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Celebrating Its 40th Anniversary, Erica Jong's 'Fear of Flying' Takes Flight Again

The author hopes original fans of her famous "dirty book" will share it with younger women

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Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, 40th anniversary edition bookcover.

The anniversary reissue of "Fear of Flying" features the book's original cover image. — Henry Holt and Co.

Weiner first read the novel in 1982, when she was 12, and still finds its message relevant. "Isadora's adventures showed the world that a woman could write a frank, funny book about families, about art, about love — and, yes, about sex — and earn not only critical praise from literature's heavy hitters, but also find a place in the hearts of women."

The book's frankness shocked and inspired Weiner and other writers. Looking back, Jong says it surprised her as well.

"I'm amazed how gutsy I was," Jong says. "How did I dare? That's my main reaction [today]. At readings, I often read the passage where Isadora's in Paris; she looks in the mirror and says to herself, 'Why is being alone so terrible? Because if no man loves me, I have no identity.' I think that's the absolute center of the book."

Though Jong considers herself "a poet who fell into the habit of writing novels," she wrote seven more of the latter after Fear of Flying. Two of them — How to Save Your Own Life (1977) and Parachutes & Kisses (1984) — featured Isadora Wing. Jong has also published seven books of poetry and seven works of nonfiction.

Women over 50 who read Fear of Flying again should prepare for a time warp: "They'll recapture feelings they had when they were young," Jong predicts. "Often when I do a reading, someone will come up afterward and say, 'I remember where I was when I read that book.' "

At 71, Jong is a "rapturous grandma" to her four grandchildren and remains true to her feminist beliefs. "I want to mentor all of these kids," she says. "I want to teach the girls and the boys that women can do anything." Another joy in Jong's life is Kenneth Burrows, her husband of 24 years. "It's the longest marriage I've ever had," says a delighted Jong, "and the best. My husband is my best friend. He gets who I am."

Portrait of Erica Jong, 2012.

Erica Jong, now 71, describes herself as a "rapturous grandma" to her four grandchildren. — Michael Childers

What might Isadora Wing be like if she were alive today? "She would be a passionate grandmother," says Jong. "She would be in her fourth marriage, like me, and have a wonderful relationship with her daughter and stepdaughter. She would be lecturing, writing, teaching, speaking; she would not have given up."

Don't look for Isadora in the novel Jong's at work on now, however. "I tried writing Isadora Wing as an older woman," she says, "but discovered I had outgrown her."

Jong won't reveal much about the novel other than its title — Fear of Dying — and main character, a woman in her 60s named Vanessa: "She's encountering death all around her, yet responding to mortality with humor, irony and rampant sexuality.

"Is there any other subject for literature than sex and death?" Jong muses. "I think not. Some sage — possibly me — once said, "Death is inevitable; growing up is optional."

Carol Memmott is a celebrity profiler and book reviewer whose work has appeared in USA Today, People and The Chicago Tribune.

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