her unsentimental delivery make an otherwise-dark story a hilarious and relatable read. Read my full review of Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead here.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

No One Is Talking About This - Patricia Lockwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

No One Is Talking About This is a lot of things: weird, for starters, written in a strangely poetic and fragmented style, but also doubly sad for a Sad Girl book. Patricia Lockwood drew heavily on her own life experiences, and knowing that makes the grief and trauma of this story a lot more palpable. An unnamed narrator, who shot to international fame when one of her only-barely-considered social media posts – “can a dog be twins?” – went viral, travels the world talking about “the portal”, the infinite scroll, the digital zeitgeist. She’s forced to confront the fragility of her virtual life when a tragedy in her “real” life threatens its margins (big-time trigger warning for pregnancy and infant loss). Read my full review of No One Is Talking About This here.

The Lying Life Of Adults by Elena Ferrante

The Lying Life Of Adults - Elena Ferrante - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sad Girl books can be literary, too! The elusive, reclusive queen of contemporary literature in translation, Elena Ferrante, proves it in The Lying Life Of Adults. It was published in the original Italian (La vita bugiarda degli adulti) in 2019, and the English translation (by the imitable Ann Goldstein) came out the following year. The story follows a tween girl in the early ’90s, who overhears her father disparaging her appearance, likening her looks to those of his estranged sister. That sends her off on a hunt for her long-lost aunt, trying to figure out what’s so bad about looking like Vittoria anyway.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa - Kate Elizabeth Russell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s hardly surprising that the ascendancy of Sad Girl books came alongside the #MeToo movement, as so many of them focus on uncovering the abuses perpetrated against girls and women that have traditionally been kept from view. My Dark Vanessa was controversial upon its release in 2021, and people are still talking about it now. A young woman is forced to reconsider her teenage relationship with her older teacher, in light of new allegations that have arisen about his behaviour towards other students. Was it really the romantic formative relationship she believed, or was she groomed and manipulated?

Idol, Burning by Rin Usami

Idol Burning - Rin Usami - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Teenager Akari is obsessed with pop-star Masaki Ueno, one-fifth of the Japanese boy band Maza Maza. He is her idol, her hero, and her totem. In Idol, Burning, her world falls apart when Masaki is publicly accused of assaulting a fan. Her blog is flooded with comments, social media lights up with conspiracy theories, and Akari is forced to reckon with reconciling her “real” life with the man on the screen who feels more real to her. This is a Sad Girl novella that you can knock out in an afternoon, but the intensity of the psychological denouement will stay with you for a while. It was translated into English by Asa Yoneda, and beautifully illustrated by Leslie Hung. Read my full review of Idol, Burning here.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Sayaka Murata is a literary superstar in Japan, but she didn’t make a splash in the Anglophone world until Convenience Store Woman was translated into English (by Ginny Tapley Takemori) in 2018. The compelling and delightfully weird combination of “strange” protagonist Keiko and the highly conservative and conformist Japanese culture in which she lives makes for a fascinating read. This is one of the Sad Girl books beloved by readers who feel like they don’t belong, who have had to contort themselves into something different to feel accepted. Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

Bonus recommendations: After the success of Convenience Store Woman, more of Sayaka Murata’s work made its way into English bookstores (thanks in part to the fantastic translations by Ginny Tapley Takemori). She always levels-up the weird, and the sad, so they’re a great place to start your Sad Girl books collection. Check out my full review of Earthlings here, and my full review of Life Ceremony here.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Little Life has the distinction of being the most popular of a very rare sub-type of Sad Girl books: those with male protagonists. Even though the story follows four men through some of the most horrific life experiences you’ll ever see depicted on the page, the girlies went for it in droves. Some of them even found it “too sad”, which is no mean feat. The unrelenting trauma, the cruel vicissitudes of fate, and the distinctly unhappy ending all make for a major bummer of a read – all the more so for its heft, at 800+ pages. Make sure you gird your loins before giving this one a go. Read my full review of A Little Life here.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Kate Bush saw the Sad Girl potential in the Brontë classic Wuthering Heights long before any of the rest of us. She was way ahead of the curve! This tragic love story between Cathy and Heathcliffe – two of the worst people you’ll meet in literature – transcends generations, continents, and reading tastes. It’s set on the gloomy West Yorkshire moors, constantly lashed by miserable weather and the perfect spot to do a little mansion haunting if you want to taunt your lover after your death. It’s probably not one for beginners, but any Sad Girl book aficionado has a copy of this one in their tote bag. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman - Anna Burns - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“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.” So begins Milkman, one of the best (and most acclaimed!) Sad Girl books to come out of Northern Ireland. It’s loosely based on Anna Burns’ own experiences growing up in Belfast during the Troubles. Everything is heightened, everything is politicised, and everything is prone to being extrapolated upon by the community. If William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf had a love child who grew up in 1970s Belfast, they would write this book. Read my full review of Milkman here.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There aren’t many cross-overs between Sad Girl books and the the libraries of BookTok girlies. Sad girl books are, well, sad, while BookTok best-sellers tend to have cartoon covers and enemies-to-lovers romances. But there’s one book on which both segments of readership totally agree: The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo. It’s got the romance and the glamour that BookTok girlies crave, with the disappointment and heartache that Sad Book girlies need. Taylor Jenkins Reid brings together old world Hollywood with contemporary realities in this highly readable tale.

7 Classic Books With Queer Vibes

For most of modern history, queerness has had to exist in the shadows, hidden from view, all nod-nods and wink-winks – even in the famously progressive field of arts and literature. That means that openly queer characters appear very infrequently (nearly never) in classic books, but plenty of books have queer *vibes* – whether intended by the author or imagined by us, the contemporary readers. So, here are seven books with queer vibes, a silly little list for Pride.

7 Classic Books With Queer Vibes - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If the vibes feel right, use an affiliate link on this page to make a purchase – I’ll get a small cut for referring you!

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

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

Two bachelors living together, working together, sharing laughs and adventures? It’s a classic book with queer vibes before you even work in the phallic imagery of the constant pipe-smoking! The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of stories about the world’s most beloved detective, and I’m not the only one who suspects Holmes and his “friend” Watson might’ve shared more than just a desire to solve mysteries. The BBC adaptation worked in a clever nod to this, with the landlady Mrs Hudson refusing to believe that they weren’t a couple, despite Watson’s repeated protests. Read my full review of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes here.

The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture Of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Picture Of Dorian Gray has more than just a queer vibe – it’s undoubtedly, unabashedly a queer novel. Oscar Wilde is one of the most iconic LGBITQA+ writers of the 19th century. His letters to his lover from prison (after he was convicted of “gross indecency” for consensual gay sex) are heart-wrenchingly beautiful. He poured all of that MLM passion into this novel, about a beautiful man who remains ageless and flawless as a cursed portrait of him grows ever more grotesque in his attic. Subtext, anyone? Read my full review of The Picture Of Dorian Gray here.

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

Here’s one of my favourite classic books with queer vibes: Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. It’s baked right into the conceit! A man drinks a potion that allows him to transform into someone else entirely, a man who can act out his most monstrous fantasies and glory in debauchery. Respected doctor by day, Jekyll knows he could never act on his base impulses and maintain his business and position in polite society. Only now, Hyde’s gone too far, and Jekyll’s buddy is onto them – threatening to “out” them, as it were. It’s just one of many fascinating metaphors you can read into this classic of doppelgänger lit. Read my full review of Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde here.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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

Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written speculating about Virginia Woolf’s sexuality – was she secretly queer? was she polyamorous? was she asexual? – but the question seems kind of moot when you read Mrs Dalloway. This classic modernist, feminist book “disrupts heteronormative performativity” and “challenges the notion that the female sexuality is strictly monogamous and heterosexual”, say the academics. That’s a fancy way of saying that Clarissa, the titular character, is clearly queer and has huge crushes on women while simultaneously maintaining a romantic relationship with her husband. Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Emily Brontë was shy in the extreme, and there’s no known record of her having had any romantic relationships or interest during her life, so it’s near impossible to speculate on her authorial intent in Wuthering Heights. But it’s so dramatic, so extra, so over-the-top! Even though every canonical couple is explicitly hetero, their histrionics give off such strong queer vibes, you might get a contact high. Plus, the “ecological aesthetic” (i.e., use of the wilderness of the moors as a driving force in the story) has long been associated with queerness and queer coding in literature. So, there you have it! Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not only does Frankenstein have strong queer vibes, it has multiple types of strong queer vibes! Mary Shelley is one of the few authors from that period who was, on record, openly bisexual and living the kind of sexually progressive life that made her contemporaries blush – but let’s look at the book itself. A medical student becomes obsessed with creating life from scratch (vibe!), and hopes for the product of his experiments to be the “perfect specimen of a man” (vibe!). When it turns into a monstrosity (vibe!), he flees, and in so doing highlights the contrast between domineering masculinity and his submissive effeminate nature (vibe!). I could go on and on, but it’s more fun if you read it for yourself and see how many nods for queerness you can find. Read my full review of Frankenstein here.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula - Bram Stoker - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Oooft! I should probably write a whole separate post on the tradition of using vampires and vampirism to imply queerness or to stand-in as queer coding. For now, suffice to say that Dracula is a classic book with queer vibes. There’s the titular character himself, the polysexual vampire who will penetrate (with his fangs! get your mind out of the gutter) men and women indiscriminately. There’s also the cowboy vampire hunter, who shows up with his flashy outfits and his experimental treatments. And then, there’s Stoker himself, an author widely understood now to have lived his life as a closeted gay man, pining for his friends and contemporaries and pouring that suffering into his work. Queer, queer, queer! Read my full review of Dracula here.

The Big List Of Author Birthdays

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

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

Author Birthdays in January

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

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

3 January: J.R.R. Tolkien

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

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

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

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

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

19 January: Edgar Allan Poe

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

22 January: Stephen Graham Jones

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

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

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

29 January: Olga Tokarczuk
29 January: Anton Chekhov

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

31 January: Norman Mailer

Author Birthdays in February

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

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

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

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

12 February: Judy Blume

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

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

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

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

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

23 February: Bernard Cornwell

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

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

26 February: Victor Hugo

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

Author Birthdays in March

2 March: Dr Seuss

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

5 March: Sarah J. Maas

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

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

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

9 March: Lindy West

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

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

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

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

22 March: James Patterson

25 March: Gloria Steinem

26 March: Patrick Süskind

Author Birthdays in April

1 April: Jesmyn Ward

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

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

5 April: Caitlin Moran

6 April: Leigh Bardugo

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

12 April: Jon Krakauer

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

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

17 April: Nick Hornby

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

22 April: Janet Evanovich
22 April: Vladimir Nabokov

23 April: William Shakespeare
23 April: Trent Dalton

24 April: Sue Grafton

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

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

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

Author Birthdays in May

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

5 May: Hank Green

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

8 May: Thomas Pynchon

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

10 May: Jon Ronson

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

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

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

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

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

25 May: Robert Ludlam

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

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

31 May: Walt Whitman

Author Birthdays in June

1 June: Colleen McCullough

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

5 June: Ken Follett
5 June: Rick Riordan

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

7 June: Elizabeth Bowen – Read my full review of The Heat Of The Day here.
7 June: Adam Silvera

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

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

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

12 June: Adam Kay

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

14 June: Harriet Beecher Stowe

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

18 June: Richard Powers

19 June: Salman Rushdie

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

22 June: Dan Brown

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

25 June: George Orwell
25 June: Eric Carle

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

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

Author Birthdays in July

2 July: Hermann Hesse

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

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

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

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

9 July: Dean Koontz
9 July: Barbara Cartland

15 July: Clive Cussler

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

20 July: Cormac McCarthy

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

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

24 July: Alexandre Dumas
24 July: Madeline Miller

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

28 July: Beatrix Potter

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

Author Birthdays in August

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

2 August: Isabel Allende

4 August: Tim Winton

5 August: David Baldacci

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

11 August: Enid Blyton

12 August: Ann M. Martin

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

17 August: Jonathan Franzen

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

21 August: Alexander Chee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31 August: Dolly Alderton

Author Birthdays in September

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

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

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

7 September: Jennifer Egan

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

10 September: Alison Bechdel

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

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

14 September: Geraldine Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Birthdays in October

2 October: Tara Moss

4 October: Rupi Kaur
4 October: Anne Rice
4 October: Jackie Collins

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

8 October: R.L. Stine

10 October: Nora Roberts

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

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

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

17 October: Arthur Miller

19 October: Tracy Chevalier

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

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

23 October: Augusten Burroughs
23 October: Michael Crichton

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

25 October: Zadie Smith

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

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

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

29 October: Lee Child

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

Author Birthdays in November

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

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

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

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

10 November: Caroline Kepnes
10 November: Neil Gaiman

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

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

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

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

17 November: Becky Albertalli

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

20 November: Don DeLillo

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

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

24 November: Marlon James
24 November: Arundhati Roy

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

28 November: Richard Osman

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

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

Author Birthdays in December

2 December: Ann Patchett
2 December: George Saunders

5 December: Joan Didion

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

10 December: Emily Dickinson

11 December: Colleen Hoover

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

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

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

19 December: Brandon Sanderson

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

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

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

24 December: Mary Higgins Clark
24 December: Stephenie Meyer

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

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

31 December: Nicholas Sparks

10 Novels That Take Place In A Single Day

It’s mostly subconscious, but I think we kind of expect the length of a story’s timeline to reflect its format. A short story, for instance, would normally take place over a short period – minutes or hours or days. It would feel weird for a short story to stretch over a century, wouldn’t it? But there are novels that defy this expectation, novels that take place in a single day. Here’s a list of these convention-busters.

10 Novels That Take Place In A Single Day - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Ulysses by James Joyce

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

Let’s begin with one of the definitive modernist novels that take place in a single day. Ulysses begins at at 8AM on 16 June 1904, and follows the protagonist Leopold Bloom (and some of his friends) across the course of the day in Dublin. It’s not exactly linear, skipping back and forth a few times, but what else would you expect for such a long and famously complicated novel? Some parts are really fragmented and disjointed, and not all of Joyce’s language experiments make for fun reading – but I promise you, it’s not the nightmare reading experience you’re expecting. It wasn’t for me when I finally got around to it, anyway! Read my full review of Ulysses here.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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

Of course, we can’t talk about Ulysses without talking about another one of the definitive modernist novels that takes place in a single day: Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf wasn’t a fan of Joyce’s work, so she decided to write her own version, and show him how it should be done. Her story follows two main characters, the upper-crusty party thrower Mrs Dalloway and the shell-shocked veteran Septimus Smith. It starts with Mrs D deciding she will buy the flowers herself, and ends with her hearing about Septimus’s suicide at the party that evening. Like a lot of Woolf’s work (and life), it’s not an easy or uplifting read, but it’s considered one of the classic feminist texts for a reason. Read my full review of Mrs Dalloway here.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood - Book Laid Face Up on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I’m noticing a theme: a lot of novels that take place in a single day are real bummers. A Single Man is another great example. The titular man George is “single” because he was secretly, unofficially widowed when his ‘life companion’ Jim passed away. George is despondent, bereaved, mourning a lover he couldn’t publicly declare (remember, back in the day, even being “out” wasn’t being out). And yet, Isherwood writes in such a cool and dispassionate way that George’s bitterness and misanthropy comes across as hilarious and matter-of-fact. This heart-wrenching novel reads beautifully and quickly, with a surprisingly contemporary sensibility. Read my full review of A Single Man here.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep - Philip K Dick - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The timeline of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is a little murky, but it still counts as one of the novels that take place in a single day (in my opinion, and it’s my list, so there). The confusion comes about for a few reasons. First, a LOT happens in this novel – it’s an action-packed day for bounty hunter Rick Deckard, to say the least. Second, later editions of the novel have shifted dates around. Originally, the book was set in 1992, but later editions have updated that year to 2021, and there’s a movie set in 2049, and… Publishers and script-writers have tried really hard to make it feel like the story is set in the “future” which (obviously) shifts. Whichever edition you get your hands on, though, it’s still worth a read! Read my full review of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? here.

They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die At The End - Adam Silvera - Keeping Up With The Penguins

They Both Die At The End takes place over the course of a single day – and it’s a day we would all dread if we were living in the world of this story. At midnight on September 5, Mateo and Rufus both get horrible news. It’s the day they’re going to die. (It’s hardly a shock – I mean, look at that title!) They both decide to use an app that matches up people who receive that notification on the same day – that’s how they find each other, and how this short-lived friendship begins. They join forces for one final adventure, and attempt to live a lifelong friendship in a single day. It’s an inventive premise, and heart-breaking as all heck.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner - Herman Koch - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Dinner isn’t just one of the novels that takes place in a single day – it’s one of the (very few) novels that takes place in a single meal. On a summer’s night in The Netherlands, two couples meet at a restaurant for dinner. Nothing particularly compelling about that, is there? Wait until you hear the reason they’ve come together: their fifteen-year-old sons are implicated in a horrific crime, and the resulting police investigation has torn apart their refined suburban lives. Over the course of this novel, the facades of polite company are stripped away and both couples are forced to confront what they must do to protect their children.

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things - Jon McGregor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things is one of the most – sorry in advance – remarkable novels that take place in a single day. It’s a true slice of life, examining the lives of residents on a quiet street in suburban England. There’s the single father with scars on his hands, the hungover youths back from a night of partying, the man caught in the grip of unrequited love… all of them have hopes, fears, desires, and demons that McGregor brings into focus in turn. They’re brought together by a single event, one that shatters the tranquility of their street and upends their ordinary everyday troubles.

Party Going by Henry Green

Party Going - Henry Green - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I think we all know by now that if you take a handful of privileged, beautiful 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 one of his novels that takes place in a single day, Party Going. 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. Read my full review of Party Going here.

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy - Tracy Chevalier - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I love a good literary adaptation, and New Boy is a brilliant one from the Hogarth Press series (not to mention it’s one of the most interesting novels that takes place in a single day). Tracy Chevalier takes the harrowing story of Shakespeare’s Othello and places it in the most terrifying setting you can imagine: a child’s playground. Osei Kokote is the new kid at school (again), and he knows he needs to find an ally quickly. Enter Dee, the popular girl with a golden shine. But the other kids aren’t happy about the new budding friendship, and a powerful drama about racism, bullying, and betrayal begins.

Like Mother by Cassandra Austin

Like Mother - Cassandra Austin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Is it possible to be too tired to remember where you put your infant daughter down to sleep? If the stories I hear of new parenthood are true, abso-freakin’-lootly. That’s the disturbing premise of Like Mother, a domestic noir novel set in small-town Australia in 1969. Over the course of a single day in the life of sleep-deprived Louise, it interrogates the role of women in the world and in the home, and how far the apple really falls from the tree. This book made me so impatient, I just wanted to shake it and scream “what is happening?!”, right up until the final chapter. Read my full review of Like Mother here.

Middlemarch – George Eliot

Curse the TBR jar! When I set up my low-tech book selection system for what I’m going to read this year, Middlemarch was the one book I really dreaded picking. After I facepalmed a few times, though, I had a thought: hey, at least I’m getting it out of the way early!

Middlemarch - George Eliot - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Middlemarch (subtitle: A Study of Provincial Life) is widely regarded as one of the Great Novels of English Literature. It was first published in eight volumes over the course of 1871 and 1872. Virginia Woolf described it, in 1919, as “the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” but she was one of the very few people actually reading it at the time. It didn’t really make an impact on the literati until a book by F.R. Leavis in 1948, The Great Tradition, “rediscovered” it.

Now, before we get started on Middlemarch itself, here’s a note on the author. George Eliot is a pen name, taken by Mary Ann Evans. It wasn’t unusual for women authors to take masculine or androgynous names at the time, given the pervasive patriarchal bias in publishing at the time (ahem), but there has been particular attention paid to this author’s choice. I’ve tried to find a bunch of fancy diplomatic ways to say this, but the hell with it: basically, there’s good reason to suspect that Eliot was a trans man (or would have been, had Eliot lived in a more progressive time), and TERFs super-hate anyone pointing that out. I’ll use feminine pronouns (she/her) for Eliot throughout this review, though, for a couple of reasons. First, it will make this review consistent with all the Official(TM) sources about Eliot’s work and identity, and second, we really can’t know what Eliot would have chosen. But I want it to be clear that I’m totally open to the idea that Eliot was in fact a man (which trans men are, by the way), and I wholeheartedly support academic endeavours to uncover more about Eliot’s true identity, as best we can.

Okay, with that out of the way, here we go! Believe it or not, Middlemarch is actually a historical novel – the action takes place about forty years or so before it was published. The fictional town for which the novel takes its name was likely based on Coventry, an area where Eliot lived before she moved to London.

It doesn’t so much have a “plot” as it does a series of interweaving and interconnected stories about various residents of Middlemarch. The main players are Dorothea Brooke (who loves cottages and is disillusioned by her marriage to an older dude), Tertius Lydgate (a doctor with crazy ideas about how medicine should be a science), Fred Vincy (a privileged gambler who swears he’ll grow up if Mary Garth agrees to marry him), and Nicholas Bulstrode (a banker with a sordid past).

So, Middlemarch makes for 900 pages of who’s going to marry whom, who’s going to inherit, who’s in debt, who’s on which side of a political divide… and none of it works out the ways characters would hope. Their marriages suck, their inheritances are poisoned chalices, their debts won’t let them buy nice food, and the politics of the 1832 Reform Act tear the town in two. It all sounds very exciting, but it’s so dragged out and the characters so wooden, it’s hard to pluck out a storyline that really moves the reader. There’s a marked absence of the emotion or passion you see with other 19th century writers – certainly no tears for the reader in this bad boy.

Oh, and if you’re picking up Middlemarch for the first time, steel yourself for some anti-Semitism and racism – yeah, yeah, it’s “of the time”, but it’s still yucky.

On the upside, though, Middlemarch has a lot of really sick burns. I would’ve hated to come up against Eliot in a Twitter beef, but I would’ve loved to have sat next to her in an office.

Mr Rigg Featherstone’s low characteristics were all of the sober, water-drinking kind. From the earliest to the latest hour of the day he was always as sleek, neat, and cool as the frog he resembled.

Middlemarch

I feel a bit blasphemous saying this, but it’s true: it’s enough to get the “gist” of what’s going on in Middlemarch. I didn’t feel the need to absorb every single nuance or pore over every word. Maybe I would’ve got more out of it if I did, but a skim here and there made for a much easier read. Come at me if you must!

Initial reviews of Middlemarch were mixed, but now they’re wholly gushing. I feel like a lone reed, buffeted by the wind but rooted firm in my conviction that – like Anna Karenina – it’s just okay. I’m sure studying the novel would illuminate more of it, make it feel richer and more engaging, but as a casual reader… *shrug*. I didn’t hate it, but I’m glad to have put it behind me.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Middlemarch:

  • “Hard ole English to understand. Bla, bla, bla, bla.and, yada,yada, yada.Did have some antagonist and vllians to like and hate.” – Amazon Customer
  • “Pay attention to the dimensions. It’s made for tiny hands and tiny eyes. It’s the size of a graham cracker. Great story” – Victor Gloria IV
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