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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bookstore Meanderings

I was in my local Barnes and Noble yesterday and came upon a couple of old book friends, prominently displayed.

Apparently Fear of Flying, a racy novel for the literary set—first published in ’73, is a thing again. I was surprised to see it in the featured “Top Picks” section. Confused as to why this this saucy read from my college days is once again big, I googled.

Fear of Flying is having a 40th birthday party.
A Woman’s Fantasy in a Modern Reality ‘Fear of Flying’ by Erica Jong, 40 Years Later
Isadora’s frank, explicit, chatty account of her quest for no-strings, satisfying sex (“absolutely pure” and “free of ulterior motives”) electrified and titillated the critical establishment. John Updike called the book “fearless” and compared it to “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Portnoy’s Complaint”; Henry Miller predicted it would “make literary history” for its “wisdom about the eternal man-woman problem”; and the novel was hailed by many (not all) in feminism’s second wave as a pathbreaking achievement for female self-expression.
Gotta say, when I read the book at the tender-ish age of 20, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was an entertaining, very sexy read (Great Beach Read!). Isadora Wing wasn’t someone I could really relate to though. She was married (twice and too damn young), financially very comfortable and a twice published author before hitting 30. All this and she was quite tardily coming upon the notion that what she wanted out of life counted.

For me this wasn’t a great feminist read (as it’s been hailed). It was a hot little page-turner to read on the Greyhound as I crisscrossed America visiting chums and joining up with traveling carnivals.

From a women’s equality perspective, all I remember is that Isadora seemed, at least in the beginning, acquiescent and lacking in self confidence. Yes, she evolves, grabs some confidence, becomes less of an ornament, an accessory and more her own person but was she embracing feminism or just experiencing personal growth? Is that the same thing?

Maybe I should reread?

And then, also on the Top Picks shelf I found Grendel. Goddamn I loved this book! This is Beowulf from the monster’s perspective. And monster? Such a negative, unnecessary term. Tsk, tsk.
As a young monster, Grendel lives with his mother in a cave on the outskirts of human civilization. A foul, wretched creature who long ago abandoned language, Grendel’s mother is his only kin or companion.
Poor thing had an uncommunicative mother and no friends! I could so relate. This story, maybe more than any philosophy tome or lecture, brought me to the stone awareness that there are two (and more) sides to every story—the whole life-as-big-grey-area doctrine.

Grendel really lit my fire and sent me on to find other retellings of fables from the supposed villain’s POV.

Wide Sargasso Sea was the first one I found post-Grendel. The madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre has her say and WOW. Loved this book and really came to despise the selfish, emo, cruel Rochester.

I’m also keen on how Jasper Fforde portrays him in The Eyre Affair.

Other retellings that I wasn’t so taken with?

The Mists of Avalon—King Arthur from the supposedly evil witches standpoint. Meh, the author’s style didn’t grab me.

Neither did Gregory McGuire’s Oz story—Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. I really wanted to love this but found myself being miffed over having spent the bucks. If I'd been familiar with the author's writing I still would've read Wicked but I'd have borrowed not bought.

I’m a sucker for stories told from the opposite beach. Got any recommendations?

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