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The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by…
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The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (2006)

by Jonathan Franzen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
3.25 stars

This is a series of little snapshots of the author's life, mostly when he was a child or teenager, but it does extend a little beyond that. It's not really a complete bio, it is just vignettes.

I was really mixed, there were chapters I liked – my favourite was the bird chapter – and others that were just o.k., maybe a little boring. So, for me, it really varied, depending on what story he was telling whether I really liked it or not. So, my rating varies by chapter. The bird chapter would be a 4, the first two chapters, would be a 3.5, and the other three chapters are just a 3 for me. I figure that averages to about 3.25. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jul 8, 2014 |
I'd never read any Franzen before, but I was in the annoying library in my old neighborhood and this jumped off the shelves into my hands so I took it home. I liked it. Franzen is just neurotic enough to pull off riveting essays about, well, navigating through life with various neuroses. The writing was colorful yet polished, though not so much as to dilute the color. I liked it well enough that I plan to check out his other essay collection and his well-known novel The Corrections. Hooray. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
Thinking about the way adolescents don’t really live in the present, Franzen says halfway through this book ‘But when does the real story start?’ – and I must confess this is what I was wondering as I read this account of firstly his teenage years and then hos more recent life. A chapter devoted to his analysis of Peanuts cartoons, later followed by the pranks he got up to at high school didn’t really seem to lead anywhere. Franzen’s descriptions of his awkward behaviour remained just that to me – descriptions, without anything emanating from them. When I think of Clive James’ accounts of his awkward adolescent self, I remember the humour and the way the adult looked back shaking his head at what he’d done.

While I did find myself nodding at some of Franzen’s thoughts, I floundered when he often didn’t pursue these to some sort of conclusion. For example, he writes about an Al Gore presentation and how it initially affected him and then he downplayed it in his mind only to be concerned about climate change when he thought about how difficult it would make survival for birds. Then towards the end of the book he seems to change again and wonder if birds wouldn’t prefer a privatised America with unequal wealth distribution where the rich would have acres where the birds could live – yet he also talks of these areas being leased to hunters. I was left confused.

He’s certainly fond of lists and often these snapshots engorging a sentence work pretty well, building up images that we can respond to: ‘I lose battles with the seventeen year old who’s still inside me. I eat half a box of Oreos for lunch, I binge on TV, I make sweeping moral judgements, I run around town in torn jeans, I drink martinis on a Tuesday night, I stare at beer-commercial cleavage, I define as uncool any group to which I cannot belong, I feel the urge to key Range Rovers and slash their tires; I pretend I’m never going to die’.

In the end I felt myself starting to respond to the writer only to find myself left veering away from where he took his train of thought which seemed rather too self-centred. ( )
  evening | Mar 19, 2014 |
A mix of memoir and essay. Memories of adolescent mischief; his observance of generational friction between his older brothers and their parents; a reassessed, adult view of his deceased parents. A wide range of literary and other topics, including his enthusiasm for birding. So far I've enjoyed Franzen's non-fiction over his fiction. ( )
  JamesMScott | Nov 14, 2013 |
I read the author's fictionThe Corrections (read 2 Jan 2002) and Freedom (read 6 Oct 2010) and thought his account of growing up might be of interest. He grew up in Webster Groves, Mo. and he tells of his parents and brothers and of his not very interesting high school life--very different from more mundane, less intellectual accounts of high school accounts--and silly pranks he and his friends indulged in. He tells some of his time at Swarthmore and of his marriage and divorce, and a lot of talk about birding which could only be of interest to birders--which I am not. I admit I was mostly bored by the account and could not empathize with his conflicts with hie right-thinking parents. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Readers who want as much autobiographical detail as he is willing to provide should read The Discomfort Zone along with How to Be Alone. The theme common to both books is: how I learned to make my peace with the world and, by reading books, to be alone but not too alone; how I came in from the cold of being a difficult young man.
 

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Scherpenisse, WimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374299196, Hardcover)

Jonathan Franzen arrived late, and last, in a family of boys in Webster Groves, Missouri. The Discomfort Zone is his intimate memoir of his growth from a "small and fundamentally ridiculous person," through an adolescence both excruciating and strangely happy, into an adult with embarrassing and unexpected passions. It's also a portrait of a middle-class family weathering the turbulence of the 1970s, and a vivid personal history of the decades in which America turned away from its midcentury idealism and became a more polarized society.

The story Franzen tells here draws on elements as varied as the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s, the effects of Kafka's fiction on his protracted quest to lose his virginity, the elaborate pranks that he and his friends orchestrated from the roof of his high school, his self-inflicted travails in selling his mother's house after her death, and the web of connections between his all-consuming marriage, the problem of global warming, and the life lessons to be learned in watching birds.

These chapters of a Midwestern youth and a New York adulthood are warmed by the same combination of comic scrutiny and unqualified affection that characterize Franzen's fiction, but here the main character is the author himself. Sparkling, daring, arrestingly honest, The Discomfort Zone narrates the formation of a unique mind and heart in the crucible of an everyday American family.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:11 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"The Discomfort Zone is Jonathan Franzen's memoir of growing up squirming in his own uber-sensitive skin, from a "small and fundamentally ridiculous person," through a strangely happy adolescence, into an adult with strong and inconvenient passions. His story cascades from moments of high drama into multilayered fields of sometimes truculent, sometimes piercing, always entertaining investigation and insight. Whether he's writing about the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s, the effects of Kafka's fiction on his own protracted quest to loose his virginity, or the web of connections between bird-watching, his all-consuming marriage, and the problem of global warming, Franzen is always feelingly engaged with the world we live in now."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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