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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars highly enjoyable
I found this books wholly enjoyable and not nearly long enough - except for the last chapter which major on birding.

This memoir in fact covers: the death of Franzen's mother and sale of the family home (Franzen gets this wrong); quarrels in the Franzen household and the career of Schulz, creator of Peanuts; the religious and personal development scene at...
Published on 17 Nov 2010 by William Jordan

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Can do better
In his book How To Be Alone, Jonathan Franzen wrote about many things, including himself. In this new book, Franzen concentrates almost entirely on himself. While a lot of what he says is worth saying, the general trajectory is a kind of memoir - specifically a writer's memoir and since writers spend most of their time sitting in a room alone, writing, they don't have...
Published on 14 Sep 2009 by Eileen Shaw


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Can do better, 14 Sep 2009
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Paperback)
In his book How To Be Alone, Jonathan Franzen wrote about many things, including himself. In this new book, Franzen concentrates almost entirely on himself. While a lot of what he says is worth saying, the general trajectory is a kind of memoir - specifically a writer's memoir and since writers spend most of their time sitting in a room alone, writing, they don't have much of a claim to being unique, unusual or especially entertaining. Unfortunately, when he is writing about his upbringing, his friendships, his hobbies, etc., Franzen falls into the mildly interesting category.

In How To Be Alone Franzen wrote about things, people, cities, lives, in a way that made everything he told us about interesting - and often in a way that went beyond that and on into fascination. His piece about the Chicago postal service was a case in point. Who would have thought he could make it come alive, could make it absolutely riveting? Well he did. In this book he is interesting, full-stop. It just doesn't take off into the brilliance I had come to expect from How To Be Alone, unfortunately. Inevitably this is disappointing and makes me wish he'd written The Discomfort Zone first, I would definitely have read more of his work and would thus be just discovering How To Be Alone, and I'd be a lot happier. He is a brilliant writer - especially as a novelist. Let's hope this book means he's got intense self-absorption out of his system.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and revealing memoir, 1 April 2007
By 
Sam J. Ruddock (Norwich, England) - See all my reviews
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The Discomfort Zone follows naturally from Jonathan Franzen's 2001 bestseller The Corrections. Sure, that was fiction and this is autobiography, but many of the themes and settings of everyday life remain the same. It chronicles the author's growth from a "small and fundamentally ridiculous person" to the confidently insecure writer he has become. He casts his scope both inwards and out, linking his own life to the socio-political history of the last fifty years. His story is both personal and universal.

It is a good read, and what we are left with is a picture of everyday life in all its fabulous banality: a life which Franzen loves and hates in alternating measure but which is an inextricable part of himself and his fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars highly enjoyable, 17 Nov 2010
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This review is from: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Paperback)
I found this books wholly enjoyable and not nearly long enough - except for the last chapter which major on birding.

This memoir in fact covers: the death of Franzen's mother and sale of the family home (Franzen gets this wrong); quarrels in the Franzen household and the career of Schulz, creator of Peanuts; the religious and personal development scene at Franzen's school; practical jokes at Franzen's school; Franzen's experience of German (in which he majored) and love life; Franzen's love life (continued) and his interest in the environment and in birding.

The most thought provoking section is about Schulz. Franzen thinks Schulz suffered because he was an artist, ie he was not an artist because he suffered. He could have toughed out a normal life, just as he did his military service. This is well worth pondering - as is the question how the impulse comes to people (like Franzen) to make other people laugh.

This memoir is both touching and comic. Strongly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 29 Sep 2010
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This review is from: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Paperback)
I was disappointed with this memoir because Jonathan Franzen spent too long on teenage escapades which gave no insight into his development, they were just hi-jink events. Compare JM Coetzee's 'Youth' and 'Boyhood' which superbly set out HIS mental torment and changes while growing up. The best part in this book was the description of his marriage and perhaps it's worth buying just for that.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but not mind-blowing, 3 Mar 2010
By 
JamieJ (London, UK) - See all my reviews
Well I think The Corrections is probably my favourite novel of the last 10 years, so was curious to read this. Overall it paints an interesting picture of growing up in the mid-west and gives some sense of the backdrop to the corrections and also a portrait of the artist as a young man. Certain sections were funny and others very familiar and interesting. I would have preferred a bit more about 'why I came to writing and how I feel about it' and a bit less about birding etc. But it's short enough that no section goes on too long.

Probably only of interest to people interested in Franzen already.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable and poignant, 18 Nov 2007
By 
G. G. Durante (Gibraltar) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Paperback)
For many readers who enjoyed the dark comedy of the award-winning `Corrections', this curious amalgam of memoir and social commentary is the necessary literary appetizer to alleviate the long wait before the next Franzen novel hits the market. Fans of his most popular novel will recognize many familiar themes re-emerge from their original autobiographical source - failed marriages, middle-age alienation, difficult, disapproving parents.

Franzen's lively, witty style is as sharp and perceptive as ever; he is the master of the tragic-comic set-piece whether he is recounting the contradictions and trials of the bookish, awkward teenager he was or his recent flirtation with the geeky, withdrawn world of bridwatching, a pursuit which distracts him from his failed relationships and manifests his desire to reconnect with nature in a time where urban sprawl and climate change (two big Franzen themes) threaten the lush unpopulated wilderness.

Franzen's short memoirs work best, though, in the universal appeal they achieve and the overall humanity of his approach to the past and his formative influences. The only reservation is that at 180 pages, I was left hungry for more...surely that can't be a bad thing.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Read, 1 April 2007
By 
Sam J. Ruddock (Norwich, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The Discomfort Zone follows naturally from Jonathan Franzen's 2001 bestseller The Corrections. Sure, that was fiction and this is autobiography, but many of the themes and settings of everyday life remain the same. It chronicles the author's growth from a "small and fundamentally ridiculous person" to the confidently insecure writer he has become. He casts his scope both inwards and out, linking his own life to the socio-political history of the last fifty years. His story is both personal and universal.

It is a good read, and what we are left with is a picture of everyday life in all its fabulous banality: a life which Franzen loves and hates in alternating measure but which is an inextricable part of himself and his fiction.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical, innovative and playful - I will read this again and again, 12 Jan 2014
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This review is from: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Paperback)
Jonathan Franzen became my favourite author after I read "The Corrections" - and read it again and again. The book is so deeply layered and each section so valuable and intertwined with the others that it is a pleasure to reread, but what appeals before all else is Franzen's breathtaking style. In "The Discomfort Zone" he is playful, self-deprecating; he solicits our compassion and makes us cringe and laugh along with his younger self. There were so many great lines and great passages that I took to reading it with a pen in hand to underline things. I would definitely recommend this to any fan of Franzen's work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Memoir As An Essay Collection from Jonathan Franzen, 3 Aug 2012
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Paperback)
"The Discomfort Zone" is an autobiographical essay collection - and memoir - from Jonathan Franzen that is among the most impressive examples of memoir writing that I've stumbled upon lately. Readers will get a most vivid and compelling portrait of Franzen - the person and the writer - and one that may illuminate their subsequent reading of his great novels. But this is an essay collection that is somewhat nonlinear with respect to time, opening and closing with important events in his adulthood. Surprisingly for me, given the realism of his current fiction, Franzen expresses ample admiration for the fantasy novels of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, invoking them repeatedly in his essay collection. Franzen renders a most affectionate portrait of his late mother and his family's former residence in Webster Groves, a financially elite suburb of Saint Louis, in the opening essay "House for Sale". He recounts his childhood love for comics, and especially, "The Peanuts" comic strip, in "Two Ponies", touching upon his childhood relationship with his older brother Tom and their father. "Then Joy Breaks Through" describes his membership in a youth Christian fellowship, fondly recalling it as a sanctuary in an otherwise difficult adolescence that will resonate with many readers. Among the most memorable essays is the concluding one, "My Bird Problem", in which he compares and contrasts his love of birding with his efforts at saving his marriage and then, later, finally finding romantic bliss with a much younger woman from California. Franzen's simple, unadorned, prose shines through in each of the essays, reminding readers of his greatest works in fiction. Without question, "The Discomfort Zone" is an important addition to the memoir of genre, worthy of recognition as among its best.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Movingly written personal memoir, 10 Aug 2011
By 
John M. Cruickshank Owen "opinionmat" (Barcelona, Spain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (Paperback)
I found this book to be unusually, personal, honest and moving - and of course extremely well written. I had read the Corrections, and How to be alone, and liked them both, but something about the Discomfort Zone put it into a category of its own for me. Was it the discreet but elegant framing of the book: starting with his inefficient sale of his mother's house, and ending with his mother's death, and his new interest in birdwatching? Was it the particular selection of themes that he chooses to focus on: including Charlie Brown, School pranks, Learning German? Was it the fact that I finally understood what can make someone passionate about bird-watching? Was it the reflections on society and change over the last 40 years, with its particular picture of the 60's in the mid-west? It was all of those things and more. If I had any complaint, it was that I wished he had also written about other parts of his life. What he revealed was fascinating, and what is not touched on intriguing.
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The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen (Paperback - 2 July 2007)
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