When & Where: Monday, October 14th at the Decatur Public Library. The event was originally scheduled for the Carter Center, but the government shutdown forced a change of venue. Jong was on tour to promote the 40th anniversary of the publication of her book Fear of Flying. Published in 1973, Flying was a novel that heightened womens' self-awareness that they could and should be complete persons – not only as mothers and wives, but as artists or scientists. The main character, Isadora Wing, takes charge of her live-out loud, fantasy-rich life. The book sold more than 27 million copies and has been translated into 40 languages.
Attendance: ~ 75 people of mostly women from the generation who remember the book from the 70s. A few men showed up, but can you really expect any more than that on the same evening as Monday Night Football?
Why I Went. My longtime partner Denise encouraged me to go with her, but she didn't have to persuade me as I had read Jong's Fear of Flying and How To Save Your Own Life (1977). The latter came recommended in Anthony Burgess' famous booklist 99 Novels. [The list also included a book Jong referenced during her talk, The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing (1963).
What She Talked About. During her 45 minutes on stage, Jong read a very short excerpt from Flying that had become the most famous part of her novel – the zipless f**k. She said a lot of people misunderstood the term: The Z.F. was not a buzz phrase for casual. meaningless sex, (today's “hooking up” ) but rather it was a wistful fantasy. Jong suggests that fantasizing about sex is a woman's Viagra. She cited a few examples of misinterpretation of her book, one being that that women should leave their boring husbands. She admits candidly she has a love/hate relationship with Fear Flying. It's success and notoriety overshadowed her other novels and eight books of poetry, especially rankling, as Jong sees herself more a poet than a novelist. I'd imagine the love part is that Flying gave her the financial independence and reputation to have a long writing career. Moreover, she knows that the book has had a profound positive influence on women all over the world. (And don't forget some men have changed too, says Jong. )
Jong said she was unsure whether her mother or daughter read the book. She spoke eloquently and at length about the relationship between mothers and daughters. Jong, now 71, noted that “Daughters must distance themselves from their mothers, but then they circle back when they have children.”
Q & A: Jong answered only a few questions from the crowd (she's not much of the short answer type ) for another 15 minutes. One question asked for a further clarification of the Z.F. I have been to a lot of author events over the years, but I have never been one where f-bombs were tossed around so cavalierly.
Question I Would Have Liked to Ask, But I Was Too Shy. Jong's book-in-progress is called Fear of Dying, in which she reflects partially on the death of her mother who died recently at the age of 101. When she talked about our society's denial of mortality, I wondered if she had read Ernest Becker's Denial of Death (1973). A great book, by the way. Not only did it win the Pulitzer in 1974, but it's the book that Woody Allen is holding in Annie Hall when Diane Keaton complains that he reads only books with the word “death” in the title.
Did I Buy A Book? No, I still have an unread copy of Jong's Devil At Large on my shelf, a book where she discusses her relationship to another artist who was labeled a pornographer and often reviled, but later revered – Henry Miller.
And What Was Denise's Reaction? While she had enjoyed reading Flying in the 70s, she hadn't followed Jong's career much after than and attended mostly out of curiosity to see how the author had fared through the decades. She found the lecture more thought provoking than expected and returned home with less of a “fear of seventy.”