Books that Change Lives (Fear of Flying)

2013-08-29 11.17.05
2nd edition, 1978, the one I read

En Route to the Congress of Dreams or the Zipless Fuck

Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, one of the books that changed my life. I read it some 15 years ago, when I was 12. It changed those few notions I had of life, love and sex – and I believe helped shape my personality. I will not say whether that was a good or a bad thing, it’s a fact. Let’s just say I realized that being a woman is not as simple and straightforward as I thought, and that love and pursuit of a mate is not all there is to it. Self-actualization got redefined.

To contextualize things. It was 1998, a small town, no computers, no smartphones, no Internet – the only source of information, aside from my parents’ library, were idiotic teen magazines. This is I guess why I still remember the honesty of the book. Jong’s vivid description and detailed comparisons of toilets in different countries – used as a cultural analysis – surprised me to no end. Writing about toilets? Really? I vaguely remember a scene of lesbian sex, but I clearly remember the shock. What I recall rather well is the relationship Isadora had with her husband, the coldness of it, the terrible absence of getting what you need from the person sleeping next to you, sharing your life. That freaked me out. I though marriage was love, understanding and all that jazz. Erica Jong made sure to burst that bubble for me. She showed me relationships are far from simple and straightforward and that the human factor invariably fucks things up.

Erica Jong wanted to give a “rallying cry for women who wanted the right to have fantasies as rich and raunchy as those of men.” Until I read Fear of Flying, I thought that was abnormal.

I think Fear of Flying is part of the reason why I hate 50 Shades of Grey and the idea that some 12-year old girl will think it somehow depicts life, love and sex. I cringe at the thought that a book which has no realism, no feminism and no sense of self will shape personalities. I’m not saying it will be a generational thing, but if only one person comes to believe what 50 Shades is selling, it’ll be a very, very sad world. An insulting claim from an article which pissed me off:

This was the erotic publishing phenomenon a la Fifty Shades Of Grey, selling over 27 million copies worldwide to become one of the top 50 bestselling novels in publishing history

Although, I would love to see the 40th anniversary edition marketed as something akin to 50 Shades of Grey, only to make all those fans who think E. L. James wrote something groundbreaking see what kind of books real writers with real cojones wrote in 1973.

Allow me to quote Goodreads:

Originally published in 1973, the ground-breaking, uninhibited story of Isadora Wing and her desire to fly free caused a national sensation—and sold more than twelve million copies. Now, after thirty years, the iconic novel still stands as a timeless tale of self-discovery, liberation, and womanhood.

Who wants to bet (hope) that forty years from now nobody will remember 50 Shades of Grey?

Let’s move away from my pet hate. This year, to mark the anniversary, I have decided to revisit Fear of Flying, and the reason why I’m reflecting upon it before I embark on the journey is to see just how much a 15-year gap has affected me as a reader, how much all the life between two readings is going to change my perception of the book.

I wonder, can Fear of Flying teach me new things, 15 years after the first reading? At the same time I wish I could forget about reading the book long enough to read it again and write a review. I want to find out just how much of an impact would it have on me in the digital world where sex is everywhere and kids don’t read about it surreptitiously but rather practice it (hopefully with some form of contraception).


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