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10 prominent women reveal the book that changed their lives

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From Kate Ceberano to Dami Im: 10 women on their favourite book, the lessons it imparted and why it holds a special place on their bookshelf.

Tasma Walton

Actor, Sweet As

I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own 30 years ago and it made a big impression on me. Virginia talks about the challenge of being a woman writer, and when you look at the time she was writing, she was an absolute groundbreaker in demanding that the female voice was seen as being as important and valid as a man’s voice. There was also the sense of validation, that it was okay to say “I need solitude, I need space as a creative individual” and to have the audacity as a woman to claim that. As girls we are conditioned to be of service to others – it’s a primary role for women – but this book said it was okay for women to stand up and say I need time to myself, not just an hour here or there.

Tammy Huynh

Presenter, Gardening Australia

I first read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist 10 years ago, recommended via a Good Reads list. I enjoyed it but didn’t fully appreciate the message at the time. It wasn’t until I re-read it a few years ago that it resonated deeply. At the time, I had been hearing conversations about manifesting your dreams and putting your intentions out into the universe and them coming back to you. At this point, I’d decided to quit working full time to focus on writing and teaching workshops in horticulture. It was a scary time and also a new adventure. I was already driven to make a big personal change in my life and ready for the The Alchemist’s message. It reminded me that I was on the right path.

Natasha Lester

Bestselling author

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood changed my life in 2002. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was 10, but never fulfilled that dream until I left a marketing job in 2003 to study creative writing. I went on to publish my first novel in 2010 and have been writing ever since. I thank Atwood for that. I’ve always liked historical fiction and can see how much Atwood’s writing influenced mine: I also like to create a dual narrative with historical strands and there’s a mystery into how the past and present are linked. I often recommend this book to friends. Some hate the weird sci-fi/fantasy beginning and can’t get past that, but I think the fact it makes people feel strongly is a good sign.

Melanie Bracewell

Host, The Cheap Seats

My dad, Rick, brought I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan on a family holiday to Kuaotunu, New Zealand, in 2012. He laughed so hard that I had to pick it up when he was done. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read and I often read excerpts to friends. I am a massive fan of British comic Steve Coogan, who invented the character Alan Partridge, and actually read this before I became a comedian myself. Comedy is hard to get across on the page, but this wins hands down for getting every aspect right. It’s about an ego-ridden television personality – one of those people who doesn’t realise he’s being an arsehole. This book made me laugh louder than anything I’d read before. It’s hilarious.

Kate Jenkinson

Actor, Five Bedrooms

I literally tripped over Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway in the locker room at a McDonald’s in Perth at the age of 17. I figured it must belong to a work colleague and placed it in lost property. Nobody collected it, so I took it home. I felt it came into my life for a reason – I wanted to be an actor but hadn’t taken any steps to make that a reality. The book is about acknowledging that in life you will face challenges that scare you and push you and the key to success is to know that fear exists and to do it anyway. It’s like a metaphorical person giving me a nudge. The ethos is that good things exist outside your comfort zone and that failure is fine – the worst thing you can do is not try.

Kate Ceberano

Singer, My Life Is a Symphony

Credit: Nathan Edwards; Supplied

I picked up Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird in a second-hand bin. I was 13 and already reading full novels, but hadn’t attacked anything like this before. I got the sense in Harper Lee’s story of what is right and wrong, I understood the political undertones and the civil rights overtones. I also got the sense of her fantastic responsibility towards her own father; Harper Lee made it easier to understand how Scout’s father was built because she was telling the story with so much love. I have re-read To Kill a Mockingbird six times and was annoyed when Demi Moore named her child Scout and got there before me! Doing that was a way to show you understood the book’s message.

Dami Im

Singer and author

I first read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic in 2017, a year after I represented Australia at Eurovision. Now I go back to it time and again when I have anxiety about my creative process and need a reminder on how to rethink. I was an expert at digging myself a hole in the creative process, and have become better now – in part thanks to this. When I signed to a major label, I felt so much pressure to please the bosses and write a hit with strangers I’d just met. As an introvert, I was paralysed. This book taught me how to find strength within; Gilbert says you can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. It taught me to have the right attitude. I went on to write my autobiography.

Yumi Stynes

Presenter and author

Credit: Louise Kennerley; Supplied

I find reading hard as there are so many competing distractions – mainly my phone. For a book to grab me like this is really impressive. I love the way Bo Seo writes in Good Arguments. Both George Orwell and Stephen King said that you don’t need “flourish”, you just need to clearly communicate and tell the story. Bo’s from a non-English-speaking background and despite being fluent in English he pares back his language to be clear – the way he describes arguing and deconstructing what an argument is made immediate sense to me. Good Arguments tells the story of Bo’s trajectory from boy to man, from high-school debater to adult, and finds parallels between his personal story and Australian political history.

Kathryn Eisman

Host, Undressed

I had just moved to Los Angeles from New York in 2009 to work on E! News when I read Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. Being in LA, the beacon of superficiality, was quite interesting to me. It was like I had backstage access into understanding how popular culture is created. On the surface, the story is a woman complaining about ageing, but it’s really about celebrating life and being grateful you are still alive. The essence of the book is about being grateful you have a neck! Nora Ephron became a role model for me as someone who could cross genres and boundaries – she also wrote plays, loved cooking and directed. She inspired me to not live life in one lane.

Nakkiah Lui

Actor, author and publisher

Credit: Bec Parsons; Supplied

I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar at 18, and even though so many of the cultural references were foreign, Esther Greenwood’s story in the book meant I felt understood. As a young Aboriginal woman, proving your humanity seemed like a constant project. As I started to walk the path laid out before me, my feelings of inadequacy only became clearer. In Esther’s own struggle with depression and her feelings of displacement, I found a friend. Her view of the world is so alive, funny and vivid. “I am, I am, I am” is a mantra repeated by Esther. As someone who grew up in a community that survives on the words “Always was, always will be”, the words “I am” allowed me to centre myself.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.


From Kate Ceberano to Dami Im: 10 women on their favourite book, the lessons it imparted and why it holds a special place on their bookshelf.

Tasma Walton

Actor, Sweet As

I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own 30 years ago and it made a big impression on me. Virginia talks about the challenge of being a woman writer, and when you look at the time she was writing, she was an absolute groundbreaker in demanding that the female voice was seen as being as important and valid as a man’s voice. There was also the sense of validation, that it was okay to say “I need solitude, I need space as a creative individual” and to have the audacity as a woman to claim that. As girls we are conditioned to be of service to others – it’s a primary role for women – but this book said it was okay for women to stand up and say I need time to myself, not just an hour here or there.

Tammy Huynh

Presenter, Gardening Australia

I first read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist 10 years ago, recommended via a Good Reads list. I enjoyed it but didn’t fully appreciate the message at the time. It wasn’t until I re-read it a few years ago that it resonated deeply. At the time, I had been hearing conversations about manifesting your dreams and putting your intentions out into the universe and them coming back to you. At this point, I’d decided to quit working full time to focus on writing and teaching workshops in horticulture. It was a scary time and also a new adventure. I was already driven to make a big personal change in my life and ready for the The Alchemist’s message. It reminded me that I was on the right path.

Natasha Lester

Bestselling author

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood changed my life in 2002. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was 10, but never fulfilled that dream until I left a marketing job in 2003 to study creative writing. I went on to publish my first novel in 2010 and have been writing ever since. I thank Atwood for that. I’ve always liked historical fiction and can see how much Atwood’s writing influenced mine: I also like to create a dual narrative with historical strands and there’s a mystery into how the past and present are linked. I often recommend this book to friends. Some hate the weird sci-fi/fantasy beginning and can’t get past that, but I think the fact it makes people feel strongly is a good sign.

Melanie Bracewell

Host, The Cheap Seats

My dad, Rick, brought I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan on a family holiday to Kuaotunu, New Zealand, in 2012. He laughed so hard that I had to pick it up when he was done. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read and I often read excerpts to friends. I am a massive fan of British comic Steve Coogan, who invented the character Alan Partridge, and actually read this before I became a comedian myself. Comedy is hard to get across on the page, but this wins hands down for getting every aspect right. It’s about an ego-ridden television personality – one of those people who doesn’t realise he’s being an arsehole. This book made me laugh louder than anything I’d read before. It’s hilarious.

Kate Jenkinson

Actor, Five Bedrooms

I literally tripped over Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway in the locker room at a McDonald’s in Perth at the age of 17. I figured it must belong to a work colleague and placed it in lost property. Nobody collected it, so I took it home. I felt it came into my life for a reason – I wanted to be an actor but hadn’t taken any steps to make that a reality. The book is about acknowledging that in life you will face challenges that scare you and push you and the key to success is to know that fear exists and to do it anyway. It’s like a metaphorical person giving me a nudge. The ethos is that good things exist outside your comfort zone and that failure is fine – the worst thing you can do is not try.

Kate Ceberano

Singer, My Life Is a Symphony

Credit: Nathan Edwards; Supplied

I picked up Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird in a second-hand bin. I was 13 and already reading full novels, but hadn’t attacked anything like this before. I got the sense in Harper Lee’s story of what is right and wrong, I understood the political undertones and the civil rights overtones. I also got the sense of her fantastic responsibility towards her own father; Harper Lee made it easier to understand how Scout’s father was built because she was telling the story with so much love. I have re-read To Kill a Mockingbird six times and was annoyed when Demi Moore named her child Scout and got there before me! Doing that was a way to show you understood the book’s message.

Dami Im

Singer and author

I first read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic in 2017, a year after I represented Australia at Eurovision. Now I go back to it time and again when I have anxiety about my creative process and need a reminder on how to rethink. I was an expert at digging myself a hole in the creative process, and have become better now – in part thanks to this. When I signed to a major label, I felt so much pressure to please the bosses and write a hit with strangers I’d just met. As an introvert, I was paralysed. This book taught me how to find strength within; Gilbert says you can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. It taught me to have the right attitude. I went on to write my autobiography.

Yumi Stynes

Presenter and author

Credit: Louise Kennerley; Supplied

I find reading hard as there are so many competing distractions – mainly my phone. For a book to grab me like this is really impressive. I love the way Bo Seo writes in Good Arguments. Both George Orwell and Stephen King said that you don’t need “flourish”, you just need to clearly communicate and tell the story. Bo’s from a non-English-speaking background and despite being fluent in English he pares back his language to be clear – the way he describes arguing and deconstructing what an argument is made immediate sense to me. Good Arguments tells the story of Bo’s trajectory from boy to man, from high-school debater to adult, and finds parallels between his personal story and Australian political history.

Kathryn Eisman

Host, Undressed

I had just moved to Los Angeles from New York in 2009 to work on E! News when I read Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck. Being in LA, the beacon of superficiality, was quite interesting to me. It was like I had backstage access into understanding how popular culture is created. On the surface, the story is a woman complaining about ageing, but it’s really about celebrating life and being grateful you are still alive. The essence of the book is about being grateful you have a neck! Nora Ephron became a role model for me as someone who could cross genres and boundaries – she also wrote plays, loved cooking and directed. She inspired me to not live life in one lane.

Nakkiah Lui

Actor, author and publisher

Credit: Bec Parsons; Supplied

I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar at 18, and even though so many of the cultural references were foreign, Esther Greenwood’s story in the book meant I felt understood. As a young Aboriginal woman, proving your humanity seemed like a constant project. As I started to walk the path laid out before me, my feelings of inadequacy only became clearer. In Esther’s own struggle with depression and her feelings of displacement, I found a friend. Her view of the world is so alive, funny and vivid. “I am, I am, I am” is a mantra repeated by Esther. As someone who grew up in a community that survives on the words “Always was, always will be”, the words “I am” allowed me to centre myself.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.

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