Desert Island Books: Erica Jong

For his new bookshop installation, One Grand, editor Aaron Hicklin asked people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were marooned on a desert island (our favorite game to play!)

The next installment in the series comes from Erica Jong, the writer and feminist icon whose 11th novel, Fear of Dying, is out this week.

The Golden Notebook,” Doris Lessing

One woman’s struggle to write a notebook that contains all the compartmentalized facets of her life — her childhood, her politics and her lovers. 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.

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood,” Mary McCarthy 

The nonfictional account of Mary McCarthy’s idyllic childhood, cut short by the death of her parents. 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?”

“The Country Girls Trilogy,” Edna O’Brien

A coming-of-age story of two young Catholic girls in Ireland. 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.”

The Bell Jar,” Sylvia Plath

A young woman suffers a breakdown while pursuing her dream of being a magazine editor. Plath made it possible for women to confront our anger and make literature out of it. She made it acceptable to declare our rage.

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. One: 1931-1934,” Anaïs Nin

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

Jane Eyre,” Charlotte Brontë

A younger woman comes to serve as governess in an English country manor — and falls for the mysterious owner of the house. 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.

Home Before Dark,” Susan Cheever

A wonderful biography of a father by a daughter who is just discovering who her father was.

Cheri and the Last of Cheri,” Colette

A beautifully written story of a tragic love affair.

A Tale of Love and Darkness,” Amos Oz

A marvelous autobiography of a writer.

To the End of the Land,” David Grossman

A novel that explores the Israeli-Arab problem better than any I have read.