the golden notebook

2 of 7
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."