Jong, Erica: How To Save Your Own Life
(researched by Heidi Schroeder)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Erica Jong. How to Save Your Own Life. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Copyright 1977 Erica Jong. Parallel First Edition published in Canada by Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Limited. Excerpts from How to Save Your Own Life appeared in Playboy, Family Circle, and New Dawn magazines. Source: First edition of the novel.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first American edition was published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
162 Leaves, pp. [12] [1-2] 3-4 [5-6] 7-19 [20-22] 23-41 [42-44] 45-51 [52-54] 55-95 [96-98] 99-119 [120-122] 123-130 [131-132] 133-143 [144-146] 147-156 [157-158] 159-173 [174-176] 177-199 [200-202] 203-214 [215-216] 217-229 [230-232] 233-243 [244-246] 247-270 [271-272] 273 [274-278] 279-286 [287-288] 289-310 [2].
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book is neither edited nor introduced.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The book is not illustrated.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Page Size: 230mm x 150 mm Text on page: 171mm x 107mm Text: 82R The text is surrounded by wide margins, making the book easy to read. The serif style font for the text remains the same throughout the book. However, there are some subtle changes worth noting. The book is divided into sections; the beginning of each new section is denoted by a page that contains the first sentence or a phrase summarizing the theme of the next section. In some cases there is also a verse of song, poetry, or common saying in the bottom right hand corner. The heading font is similar to the serif text font; however, there are a few distinctions between the two. The short verse font is the italicized version of the regular text font. A dust jacket surrounds the book's binding. The cover art shows a woman's face. She is obviously in mid-kiss with another person however; it is impossible to tell if the other person is a woman or a man. Placed to the left bottom, is the author's name, credit for another book, as well as the title. The side binding of the dust jacket simply contains the author's name as well as the title, and the back of the book has a picture of the other. The inner flaps of the dust jacket contain a summary of the novel, critical acclaim, as well as brief information about the author. Source: First edition of the novel.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The book is printed on high quality, thick, off-white paper. There is some discoloration on a very small section on the outside edge of the book. The outside edges of a few pages are smeared with a gray ash. The blemish is small, yet noticeable. Source: First edition of the novel.
11 Description of binding(s)
The binding is made of a brown calico texture cloth. The spine is stamped with the title, author's name, as well as the name of the publisher. The endpapers are very bright yellow in color are a made of a thicker paper than the rest of the text. Source: First edition of the novel. Gaskell's A New Introduction to Bibliography.
12 Transcription of title page
Transcription of Title Page: How to save your own life | a novel by Erica Jong | Holt, Rinehart and Winston/New York Transcription of Spine: How | to | save | your | own | life | a novel by Erica Jong | Holt Rinehart Winston Transcription of Dust Jacket: ERICA | JONG | [RULE LINE 35 mm] A NEW NOVEL BY | THE AUTHOR OF | FEAR OF FLYING | [RULE LINE 35mm] HOW TO |SAVE YOUR | OWN LIFE Transcription of Dust Jacket Spine: HOLT RINEHART WINSTON | ERICA HOW TO SAVE YOUR | [RULE LINE 23mm] JONG YOUR OWN LIFE Source: First edition of the novel.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
As of October 1999 Erica Jong has her manuscripts in her possession. Source: Email from Jong's literary agent Ed Victor.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
How to Save Your Own Life begins with an acknowledgement on page 7 of unnumbered text. The acknowledgement states: "Love and thanks to Elaine Geiger and Sterling Lord for support and encouragement beyond the call of duty, Grace and David Griffin, Alice Back, Jonathan Fast who read and reread through the drafts, Marjorie Larkin who typed and commented, Jennifer Losephy who edited and commented, Louis Untermeyer who like the happy poems better than the sad ones, and all the people who even when I could not answer. E.J." The book is said to be "For Jon." Prior the beginning of numbered text on page 11; there are four famous quotes. "What is the end of fame? 'tis but to fill A certain portion of uncertain paper: Some liken it to climbing up a hill, Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour; For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill, And bards burn what they call their 'midnight taper,' To have, when the original is dust, A name, a wretched picture, and worst bust." Lord Byron Don Juan "Experience, though noon auctoritee Were in this world, is right ynough to me To speke of wo that is in marriageÖ" Chaucer The Wife of Bath's Prologue "To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception; it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity." Soren Kierkegaard "Using another as a means of satisfaction and security is not love. Love is never security; love is a state in which there is no desire to be secure; it is a state of vulnerability." J. Krishnamurti Pages 289-310 are entitled "The Love Poems." In this section, 19 poems serve as the conclusion to the book. Source: First edition of the novel.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Holt, Rinehart & Winston printed and released many different first editions. One such edition is an uncorrected proof edition. Holt, Rinehart & Winston also provided a presentation first edition. The presentation copies located were inscribed to various critics and signed by the author. The publisher also printed a Book of the Month Club edition. These books were hardcover, had the same cover art as the regular edition, but the number of pages changed from 310 pages in the original first edition to 247 pages in the Book Club edition. Holt, Rinehart & Winston of Canada LTD. also released a parallel first edition in 1977. Eventually, Holt, Rinehart & Winston printed a total of three editions for the book. The differences between the various printings is unavailable at this time. Sources: barnesandnoble.com, Bibliofind, World Cat.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
Holt, Rinehart & Winston published four printings of the first edition of How to Save Your Own Life. Source: barnesandnoble.com
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich INC, 1977. National Dutton, 1986. New American Library, 1977 and 1978. Panther, 1977 and 1978. Plume Books, 1995. Secker & Warburg, 1977. Signet, 1977 and 1978. Sources: Eureka, Bibliofind, barnesandnoble.com, Books Out-of-Print, and World Cat.
6 Last date in print?
How to Save Your Own Life was last printed in 1995 and is currently (as of October 1999) out of print. Source: barnesandnoble.com
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Unavailable as of October 1999.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Unavailable as of October 1999.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A21019991207143221.jpg
11 Other promotion
In addition to a published advertising campaign, Erica Jong participated in a rather large promotional tour for How to Save Your Own Life. Her magazine interviews and reviews include the following: Atlantic Monthly, April, 1977. National Review, April 29, 1977. New York Times Review of Books, April 28, 1977. New Your Times, March 11, 1977. Publishers Weekly, February 14, 1977. Saturday Review, April 30, 1977. Time, March 14, 1977. Washington Post Book World, March 20, 1977. Source: Galenet. Her television interviews include: The Today Show, March 10, 1977. Source: World Cat.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
NA
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Translations listed by publishing company, language, and year of publication. Artenova, [Portugese Translation], 1978 and 1980. Arbeiderspers, [Dutch Translation], 1977. Aschehoug, [Norwegian Translation], 1977. Bompiani, [Italian Translation], 1977 and 1984. Buchergilde Gutenburg, [German Translation], 1978 and 1981. Deutschen Bucherbundes, [German Translation], 1980 and 1987. Eksmo, [Russian Translation], 1994. Euroclub Italia, [Italian Translation], 1977 and 1977. E Yaylilari, [Turkish Translation], 1978. Fischer Taschenbuch, [German Translation], 1978 and 1980. GZH, [Serbo-Croatian Translation], 1978. Gyldendal, [Danish Translation], 1977 and 1985. J'ai Lu, [French Translation], 1977 and 1978. Kaktos, [Greek Translation], 1981. Nordstedt, [Swedish Translation], 1977. Otava, [Finnish Translation], 1977. Votobia, [Cesky Translation] 1996. Source: World Cat.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
On the page that indicates publication information of the first edition of How to Save Your Own Life, it is stated that portions of the book were first published in Playboy, Family Circle, and New Dawn magazines. Searches in Playboy, however, indicated only a very small portion of the book was ever printed within the magazine. It is undetermined as of October 1999 if Family Circle or New Dawn magazines contained a larger portion of the book.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
How to Save Your Own Life is a sequel novel to Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, which was originally published in 1973 by Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Erica Jong continued her story with the novel, Parachutes and Kisses, which was first published in 1984, by New York New American Library.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Erica (Mann) Jong was born May 26, 1942 in New York City. She was the second of three daughters born to Eda and Seymour Mann (Cox 425). Erica Jong grew up in Manhattan's Upper West Side (Dictionary 252) where she attended the High School for Music and Art. Jong completed her undergraduate studies in English at Barnard College (Website). While in school Jong worked closely with the production of a literary magazine, and also produced poetry programs for the campus radio station (CLC 288). Jong received her Bachelors Degree in 1963. Jong then attended Columbia University, where she received her Masters in Eighteenth Century Literature in 1965. From 1969-1970 Jong also pursued her Doctorate at Columbia, but later left half way through the Ph.D. program (Website). Erica Jong has had quite an interesting and complex marital life. Jong married Michael Werthman in 1963. They quickly divorced in 1965. In 1966 she married Allan Jong. The couple divorced in 1975, but Erica continued to use Allan's name, even after she married author Jonathan Fast in 1977 (Hibbard 261). The marriage lasted until 1983, and resulted in the birth of a daughter, Molly (Contemporary). In 1989 Jong married Kenneth Burrows, and as of 1999 the couple is still together. They split their residence between their homes in Manhattan, Connecticut, Vermont, and Italy (Website). Jong's marital life has served as a springboard for a great deal of her writing. While living in Germany with her second husband, Allan Jong, she began to experiment with different writing styles (CLC 288). As a student, Jong had focused on 18th Century literature. However, after living in Germany, Jong changed her focus from a more scholarly approach to literature to writing about the "human condition" in general (CLC 288). Much of this is believed to have developed because of Jong's intense paronia about being Jewish living in Germany (CLC 288). Fear of Flying, How to Save Your Own Life, as well as Parachutes and Kisses are also believed to be a product of Jong's marital experiences. In fact, much of her writing is considered to be autobiographical in nature, and many similarities can be found between the marriages and relationships of her character, Isadora Wing and herself (CLC 288). Erica Jong's first book of poetry, Fruits and Vegetables, was released in 1971 (Contemporary). Her first novel, Fear of Flying, was released soon after, in 1973 (Contemporary). Fear of Flying was the first of three books which followed the life of her famous heroine, Isadora Wing. The second book, How to Save Your Own Life was released in 1977 and the final edition to the series, Parachutes and Kisses was released in 1983 (Contemporary). Since the start of her writing career in 1971, Erica Jong has released eight novels, ten books of poetry, and many magazine submissions, short stories, nonfiction books, as well as recordings of her works (Contemporary). As of 1999 Erica Jong's literary agent is Ed Victor of Ed Victor Ltd. located at (Website): 6 Bayley St. Bedford Square London WC1B 3HB Telephone: 171-304-4100 Email: edvicltd@dircon.co.uk Fans can find out more about and contact Erica Jong at: www.ericajong.com Works Cited: Cox, Virginia. American Women Writers, ed. Duke, Bryer, and Inge. (Connecticut: GreenwoodPress, 1983). 425-426. Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Novelists After World War II."Erica Jong. vol. 2 Detroit: Gale Research Company. 1978. 252-256. "Erica Jong," Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group. 1999. Erica Jong Website, March 1999. www.ericajong.com. Hibbard, Kate Lynn. Feminist Writers ed. Pamela Kester-Shelton (Detriot: St. James Press, 1996). 261-262.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"There is no point in talking about How to Save Your Own Life as a serious didactic work" writes Diane Johnson of the New York Review of Books. Similarly, other reviews of How to Save Your Own Life were overwhelmingly critical, harsh, and negative. The novel, released in 1977 was a sequel to Erica Jong's first book, Fear of Flying. While Fear of Flying was greeted with positive reviews and favorable admiration, How to Save Your Own Life did not experience the same critical acclaim. In her Washington Post Book Review writer, Isa Kapp was extraordinarily critical of Jong's diction. She states that: "Jong's raw vocabulary, meant to be earthy, merely buries both sense and sensibility, and conveys about as much erotic feeling as the television ad of a supermarket customer illicitly squeezing bathroom tissue." Kapp goes on to write that Jong's prose is passionless and seriously lacking in substance. Kapp is also critical of Jong's inclusion of quotes from other authors such as Chaucer and Byron in the beginning of the novel. Kapp believes this inclusion is "pretentious" and leads one to believe in "an imagined reputation for literary achievement." Perhaps the aspect of her writing that was most frequently criticized was the belief that her work was primarily autobiographical. Similar to Jong, the novel's main character, Isadora Wing, is a best-selling novelist married to Chinese-American psychiatrist. In the novel, Isadora is criticized for being too much like the main character in the book she writes, who is also a best-selling author married to a Chinese-American psychiatrist. The line between the three women is difficult to define, and therefore allows Jong to use the book as a sounding board. By using Isadora as her voice, Jong is able to criticize reviewers and others within the literary profession with out being directly confrontational (Maslin 60). In her Newsweek review, Janet Maslin finds Jong's characterization of her critics and enemies to be "mean-spirited" and "so exaggerated it becomes numbing." John Leonard of the New York Times Book Review is just a critical of Jong's attacks on the "literary world" and calls her "pious, hectoring, [and] self-important." In fact, he finds it "hard to believe that the author of Fear of Flying wrote How to Save Your Own Life." It is important to note that Erica Jong expected criticism when the book was released. In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, in a response to a question regarding the reception of How to Save Your Own Life Jong states that she is "petrified" and feels as if a guillotine is hanging over her head (Publisher's Weekly 8). In the same interview, Jong reveals that she will not be doing little if any promoting of the novel, and would rather do any publicity at all (Publisher's Weekly 9). Perhaps this was all in anticipation of the critical axe, or perhaps the criticism was a function of the lack of promotion Jong was willing to give her second novel. What ever the case may be, there were some favorable statements made regarding the book. The April 1977 edition of Playboy magazine, states that: "This book, which ends with a wonderful section of love poems, is probably better written than its predecessor, its insights into the battle of the sexes are just as sharp, and certainly the conclusion is less ambiguous." And even in the seemingly unfavorable review published in Newsweek, the author of the article writes that How to Save Your Own Life can be read as "perversely amusing." Cumulative Reviews Atlantic Monthly, April 1977. National Review, April 29, 1977. Newsweek, March 28, 1977. New York Review of Books, April 28, 1977. New York Times, March 11, 1977. New York Times Book Review, March 20, 1977. Publisher's Weekly, February 14, 1977. Saturday Review, April 30, 1977. Time, March 14, 1977. Washington Post Book World, March 20, 1977. Works Cited: "Erica Jong." 14 February 1977: 8-9. "How to Save Your Own Life." Playboy April 1977. Johnson, Diane. "Hard Hit Women." New York Review of Books 28 April 1977. Kapp, Isa. "and Erica." Washington Post Book World March 20, 1977. Leonard, John. "How to Save Your Own Life." New York Times Book Review 20 March 1977: 2. Maslin, Janet. "Isadora and Erica." Newsweek March 28 1977.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"There is no point in talking about How to Save Your Own Life as a serious didactic work" writes Diane Johnson of the New York Review of Books. Similarly, other reviews of How to Save Your Own Life were overwhelmingly critical, harsh, and negative. The novel, released in 1977 was a sequel to Erica Jong's first book, Fear of Flying. While Fear of Flying was greeted with positive reviews and favorable admiration, How to Save Your Own Life did not experience the same critical acclaim. In her Washington Post Book Review writer, Isa Kapp was extraordinarily critical of Jong's diction. She states that: "Jong's raw vocabulary, meant to be earthy, merely buries both sense and sensibility, and conveys about as much erotic feeling as the television ad of a supermarket customer illicitly squeezing bathroom tissue." Kapp goes on to write that Jong's prose is passionless and seriously lacking in substance. Kapp is also critical of Jong's inclusion of quotes from other authors such as Chaucer and Byron in the beginning of the novel. Kapp believes this inclusion is "pretentious" and leads one to believe in "an imagined reputation for literary achievement." Perhaps the aspect of her writing that was most frequently criticized was the belief that her work was primarily autobiographical. Similar to Jong, the novel's main character, Isadora Wing, is a best-selling novelist married to Chinese-American psychiatrist. In the novel, Isadora is criticized for being too much like the main character in the book she writes, who is also a best-selling author married to a Chinese-American psychiatrist. The line between the three women is difficult to define, and therefore allows Jong to use the book as a sounding board. By using Isadora as her voice, Jong is able to criticize reviewers and others within the literary profession with out being directly confrontational (Maslin 60). In her Newsweek review, Janet Maslin finds Jong's characterization of her critics and enemies to be "mean-spirited" and "so exaggerated it becomes numbing." John Leonard of the New York Times Book Review is just a critical of Jong's attacks on the "literary world" and calls her "pious, hectoring, [and] self-important." In fact, he finds it "hard to believe that the author of Fear of Flying wrote How to Save Your Own Life." It is important to note that Erica Jong expected criticism when the book was released. In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, in a response to a question regarding the reception of How to Save Your Own Life Jong states that she is "petrified" and feels as if a guillotine is hanging over her head (Publisher's Weekly 8). In the same interview, Jong reveals that she will not be doing little if any promoting of the novel, and would rather do any publicity at all (Publisher's Weekly 9). Perhaps this was all in anticipation of the critical axe, or perhaps the criticism was a function of the lack of promotion Jong was willing to give her second novel. What ever the case may be, there were some favorable statements made regarding the book. The April 1977 edition of Playboy magazine, states that: "This book, which ends with a wonderful section of love poems, is probably better written than its predecessor, its insights into the battle of the sexes are just as sharp, and certainly the conclusion is less ambiguous." And even in the seemingly unfavorable review published in Newsweek, the author of the article writes that How to Save Your Own Life can be read as "perversely amusing." Cumulative Reviews Atlantic Monthly, April 1977. National Review, April 29, 1977. Newsweek, March 28, 1977. New York Review of Books, April 28, 1977. New York Times, March 11, 1977. New York Times Book Review, March 20, 1977. Publisher's Weekly, February 14, 1977. Saturday Review, April 30, 1977. Time, March 14, 1977. Washington Post Book World, March 20, 1977. Works Cited: "Erica Jong." 14 February 1977: 8-9. "How to Save Your Own Life." Playboy April 1977. Johnson, Diane. "Hard Hit Women." New York Review of Books 28 April 1977. Kapp, Isa. "and Erica." Washington Post Book World March 20, 1977. Leonard, John. "How to Save Your Own Life." New York Times Book Review 20 March 1977: 2. Maslin, Janet. "Isadora and Erica." Newsweek March 28 1977.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Erica Jong's second novel, How to Save Your Own Life, was released in the spring of 1977. Almost instantly the book became a bestseller. Within a few weeks of its release it climbed to number five on both the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly Bestseller list (Justice 166). The book remained popular throughout 1977 and ultimately was recorded as the 8th most popular fiction book of the year (Carder Books). The novel's popularity is the result of a combination of factors. How to Save Your Own Life was the sequel to Jong's first novel Fear of Flying, which had been a huge success with readers and critics. Readers who enjoyed Fear of Flying instantly became fans of How to Save Your Own Life and contributed much to the future success of the novel. 1970s fiction, is characterized the popular culture of the time, in particular, the culture of the women's movement that was beginning to take shape during the decade. How to Save Your Own Life appealed to women looking to further their autonomy and independence, especially within their relationships with men. The novel also enticed readers with its sex appeal. Not only was Jong's work erotic and sensual, the novel also seemed to be autobiographical. The possibility of reality fascinated readers, and drew them further into the novel. The autobiographical nature of the book did not, however, have the same effect on critics. Most critics hated the novel for that very reason. Many others disapproved of Jong's sexual exploits, her writing style and diction. Although the book was not critically well received, the novel was able to overcome this obstacle because of its public and social appeal, ultimately leading it to become one of the best selling novels of the 1970s. How to Save Your Own Life explores the life of Isadora Wing, a novelist, who has recently released her first book entitled Candida Confesses. How to Save Your Own Life investigates how Isadora deals with this newfound fame. Isadora is often viewed to be very similar to Erica Jong. Both women are married to, and then later divorce, Chinese-American psychologists, both attended Barnard College, both currently live in Manhattan, and both women are experiencing the troubles that come with writing a best-selling book. To add to this interesting plot scheme, Isadora's own main character in her novel, Candida, is a continuation of both Erica and Isadora and exhibits the same characteristics of both of the women. For these reasons, How to Save Your Own Life is often regarded to be an autobiographical account of Erica Jong's life. Although Jong denies this claim, the interwoven plot adds much to the novel as a whole. The almost indistinguishable line between the three characters, Erica, Isadora, and Candida, allows for the novel to seem more realistic and provides an interesting insight to the time in which the novel was written. The release of Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique in 1963 marked the beginnings of the feminist movement within the United States. The Feminine Mystique encouraged women to find outlets other than getting married and having children. Friedan encouraged her female readers to seek out new challenges and their own identity, and to no longer be subject to a male-dominated society (Decades). Growing from the Civil Rights Movement, middle class women started to demand recognition and equality (Decades). The development and marketing of the birth control bill along with Roe vs. Wade gave women the power to control their bodies, and with that came greater empowerment within society as a whole. Various women's organizations and publications grew out of the movement including National Organization of Women (NOW), Ms. magazine, and other books that addressed solely the health concerns of women, most notably the book Our Bodies, Ourselves (Decades) . These events had an enormous impact towards the writing of the 1970s. Because women were becoming more independent and willing to express their needs, the literature of the time reflected the sexual-political changes that were beginning to take shape. In his book entitled Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s literary scholar, John Sutherland separates women's literature of the 1970s into two subcategories. The first category is characterized by "emancipated" characters, "active attitudes", "documentary" style, and contemporary setting (Sutherland 85). Sutherland then argues that the other literary group present during the 1970s is more "traditional, historical, and romantic." He goes to explain that Erica Jong fits more with the first grouping, but is able to cross over between the two settings and therefore, is a greater success overall. Sutherland asserts that the sexual-political climate of the time period allowed for Erica Jong and other authors within both subcategories to write about women as independent, sexual, and autonomous (Sutherland 85). In fact, by looking at the other best-selling novels of the time, this revolution becomes even more evident. Titles including Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex but Were Afraid To Ask, The Joy of Sex, Scruples, The Total Woman, Passions of the Mind, Love Story, and The Thorn Birds filled the bestseller list of 1970s. In addition, The 1970s marked a dramatic increase in the role of romance within novels. Romance novel publishing houses doubled, even tripled their production in order to satisfy the demand of the time period (Sutherland 85). Because How to Save Your Own Life explored the evolution of women, from being simplistic and domesticated to becoming sexual and independent beings, the novel was easily understood by women readers, and enjoyed by millions of women. Within the novel, Isadora discovers that her husband has had an affair. Even though she is guilty of the same, Isadora believes that his affair is more serious, and begins to examine what it would be like to actually leave her husband. Isadora realizes that she resents the control and impact her husband has on her life. Isadora discusses this impact in scene in particular when she examines her name, Isadora Wing. "I am stuck with the 'Wing' forever-whether I leave Bennett or not. My nom de plume: Wing. Whoever else I marry, whoever else I love, my name is stamped in gold on those fine morocco presentation volumes publishers give authors for Christmas." Isadora resents the fact that she is recognized only by her husband's name, and that he coerced her into using it. It seems here that Jong is appealing to women. She discusses the fact that women, are expected to take the name of their husband. Eventually, however, the woman becomes associated with that name, and it is almost impossible break away from that identity, therefore appealing to the feminist movement of the time. Jong also encourages her readers to be adventurous, especially when it comes to sex. Isadora's sexual experiences very from romantic encounters to orgies driven by the sole need for sexual gratification. It would seem that here Jong is telling her readers not to be afraid of their sexuality but to enjoy it and embrace it. With these instances in mind, along with countless others within the novel, it is apparent that Jong was attempting to appeal to the sexual revolution of the day and trying to show women that they too can be their own person. How to Save Your Own Life owes a great deal of its success to its predecessor, Fear of Flying and to its author. Erica Jong's first novel was released in 1973, and was critically and publicly well received. Ms. Magazine reviewer, Karen Fitzgerald wrote that, "Jong was the first woman to write in such a daring and humorous way about sex. She popularized the idea of a woman's ultimate sexual fantasy?sex for the sake of sex (Gale)." Readers must have agreed with Ms. Fitzgerald and truly enjoyed reading Fear of Flying. In fact, when How to Save Your Own Life was released Fear of Flying had already sold over six million copies. Although Fear of Flying ever made the best seller list itself, its success helped to make the name of Erica Jong famous. Fear of Flying also provided readers with clues as to what How to Save Your Own Life is about. With this in mind, the increased name recognition of Erica Jong, along with a better understanding of her work by readers, helped to propel the success of How to Save Your Own Life As previously mentioned, How to Save Your Own Life plays a unique and subtle game with its reader. The book seems incredibly true to life, and especially because the book is so similar to the life of Erica Jong. Although Jong repeatedly states that the novel is merely a "mock memoir allowing for complete range of interpretations between fact and fantasy," readers continually approach the novel as being "the gospel truth" about Erica Jong. The almost indistinguishable line between fantasy and reality that is demonstrated within the novel fascinates readers. In the midst of the sexual revolution, women looked to Isadora as a woman who was not afraid to express her sexuality or her independence. It was even more comforting to readers to assume that Isadora was in fact Erica, because it allowed for the belief that "if she can do it, I can too!" Although many sexual "how to" books were published during this time, it was comforting to readers to believe that Isadora/Erica had actually participated in these activities. The possibility of reality provided readers with a certain encouragement that they too could become sexual and independent. Often characterized as Jong's "sophomoric jinx" How to Save Your Own Life received overwhelmingly negative reviews (Lichtenstein). Few critics had anything positive to say about the novel at all. Jong is criticized for her diction as being crude, plot being week, and her style as merely a cliché. In fact, Diane Johnson states in her New York Times Review of Books that "there is no point in talking about as a serious didactic work." While many books do receive negative reviews, How to Save Your Own Life is rather unusual. It seems as though Jong expected the negativity; she may have even antagonized it not only within the novel itself, but also during her interviews and promotions of the novel. The headline to the Publisher's Weeklyarticle about the novel states "The author of the new How to Save Your Own Life anticipating the critical axe?" Why did Jong anticipate the criticism? Perhaps it is because of her critical view of the press within her book. Jong writes: "Ah, the literary world. They hate failure and despise success. They have contempt for authors whose books go unread and sheer hatred for authors whose book are read too much." It also is worth noting that Jong refused to do an extensive promotional tour How to Save Your Own Life. Apparently, she despised book releases, and did not hesitate to mention so (Publishers 9). Perhaps Jong's critical failure was a direct result of her unwillingness to sell her book as a true success, and the fact that critics found her review of them within the novel offensive. However, perhaps it is Erica Jong who gets the last laugh. She wrote the novel, in some ways to criticize literary critics. Her critics did end up hating the novel, Jong was able to prove her point against the critics, and become a best-selling author at the same time. All of the discussed factors contributed to How to Save Your Own Life success. It is interesting to try to investigate what all these factors and characteristics tell us about best-selling novels in general? First and foremost it must be mentioned that there is not one particular thing that can be done that can assure a novel's success. The fact How to Save Your Own Life was regarded as poorly written by many literary critics and received few positive reviews at all means little in terms of the public perception and acceptance of the novel. How to Save Your Own Life had the poorest reviews, but yet it made the bestseller list. This was not the case with Fear of Flying and successor Parachutes and Kisses both of which received more positive reviews, but ultimately never became bestsellers. Perhaps most importantly, How to Save Your Own Life was appropriate for the time period. Erica Jong's mind game with readers and critics, sexual exploits, and exciting twists were innovative, new, and exciting for the 1970s. However, if the novel had been written in the 1990s it probably would not have done nearly as well. Interestingly enough, the novel was last published in 1995, and is currently out of stock. How to Save Your Own Life is simply not as interesting to the 1990s reader, and, therefore, it is important for the author of a novel to consider the time in which a novel is written in order to help ensure its success. How to Save Your Own Life is incredibly intriguing and provides great insight into the role of the women authors during the 1970s. Not only does the novel examine the social realities of the day, it also investigates the literary world. The novel is able to overcome its critical failure and ultimately has earned its place a bestseller. Works Cited Carder Books. September 1999. http://www.engl.virginia.edu/courses/enlt226m/f99/best70.html. "Decades of Change." 1997. http://pdur.let.rug.nl/~usa/H/1994cha12_p12.htm. "Erica Jong," Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group. 1999. "Erica Jong." Publisher's Weekly. 14 February 1977: 8. Johnson, Diane. "Hard Hit Women." New York Review of Books 28 April 1977. Justice, Keith. "Erica Jong." Bestseller Index. Jefferson: McFarland Co Inc, 1998: 166. Lichtenstein, Grace. "Fear of Landing" Washington Post Book World. 21 October 1984: 9. Sutherland, John. "Women's Literature II." Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s. London ; Boston : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981: 85. London; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981: 85.
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