This week’s column focuses on women making their way in the world, using any tools at hand: their blondeness, their intelligence, their sexual savvy, or a 1939 Ford.
Jong, Erica. Fear of Flying. Holt. Oct. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780805098587. $35. F
It’s been 40 years since this novel of awakening and yes, liberation, unzipped itself on the world. A huge best seller (it sold 20 million copies worldwide), it was compared by critics to Joyce’s Ulysses and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, as told from a female perspective. In the foreword, best-selling author Jennifer Weiner, says it “…is just as brave, just as funny, just as outrageous and sexy and smart as it was when it was first published in 1973”—and in 1982, when she smuggled a copy off her parents’ bookshelves and scoured the book for “dirty parts.” Weiner says the book taught her:
…and a number of my spiritual big sisters, not to mention their moms—that women could be just as libidinous as the men in their lives; that they, too (we too) could crave the touch of a stranger’s hand, the anonymity of a wordless encounter that would last no longer than a train’s glide through a darkened tunnel. For a child of the 1970s this was nothing less than a revelation.
Loos, Anita. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Liveright. Feb. 2014.224p. illus. ISBN 9780871403179. pap. $13.95. F
Jazz Age gold digger and bon vivant Lorelei Lee, portrayed on stage and screen by Carol Channing and Marilyn Monroe, returns in this reprint of the 1925 classic, complete with original “Intimate illustrations” by Ralph Barton. Loos, a wickedly funny writer and champion satirist, worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter—she began writing movie scripts when she was 12, and had sold several by the time she was 24. But this novel, presented as the diary of a not-so-dumb blonde making her way in the world, made Loos famous worldwide. Edith Wharton pronounced it “The Great American Novel” and James Joyce was said to be unable to put the title down until he finished. This book challenged the sexual politics and hypocrisies of its era just as keenly as Jong’s novel did in the ’70s. In her foreword, author Jenny McPhee (A Man of No Moon, The Center of Things) bemoans the fact that “…as predictably happens with works authored by women, Loos’s once massively best-selling book was dismissed, and by the 1970s, forgotten.” Luckily, she adds, thanks to the ministrations of feminist literary scholars, as well the book’s original publisher, we have a chance to go adventuring with Lorelei, her brunette friend/foil Dorothy (played by Jane Russell in the 1953 Howard Hawks film) and their many gentlemen.
Sontag: Essays of the 1960s & 70s. Lib. of America. 2013. 875p. ed. by David Rieff. notes. Index. ISBN 9781598532555. $40. Phil
Here is a collection of the essays by Susan Sontag, a critic, social commentator, fiction writer, activist, and filmmaker, that placed her “on the forefront of a period of cultural transformation.” Edited by her son, it includes Against Interpretation and Other Essays, which contains her famous “Notes on ‘Camp’”; Styles of Radical Will, with two of Sontag’s longest and most ambitious essays, “The Aesthetics of Silence” and “The Pornographic Imagination”; On Photography, which sprang from a review of an exhibit of Diane Arbus’s photographs; and Illness as Metaphor, which she wrote after facing her own medical crisis. Also included are previously uncollected essays on such subjects as William Burroughs, Francis Bacon, beauty, aging, and the emerging feminist movement.
OTHER CLASSIC RETURNS
Maillart, Ella K. The Cruel Way: Switzerland to Afghanistan in a Ford, 1939. Univ. of Chicago. 2013. 217p. photos. maps. index. ISBN 9780226033044. pap. $18;
ebk. ISBN 9780226033181. TRAV
A reprint of the classic travel book originally published in 1947, this title tells the story of Swiss journalist, travel writer, former Olympian, photographer, and adventurer Maillart and her friend Annemarie Schwarzenbach (called Christina in the book) as they drive Annemarie’s Ford from Geneva to Kabul and the world heads toward war in 1939. The real story is one of Maillart traveling with a recovering drug addict as the Nazi shadow follows them across the globe. Despite the flowery, dated language, Maillart’s adventures and her knowledge of the history and cultures they visit are fun to read. The work holds up well for its age; however, this reprint is diminished by its use of an old-fashioned font and would have been better served if the publisher had taken the time to footnote and reference people, places, and items that the majority of readers will not recognize. Verdict Maillart, an author whose life is screaming to be made into a Hollywood movie, is not particularly well known anymore, but fans of travel literature and history will enjoy this title if they can get past the archaic language.—Melissa Aho, Univ. of Minnesota Bio-Medical Lib., Minneapolis