Fear of Flying author Erica Jong reveals the inspiring titles that need a place on every woman's bookshelf.
As told to Leigh Haber
Before Sex and the City, before Girls, there was Fear of Flying, the now-classic novel that encouraged women not just to enjoy their sexuality but to feel downright exhilarated by it. The book was revolutionary for its time, and, four decades later, what still makes it so relevant (and compulsively readable) is narrator Isadora Wing's decision to finally take charge of her own mind, body and freedom. In celebration of the Fear of Flying's 40th anniversary, author Erica Jong has come up with six inspiring books that every woman, of any generation needs to read -- or reread! -- if only to invoke her own inner powerhouse.
1) The Golden Notebook
By Doris Lessing
688 pages; Harper Perennial Modern Classics
The story: One woman's struggle to write a notebook that contains all the compartmentalized facets of her life -- her childhood, her politics and her lovers.
Why it inspires: "Unlike the popular books of the 1960s, which featured 'mad housewives' jumping out of windows, what Lessing tried to do was to bring together a woman's brain and a woman's body, to show the delight in physicality. Womanhood is exuberant -- and wonderful."
2) Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
By Mary McCarthy
264 pages; Mariner
The story: The nonfictional account of Mary McCarthy's idyllic childhood, cut short by the death of her parents.
Why it inspires: "McCarthy was orphaned by the influenza epidemic that followed WWI; both of her parents died in a flash. She was then raised by her grandparents in Seattle. The wonderful thing she does in the book is to tell what happened, and then to write about what might have happened. It takes 'memoir' to a whole other level. It gives you a shot of adrenaline; it makes you ask yourself, 'What was the transformational moment in my life when my story really begins?'"
3) The Country Girls Trilogy
By Edna O'Brien
544 pages; Plume
The story: The coming-of-age story of two young Catholic girls in Ireland.
Why it inspires: "This is a writer who is a woman, a lover, a daughter, a mother and she tries to bring all that together in her work. So few women writers were doing that in the 1960s. Instead, they were writing through a male persona, because they knew that otherwise they wouldn't be taken seriously. But as O'Brien says, 'I am the mother of sons; my sons have given me joy. I am a lover of men, and men have broken my heart -- but they've also given me joy.'"
4) The Bell Jar
By Sylvia Plath
288 pages; Harper Perennial Modern Classics
The story: A young woman suffers a breakdown while pursuing her dream of being a magazine editor.
Why it inspires: "Plath made it possible for women to confront our anger and make literature out of it. She made it acceptable to declare our rage."
By Anaïs Nin
384 pages; Mariner
The story: A young woman's awakening in Paris.
Why it inspires: "In Nin, you see a woman owning up to her sexuality. She was a great feminist, a great lover."
6) Jane Eyre
By Charlotte Brontë
512 pages; Macmillan
The story: A younger woman comes to serve as governess in an English country manor -- and falls for the mysterious owner of the house.
Why it inspires: "There is so much about this book that was revolutionary. You have a heroine who is plain, but she's clever. Also, Jane is a woman who speaks her mind -- she doesn't lie to please the establishment, or to please men."
Earlier on HuffPost:
A Visit From The Goon Squad
"<a href="http://www.oprah.com/book/A-Visit-from-the-Goon-Squad-by-Jennifer-Egan" target="_blank"><i>A Visit From The Goon Squad</i></a> by Jennifer Egan. So good I read it twice. Johannesburg-London-San Francisco is a long flight." -- Lesley Lokko, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/One-Secret-Summer-Lesley-Lokko/dp/1409102459" target="_blank"><i>One Secret Summer</i></a>
"<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Bel-Canto-Ann-Patchett/dp/0060838728" target="_blank"><i>Bel Canto</i></a> by Ann Patchett. I don't particularly like flying, so it was perfect -- completely absorbing." -- Erin Morgenstern, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/One-Secret-Summer-Lesley-Lokko/dp/1409102459" target="_blank"><i>The Night Circus</i></a>
"Lee Child can shrink a six hour flight like nobody else. I’ve read all of his books, but his last book was <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Affair-Jack-Reacher-16/dp/044024630X" target="_blank"><i>The Affair</i></a>. If he ever stops writing, I might have to stop flying." -- Jacqueline Sheehan, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Picture-This-Novel-Jacqueline-Sheehan/dp/0062008129" target="_blank"><i>Picture This</i></a>
The Underside of Joy
"<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Underside-Joy-Sere-Prince-Halverson/dp/0525952594" target="_blank"><i>The Underside of Joy</i></a> by Sere Prince Halverson. Fortunately, I was traveling for work by myself, so my children didn't go neglected. It turns out that you don't need little TVs on the seat in front of you or internet access 35,000 feet in the air if you have a great, great book." -- Allison Winn Scotch, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Song-Remains-Same-Allison-Scotch/dp/0399157581/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352764680&sr=1-1&keywords=Allison+Winn+Scotch" target="_blank"><i>The Song Remains the Same</i></a>
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
"<a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Curious-Incident-Dog-Night-Time/dp/1400032717" target="_blank"><i>The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime</i></a>. I bought it at the airport in London and by the time we landed in New York, the book looked like it had been through a tornado. That's how quickly I tore through it." -- Jennifer Miller, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Year-Gadfly-Jennifer-Miller/dp/0547548591/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352764785&sr=1-1&keywords=Jennifer+Miller" target="_blank"><i>The Year of Gadfly</i></a>
"I read Emma Donoghue's <a href="hhttp://www.oprah.com/omagazine/New-Novels-Room-Emma-Donoghue" target="_blank"><i>Room</i></a> on a long flight and loved the book so much I almost forgot to disembark at my destination city." -- Kristin Hannah, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Home-Again-Novel-Kristin-Hannah/dp/0345530829/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352764830&sr=1-1&keywords=Kristin+Hannah" target="_blank"><i>Home Again</i></a>
"It was one of Jilly Cooper's wickedly funny British novels about the upper class -- <i><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Riders-Jilly-Cooper-OBE/dp/0552156175" target="_blank">Riders</a></i>, a send-up of the rich, sex-made world of show-jumping equestrians. A stewardess asked if I would sit with an unaccompanied 10-year-old, and even though I had stopped every 15 minutes to chat, I was stuck to that book for 7 hours, all the way from Rome to New York." -- Eloisa James, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Seduced-by-a-Pirate-ebook/dp/B0092QKWVU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352764869&sr=1-1&keywords=Eloisa+James" target="_blank"><i>Seduced by a Pirate</i></a>
No Longer a Gentleman
"<i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/No-Longer-Gentleman-Lost-Lords/dp/1420117238" target="_blank">No Longer a Gentleman</a></i> by Mary Jo Putney. There are dungeons (so like a plane!) and a handsome man to rehabilitate (and he doesn't mind at all!). It was easy to get lost in spite of a four-hour delay and wind turbulence over the Great Lakes." -- Cathy Maxwell, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Scottish-Witch-Chattan-Curse/dp/0062070231/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352764964&sr=1-1&keywords=Cathy+Maxwell" target="_blank"><i>The Scottish Witch</i></a>
The Infinite Tides
"<i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Infinite-Tides-A-Novel/dp/1608198103" target="_blank">The Infinite Tides</a></i>, by Christian Kiefer. If you ask Christian what this book is about he will say, 'It is about a depressed astronaut.' But it is about so much more than that. It is about the particular way each of us makes sense of the world, and all the losses within it that combine to make a life. It is about the perfect beauty of mathematics, and the imperfect beauty of the solar system. I didn’t even know I was on a flight, let alone a long one." -- Pam Houston, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Contents-May-Have-Shifted-Novel/dp/0393082652/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352765009&sr=1-1&keywords=Pam+Houston" target="_blank"><i>Contents May Have Shifted</i></a>
The Paris Wife
"I read <i><a href="http://www.oprah.com/book/The-Paris-Wife-by-Paula-McLain" target="_blank">The Paris Wife</a></i> by Paula McLain on a recent flight to Paris and it made everything (at least on the Left Bank) feel very familiar during the week that I then spent in that city." -- Lois Lowry, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Son-Lois-Lowry/dp/0547887205/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352765054&sr=1-1&keywords=Lois+Lowry" target="_blank"><i>Son</i></a>
"Stephen King's <i><a href="http://www.oprah.com/book/112263" target="_blank">11/22/63</a></i>, about going back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. It's impossible to stop reading. It got me back from Indianapolis (through Chicago) with my sanity." -- Maile Meloy, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Apothecary-Maile-Meloy/dp/039925627X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1352765102&sr=1-1&keywords=Maile+Meloy" target="_blank"><i>The Apothecary</i></a> <br><br> <b>Next: <a href="http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Authors-Reveal-the-Scariest-Book-Theyve-Ever-Read">Author's reveal "the book that totally surprised me"</a></b>