5 Books That Inspired Me as a Woman

We asked Lisa Napoli, author of Radio Shangri-La; What I Discovered on My Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth and frequent contributor to Books for Better Living, for some of the books that inspired her.

I could never choose my “one” favorite book. I love biographies, think The Godfather is a classic and voraciously consume Southern writers like Eudora Welty, James Agee and Flannery O’Connor. But when BBL asked me what books had influenced me most, I didn’t have to think too hard. These are five books I love that have inspired me as a woman long curious and always juggling what it means to succeed professionally and personally. I think all women, even ones older and younger than I (I’m 48), would find these titles thought-provoking.

Be Here Now by Ram Dass
His more recent followup, Be Love Now, is interesting. But the original version of Be Here Now is a delight to read and offers important messages – like the one in the title.

What Makes Your Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
I love this contemporary, slim book about Buddhism despite it’s odd title. This book is by a well-respected Bhutanese monk who “gets” that some of us weren’t raised in a Buddhist nation. He’s funny, pithy and wise.

Ann Vickers (out of print) and Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
I love everything by Sinclair Lewis, actually, because he is such a spectacular realist writer, but these two books are about strong women. The first is a novelized version of his wife, Dorothy Thompson, a superstar journalist of her day who began her career as a suffragette. The second is better known, about a young woman from a small town with ambition at a time when women were expected to squelch their ambition to “support the man.” Sinclair Lewis’ female characters are vivid and well-drawn, and their struggles are so modern, even though he’s from a different age.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
It’s a classic, and I read it as a young married woman in the late ’80s, a different time of change from the era she depicts. My generation of women came from the you-can-have-it-all-at-once mentality, which was, of course, a different sort of crazy, unrealistic challenge than women of the stay-home-in-the-burbs-and-raise-the-kids era that Friedan wrote about. Every woman should read this book (and men should, too.)

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
As the Fifty Shades of Grey sensation takes grip on the world, I think about this book – which was the sexiest of its era and probably as big a sensation. I was rereading it once on a crosstown bus in Manhattan, and a distinguished looking older woman got up from her seat, while the bus was moving, to sit down next to me and talk about how wildly influential the book had been for her when she read it in the ’70s. Read it to understand what women were thinking but didn’t typically express or act on in the post-birth-control era. And read it for an ageless look at the difference between love and sex.

Speaking of that, I’d have to add a sixth book: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Like The Godfather by Mario Puzo, it sums up the complexity of the human experience.

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