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.'"