Novelist, satirist, and poet Erica Jong is best known for her revolutionary 1973 novel Fear of Flying, which caused a sensation for its explicit treatment of women’s sexuality. A major influence in the development of second-wave feminism, it established Jong as a trailblazer for women in literature and has sold more than 20 million copies to date.

Raised in a secular Jewish family, Jong was educated at Barnard and Columbia, and worked briefly as a teacher before turning to writing full-time. Fear of Flying was her debut, telling the loosely autobiographical story of Isadora Wing, a young writer who embarks on a quest for sexual fulfillment while on a trip to Europe. Praised for its frank depiction of female desire as well as its humor and wit, it catapulted Jong to literary fame and made her a spokesperson for a new generation of women.

Jong went on to author more than 20 books that explore all aspects of the female condition, from love and sex to politics and aging. Her other notable works include 1977’s How to Save Your Own Life, 1980’s Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones, and 1994’s Fear of Fifty. Alongside her writing, Jong has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and a frequent lecturer on feminist topics.

Back in 2013, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Fear of Flying, O Magazine asked Jong to name six timeless books that inspire women to step into their power. From Sylvia Plath to Anaï Nin, find her recommended reading list below, and complement with the bookshelves of bell hooks, Elena Ferrante, Gloria Steinem, and Margaret Atwood.

Erica Jong’s Reading List

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (also rec’d by Nora Ephron)

“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.” -EJ

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy

“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?” -EJ

The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien

“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.'” -EJ

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (also rec’d by Lisa Simpson & Richey Edwards)

“Plath made it possible for women to confront our anger and make literature out of it. She made it acceptable to declare our rage.” -EJ

The Diary of Anaïs Nin: 1931-1934 by Anaïs Nin (also rec’d by Rose Byrne)

“In Nin, you see a woman owning up to her sexuality. She was a great feminist, a great lover.” -EJ

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (also rec’d by Jane GoodallRose McGowanUrsula K. Le Guin & Yaa Gyasi)

“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.” -EJ

(via Oprah)

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Categories: Activists Writers