Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

8 Strange Book Titles

Sometimes, strange things tie otherwise disparate books together. I have a particularly attuned radar for books with the word strange in the title – mainly because it’s my last name! So, here are eight strange book titles (geddit?).

8 Strange Book Titles - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World - Elif Shafak - Keeping Up With The Penguins

What happens when we die? No one knows for sure, but the protagonist of Elif Shafak’s 2019 novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World can tell us what happens in the strange interval between her heart ceasing to beat and her brain ceasing activity. In as long as it takes to drink a cup of coffee, she takes us through her childhood in the Turkish provinces, her ‘career’ on the Street Of Brothels, and the special relationships she forged with her chosen family in life. This vivid philosophical novel brings the streets of Istanbul and the shared realities of mortality to life.

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell is named for the two characters at its heart: scholarly fusspot Mr Norrell, and reckless talented Jonathan Strange. In Susanna Clarke’s speculative historical novel, magic has been gone for centuries, only to manifest finally in these two strange sides of the same coin. The two magicians work together until their differences drive them apart, but neither of them foresee the consequences of their dabbling in the magical arts. This is one of the most richly-drawn worlds of contemporary fiction, written with breath-taking detail and two characters that will stay with you long after you turn the thousandth page. Read my full review of Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell here.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers - Liane Moriarty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Following up a worldwide best-seller like Big Little Lies is no mean feat, but Liane Moriarty swung for the fences with Nine Perfect Strangers. As the ‘strange’ title suggests, nine people from various walks of life find themselves gathered at a remote health retreat. They’re all seeking something – relaxation, weight loss, a balm for a broken heart, a cure for writer’s block – but at Tranquillum House they’re going to find something else entirely. Moriarty has the propulsive page-turner down to a fine art, and you won’t be able to look away from this one until all of the threads finally weave together.

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

Look, it’s hard to be spooked – even by a particularly strange book, like Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – when the plot twist has become so well-known it’s slipped into the English language idiom. Still, this short novel is the finest example of classic doppelgänger literature, and it’s well worth a read. The “big reveal” – that well-mannered genteel Dr Jekyll has been secretly transforming into the monstrous Mr Hyde – might not make you gasp, but the abundantly obvious queer metaphor and the new resonance in the age of alt-accounts online will give you a lot to think about. Read my full review of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde here.

Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar

Strangers Drowning - Larissa MacFarquhar - Keeping Up With The Penguins

How do we decide to do good? Help others? And why do we make the decision to help one, but not another? These strange philosophical questions inspired Larissa MacFarquhar to write Strangers Drowning, a book about idealism and the urge to help. She seeks out those rare individuals who have made extreme commitments to one cause or another – parents who adopt dozens of children, people who found a leprosy colony, people who live on a fraction of their income in order to donate the rest – in an effort to understand why, and what it costs them. The fact is that “doing good” isn’t always the imperative it appears to be.

The Secrets Of Strangers by Charity Norman

The Secrets Of Strangers - Charity Norman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s a sad fact of modern life that almost all of us city-dwellers have a story about traumatic act of violence in their metropolis that has indelibly imprinted on us. For New Yorkers it’s September 11, for Londoners it’s the 2005 bombings, and for Sydneysiders (myself among them) it’s the Lindt Cafe siege. The premise of Charity Norman’s novel The Secrets Of Strangers seemed eerily similar (which is why I put off reading it for so long, for fear of triggering those memories): a group of strangers in a cafe on a regular weekday morning find their lives thrown off-course by a gunman who takes them hostage. It’s chilling, but all the more so for the secrets that bind them all together…

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

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

Sometimes, fact is stranger than fiction. That’s definitely the case for Ann Rule, the crime writer who discovered that the kind man who’d worked with her at a suicide hotline in Seattle was actually America’s most feared serial killer: Ted Bundy. She’d already received an advance to write the story of the Campus Killer when she learned that she was far closer to the perpetrator than she ever could have imagined. As well as being a classic of the true crime genre, The Stranger Beside Me is a fascinating interrogation of the ethics of writing, the obligations of friendship, and the minds of serial killers. How well do we ever know the strangers beside us? Read my full review of The Stranger Beside Me here.

The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

The Strangers We Know - Pip Drysdale - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pip Drysdale nods to a strange fact of the human existence in The Strangers We Know: when our lives collapse around us, it rarely happens all at once. Rather, the Jenga pieces are pulled out one by one, until the whole thing comes tumbling down. For her main character, Charlie, the first piece to go is a glimpse of her husband on a friend’s dating app. How could her loving partner be swiping through chicks when he seems so dedicated to her? Believe it or not, that’s just the beginning. When Charlie signs up for the app herself, in the hope of dismissing her doubts (or catching him in the act) she quickly finds out that’s the least of her problems. Read my full review of The Strangers We Know here.

6 Comments

  1. Fun. There’s also Strangers on a Train, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Stranger (L’étranger). In fact, “strange” titles seem to be quite popular!

    • Sheree

      December 14, 2021 at 10:08 AM

      The Baader–Meinhof phenomenon in full effect – now that I’ve posted this, I feel like I’m seeing them EVERYWHERE! 😅

  2. What a fun idea for a post, and what interesting books. I particularly want to explore Strangers Drowning now.

    One of the new British Library Women Writers for next spring can join your list – Strange Journey by Maud Cairnes, a body swap from the thirties.

  3. I started Shafak’s novel, solely due to my daughter and wife loving The Happiness of Blonde People. Loved it till a certain part. I just couldn’t take it. Not sure if I was mad that she “went there” or that I was simply uncomfortable with the scene. I won’t try that novel again, but perhaps I’ll try another of hers someday.

    • Sheree

      December 14, 2021 at 10:09 AM

      Good on you for not writing off Shafak entirely! Even when we love authors and their style, not every book they write will be for us. 😉

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