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Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Lifeby Erica Jong
"This book — like [Jong's] last dozen — is amazing only for its mediocrity. It is amazing only for its meanspiritedness, its tedium, its awkward prose, and its stunning self-absorption. Literature can bear a great deal of self-absorption, but Jong may well have overshot the mark. Literary aspiration, at the end of the day, is a limited plot device. Especially in the absence of literary talent." Cristina Nehring, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
Erica Jong began this book as a guide for aspiring writers. It was to be a book full of practical advice, inspiring examples, and sage wisdom ("Dare to dream," for instance). But she quickly realized that writing such a book would be dishonest, a way to veil the difficult nature of the writer's life with platitudes and encouragement. A demon out of an Isaac Singer story whispered in Jong's ear: "Tell the truth!" She knew she had no choice but to obey.
Seducing the Demon is the sublime and salacious story of one writer's long and successful career as a poet, novelist, and feminist provocateur. Throughout, Jong is refreshingly direct-whether writing sex scenes, evoking the lure of alcohol and grass in the search for ecstasy, or conforming to the rigid narrative of AA. She tells us candidly about how she always lusted after Bill Clinton, and how she discovered the joys of tantric sex. Equally candid about the privileges of fame and the slaps of notoriety, Jong is above all loyal to the importance of telling the truth in an age of lies.
Jong tells us she writes "to get my life down on paper so it can never be extinguished," and "to keep from going mad." She speaks of the power of sexual desire to "transmute words into flesh," and reveals how a range of writers, from Kafka and Nabokov to Henry Miller and Pablo Neruda, influenced and guided her. Delivering trenchant observations on great writers, she compares the ethereal Virginia Woolf to the earthy James Joyce: "She is Ariel to James Joyce's Caliban." An uncanny combination of bookish and bawdy, literary and libidinous, Seducing the Demon is an invaluable glimpse into one of the most provocative minds of our time.
"In four discursive essays and an introduction, Jong (Fear of Flying; Any Woman's Blues) ruminates on the elements of her writer's life. Most notable is sexuality: pursuit of the muse has often meant pursuit of a demon lover, a man utterly wrong for her. She walks away from Ted Hughes in the 1970s, but not from many other wrong men. Jong has had four husbands, one child and 20 books in the past four decades. Now in her 60s, she's well-read, well-traveled, therapized, happily married and sexually satisfied. Her memoir in vignettes asserts that without writing, Jong would go crazy, drink well beyond the excesses of her past and be miserable. Writing has propelled her forward into a fulfilled life. There is a fine section on women writers who pursued death (Plath, Sexton, Woolf); Jong explains why she refused to be one of them. These chatty, gossipy essays are just serious enough to count as literary. Jong, however, shrugs off the immense economic privilege that allowed her to write and travel from adolescence and meet famous people who influenced her writing early. She also never explains how she writes. Engaging and amusing, this work is less substantive than it could or should be." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"As a writer, Erica Jong has always been endearing and fascinating — in almost equal parts. Her first novel, 'Fear of Flying,' with its intrepid, headstrong heroine, Isadora Wing, who longs above all else for a 'zipless you-know-what' — that is, a sexual encounter with no strings attached, just lustful fun and plenty of it — rocked the literary world and made a couple of generations of hopeful men... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) ask: Is it really true that women are just as absolutely crazy about sex as men are? Isadora was funny and forthright and smart, and so was her creator. As we all know, the novel sold millions of copies, and it marked Jong for life. She became an enthusiastic protegee of Henry Miller and along with him earnestly preached that sex was good and good for you, something like cornflakes. It was an interesting response to traditional American puritanical values and received ideas of literary refinement, but it backed Jong into a philosophical corner: In novels as in life, after hours of strenuous, steamy sex, what can you do as a follow-up that carries the same intensity and excitement? You can't go out and work for the elementary school silent auction. Hemingway managed his narratives by alternating sex with bullfighting and the blowing up of bridges, but what's a girl to do? Figure-skate? Jong tried to solve this problem by writing period novels such as 'Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones' and 'Serenissima: A Novel of Venice' (republished as 'Shylock's Daughter'), full of adventure and swagger. They were lustful romps, but there's only so much romping a girl can do, and there was another troublesome aspect to it all: There was very little that was transgressive about any of this sex, nothing mysterious or exotic or forbidden; it was like working out with a medicine ball. I remember once sharing a dais with Jong, who turned out to be an extremely dignified, Nancy-Reagan-thin lady in a beautiful designer suit, still extolling the virtues of the zipless whatever. The disconnect was extraordinary — and just a little bit nuts. On the other hand, Jong is smart, learned, scholarly, in love with the world of traditional literature. In 'Seducing the Demon' she talks about what writing has meant in her own life — what she has tried to do throughout her long career: speak her own truth, no matter the consequences. The book is divided into an introduction and four chapters, and each segment shows us a different facet of this complex, proselytizing woman. The introduction contains lengthy quotations from a commencement address she delivered after 9/11 to the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York: She fearlessly (or heedlessly) lectured members of the working class (that would be the parents of the graduates) on how the Bush administration was practicing Orwellian doublespeak, deceiving the public and debasing the language: 'The Misleader-in-Chief says "healthy forests' when he means clear-cutting trees, "clear skies' when he mean pollution. His generals say "pacify" when they mean killing people, "collateral damage" when they mean killing foreign civilians. They say "friendly fire" when they mean killing our own soldiers.' Boos, hisses and only medium cheers all around. Nobody likes to be preached to, especially on graduation day. Chapter 1 finds the young author at a leisurely lunch at the Algonquin being propositioned by a reptilian old publisher who has promised her half a million dollars for 'Fear of Flying.' She ends up performing a dubious sexual favor for him. It's that Isadora Wing voice again — rowdy, self-deprecating and endearing: How could she have been so gullible and naive? Yet she was the one who sold the book (to someone else) and made a bundle, and now gets to make fun of him in print. She makes even meaner fun of poor old Martha Stewart, whose husband she once seduced at the Frankfurt Book Fair: 'I have no idea whether she still goes around telling everyone I ruined her marriage, but I do wish I had the sexual power she attributes to me,' Jong remarks, a little disingenuously. Then, in Chapter 2, she's back to preaching. Alcohol is a depressive and bad for writers, she maintains; it's better by far to meditate or take a walk than drink or do drugs to summon the muse (although she writes later about her own fairly recent DUI). Her chapter on Hollywood is, again, self-deprecating and hilarious, but her last, 'Does Writing Trump Family?' is where the writer utterly waffles. She writes with pride about her daughter's work (and the girl's former cocaine habit, which seems out of bounds to me). She expresses her sorrow over her father's death, and she confesses her desire to best her mother and sisters. But never once does she address the question of the embarrassment her explicit, autobiographical, sexual writings must have caused her family, her husbands, even her friends. She seems entirely oblivious to her effect on her own personal world. But of course, that is the place where writing trumps family. She's smart enough to know that and exasperating enough to blow the whole thing off. She bets on being so endearing that we won't even notice." Reviewed by Carolyn See, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Political, irreverent, risqué and wonderfully unrepentant....Women should be talking about this book. Men should be reading this book. We should all try to live up to her standard of self-awareness." Los Angeles Times
"At times, Jong seems simply to be having a conversation with herself. Then she sucker-punches the reader with a commanding sentence, like her definition of a writer as 'someone who takes the universal whore of language and turns her into a virgin again.'" Portland Oregonian
"Jong says she started out writing a book of advice to writers....But what she ends up doing is giving us the same feeling we get when we see a car wreck — you don't want to see the carnage, but you can't seem to look away." Chicago Sun-Times
"[Jong] talks about what writing has meant in her own life [and] what she has tried to do throughout her long career: speak her own truth, no matter the consequences." Washington Post
"Seducing the Demon is another of Jong's efforts to consecrate the great passions of her life: poetry in its timeless holiness; the exalted rigors of the writer's life; love and sex in all their maddening worth." New York Times
"If leaving the reader wanting more is the mark of success, then Jong succeeds." Kirkus Reviews
Seducing the Demon is the sublime and salacious story of one writer's long and successful career as a poet, novelist, and feminist provocateur. Throughout, Jong is refreshingly direct-whether writing sex scenes, evoking the lure of alcohol and grass in the search for ecstasy, or conforming to the rigid narrative of AA.
Erica Jong's memoir-a national bestseller-was probably the most wildly reviewed book of 2006. Critics called it everything from "brutally funny," "risqu? and wonderfully unrepentant," and "rowdy, self-deprecating, and endearing" to "a car wreck."* Throughout her book tour, Jong was unflappably funny, and responded to her critics with a hilarious essay on NPR's All Things Considered, which is included in this paperback edition. In addition to prominent review and feature coverage, Jong was a guest on Today and Real Time with Bill Maher. Even Rush Limbaugh flirted with Jong on his radio program: "I think she wants me. I think she's fantasizing about me." Love her, hate her, Jong still knows how to seduce the country and, most important, keep the pages turning.
About the Author
Erica Jong is the author of nineteen books of poetry, fiction, and memoir, including Fear of Flying, which has more than 18 million copies in print worldwide. Her most recent essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, and she is a frequent guest on television talk shows. Currently working on a novel featuring Isadora Wing — the heroine of Fear of Flying — as a woman of a certain age, Erica and her lawyer husband live in New York City and Connecticut. Her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, is also an author.
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