Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life - Erica Jong I'll admit it: I'm an aspiring writer. As a result, I have a love of memoirs or books about writing that are written by the ranks of those artists I wish to join. So I have no doubt my own desire has played a role in how much I enjoyed Seducing the Demon.

Browsing through Barnes & Noble one lovely evening after work (isn't it always lovely once you can clock out and get the hell away from your desk?), I was wandering away from the shelf that contained every Marguerite Duras book I already own and none of the ones I don't, when I happened to look to my left. There sat Erica Jong's Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, face out along the edge of the shelf. I stopped. I picked it up. I bought it. (And later laughed as she recounted within about how, when she first published Fear of Flying, her father would go to every bookstore in town and turn all of her books so the covers faced out and covered up the other books on the shelf.)

It's certainly not the best book I've ever read, but it was quite good, insightful, and most importantly, damn entertaining. There are good points and bad points, and for me at least, the good far outweighed the bad.

This is a memoir about her life as a writer, from the time she published her first book Fear of Flying and rocketed to fame up until the present. Jong pulls off a wonderful and delicate balancing act between retelling her early days in the business and discussing the state of her life, career, motivations, and creativity today. It's not easy to cover thirty+ years, especially when one chooses not to do so in a linear fashion, but Jong succeeds wonderfully, see-sawing back and forth seamlessly with excellent transitions so the reader isn't jarred out of the story or left confused.

Seducing the Demon is a quick read, but not so quick you feel as if you've been cheated out of your money. Beach reading material, as they say, but it lingers with you far longer than your average romance novel. Many topics strike a chord with the reader whether the reader wants them to or not.

One thing that may turn a reader off: it's always risky discussing politics when one is in the public eye, but Jong doesn't hold back. She doesn't harp on her political leanings, nor does she shy away from them. If you're a George W. Bush fan, you may find yourself rather offended. Then again, if you're a George W. Bush fan, you're probably not reading Erica Jong in the first place.

Seducing the Demon is insightful, raw, honest, and direct, all to incredible affect. Jong's not afraid to discuss her own naivety or stupidity over the course of her career, nor does she shy away from pointing out the times she acted like a complete ass or made a fool of herself. When she relates tales of her at her best, they can be touching. Overall, the result is refreshing. Beware, however: Jong's honesty slips into narcissism in a few spots, which could irritate the reader. There's some shameless self-promotion of both herself and her daughter. The former seems to go with the territory, as it's a book specifically about her and her life as a famous writer, while the latter can be forgiven in the context, as Jong plainly loves and adores her daughter above and beyond her talent. I found her references to her daughter's career as motherly, full of love and pride, but easily the reaction of the reader could go the other way into irritation at this woman "pimping" her daughter.

Drawing a lot of her knowledge about her own experience, specifically her battle against alcoholism, Jong discusses at length the apparent connection between creativity, addiction, and crippling depression. She cites examples from her own life as well as her contemporaries and those who came before her, making it very clear how many succumbed to addiction or took their own lives, even as they produced some enduring pieces of literature. Sylvia Plath, whom Jong holds in high regard, as well as Anne Sexton, whom Jong states she knew personally in the years leading up to her suicide and considered a mentor. As she discusses a delicate and heartbreaking subject, Jong comes dangerously close to romanticizing the life and death of Sylvia Plath, which I think indicates a lingering belief within the writing community that addiction, depression, and suicide are all "just part of the life."

Since her debut, Jong has been known as a sexual writer. On the one hand this is freeing; on the other, it can lead to TMI moments in a memoir. Tales of how she once performed oral sex on an aging publisher, her flirtation with Ted Hughes, and the fair amount of time she spends describing the one night stand she had with Martha Stewart's husband were all just a bit too much and, frankly, could have been excised from the final draft without harming the narrative. Entertaining, perhaps, but gossipy. (The retelling of the affair with Stewart's husband was the one sour note in the book for me. Jong seemed to wanting to clear her name, but it truly came off as a tit-for-tat smack back at Martha.)

As a general rule in her writing, Jong uses sex and profanity as a natural progression of the story and of the writing itself, not to shock. Some people may be shocked, yes, but that's not its sole purpose. Neither is overdone, and such freedom in expression is nice to see.

For writers, there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained, though none of the four extended essays are dedicated to giving tips to aspiring writers. Sprinkled all throughout the book are gems of writing advice, inadvertently woven into the text. One of the best parts is her honesty when examining how writing affects family and friends, relating her own experiences and declaring, "Nothing freezes the imagination like family loyalty or political correctness."

All in all, Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life is a wonderful book and a sheer joy to read, despite the few dark spots. Highly recommended to fans of Erica Jong or aspiring writers.