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Jesse Blackadder’s Unputdownable Books

Jesse Blackadder, author of Sixty Seconds, a novel about a family’s journey to forgiveness after their toddler son drowns, reveals the eight books she couldn’t put down. 

Bliss, for me, is finding a book so wonderful that I don’t want it to end. There’s simply nothing better. Here are eight books I wanted to keep reading forever.

Wonder by R J Palacio

Wonder is no doubt enjoying a return to the bestseller lists with the December 2017 release of the movie. If you can, read this gem of a novel before seeing it on the big screen. On the page, the story of ten-year-old Auggie, starting school for the first time with an extreme facial deformity is all the more powerful because you must imagine what kind of face would make other kids run away screaming. Auggie simply says: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” It’s ostensibly a book for younger readers, but co-screenwriter and director Stephen Chbosky describes Wonder as a masterpiece of American literature, up there with To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye. Compelling and delightful.

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose:

By the time I’d finished this exceptional novel I felt like I’d physically sat opposite the performance artist Marina Abramović at MOMA in New York and gazed into her eyes. Beforehand, the idea of an artist simply sitting opposite people in public for 75 days sounded weird. After reading, I understood in a visceral way the impact of that epic performance – on the artist herself, on those who sat opposite her, and on those who watched. Rose’s rich imagining of fictional characters encountering the real life artist was compelling and beautiful.

True Stories: The Collected Short Non-Fiction by Helen Garner:

For fifty years Helen Garner has brought her sharp mind, fearless pen, and deep understanding of human nature to bear on the world around us. Reading her recent collection of essays Everywhere I look, I turned the pages slowly because I wanted to stay in that book – sharing Helen’s mind – forever. I’m not alone in my admiration – recently on Facebook I read the following advice for living: Ask yourself what Helen Garner would do. This collection brings together the best essays from a lifetime’s work of one of Australia’s leading writers.

A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay

A tender and sweet novel that follows the lives of two women and their families, separated by years, joined by inhabiting the same old house in Brisbane. New inhabitant Lucy Kiss is coming to terms with being a new parent, while the ageing Elsie Gormley has had to leave her home of many years to move to a nursing home. Their two lives overlap and diverge through the ordinary moments that make up the everyday – the moments that Ashley understands and charts superbly.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Is there anyone left who hasn’t read this sweet and unputdownable novel of post WWII Guernsey? Initially I was put off by the title – upon opening it I was put off by it being a novel of letters. Then I got over myself and started reading – within a few pages I was entranced. I’ve reread it twice since then. The pert and witty author Juliet, writer and/or reader of most of the letters, leads us into the story of the island’s German occupation during the war. It perfectly achieves that difficult balancing act of humour and pathos through the tales of a group of unforgettable characters. I still somehow believe that if I visit Guernsey I’ll find them all living there.

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

Eva Hornung takes the timeless tale of a child raised by wild animals and creates a world so real that I felt half dog by the end of it. Four-year-old Romochka, abandoned in an unnamed city, befriends a stray dog, follows her to a hidden lair, and becomes part of a tight and complex family of canines. The relationships are strong and real, the life is visceral and sensual, and the end heartbreakingly magnificent. Dog Boy deservedly won the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction.

Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

My favourite of Anne Patchett’s novels, Bel Canto was inspired by a hostage crisis in an embassy in Lima, Peru, in 1996-97. In the novel, terrorists storm an embassy function planning to kidnap the president – only to find he’s absent. Stymied, they take all the guests hostage, including a famous opera singer who has been flown in to perform. Over the subsequent months, as the standoff between authorities and the terrorists drags on, relationships blossom and opera draws all the embassy’s inhabitants together. Unexpectedly beautiful.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

One of the most practical and down to earth books on creativity I’ve come across, from the author of Eat Pray Love. If you’ve seen Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talks – acclaimed as among TED’s finest – you’ll know she’s wise, personable, insightful and more than a little inspiring. Humans are naturally creative and natural makers, she says. “We have the senses for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it; we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it.” In short, her message is not to make such a big deal of it, and don’t buy into the notion that suffering is essential to creativity. Get out there, create whatever you like, and have a good time. Hear, hear.

Read our full review of Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder

About the author 

Most recently, Jesse Blackadder has published the heart-wrenching, quasi-autobiographical novel  that took her forty years to write, Sixty Seconds. It’s her finest work to date, and the Better Reading community has howled its praise since release. It tells the story of a family dealing with the aftermath of their two-year-old son’s drowning in their backyard pool. Not only is it contemporary in its representations of familial conflict, grief, and ultimately hope, Sixty Seconds has origins in reality for Blackadder: it is, tragically, inspired by the author’s own family experience.


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