The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History Kindle Ô

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History 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 s, and a vivid personal history of the decades in which America turned away from its midcentury idealism and became a polarized societyThe story Franzen tells here draws on elements as varied as the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the s, 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 birdsThese 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 Unless you are an employee of the New York Times, it has become uncool to admit to liking Jonathan Franzen.I don t know when Franzen s innate un hipness became official Was it when he announced his mixed feelings about his work being included in Oprah s book club Was it when he wrote his essay on Edith Wharton an article that would go on to become perhaps the most misunderstood piece of nonfiction in the last 10 years Was it when he started bashing Kindles and Twitter Was it, perhaps, when Unless you are an employee of the New York Times, it has become uncool to admit to liking Jonathan Franzen.I don t know when Franzen s innate un hipness became official Was it when he announced his mixed feelings about his work being included in Oprah s book club Was it when he wrote his essay on Edith Wharton an article that would go on to become perhaps the most misunderstood piece of nonfiction in the last 10 years Was it when he started bashing Kindles and Twitter Was it, perhaps, when he wrote an essay included in this collection, in which he professes in detail his love of bird watching Maybe it was when his latest essay was published, on his admiration of Karl Kraus and his disdain forand, let s face it, implying that Jeff Bezos is the anti christ was just a tad harsh.More likely, though, it was a culmination of all these things, as well as a few misguided editorial rants written by people who have clearly not read Franzen s work which heavily suggested Franzen is responsible for misogyny in the publishing industry If you re into word association, some of the most common adjectives that come up when I talk with friends about Franzen are, in no particular order asshole, pretentious, technophobe, and, in so many words, that guys who knew David Foster Wallace In spite of all this, I have always had, and continue to have, a deep admiration of Franzen s work, and further, I think the qualities I like most about what he does are displayed perfectly in this short collection of essays which has, in my opinion, been mislabeled as a memoir, or, in Franzen s words, A Personal History It is the brutal honesty Franzen possesses and the beautiful articulation of alienation, of self consciousness without, unlike most of his contemporaries, implementing self consciousness into his prose , of ineptitude and anxiety and shame and, perhaps most of all, guilt The fearlessness required of anecdotes like the ones in this book, where, for instance, a pre pubescent Franzen exposes himself to a pair of twin girls who just moved into the house next door, the bravery innate in a sentence like I d finally started to love my mother near the end of her life, when she was undergoing a year of chemotherapy and radiation and living by herself There is a sternness and a mad pursuit of what his old friend DFW would call the capital T Truth which exists in all of Franzen s work, fiction and nonfiction, that I identify and sympathize with And the fact that he is so misunderstood, that critics condescendingly refer to him as a neo Luddite, that he is ridiculed for his disregard for words not printed on a sheet of paper, and that his deep, unrelenting passion and concern for the world he lives in and for the people in it with him make it easier for people to laugh him off as a Downer these are things that only prove to endear him further to me There are, of course,technical concrete reasons to love Franzen s work His uncanny knack to see the hypocrisies and contradictions upon which modern society is founded, his nearly flawless prose, and his ability to create characters that feel all too real to us regardless of whether or not we like them, which is a topic for another day these are all good reasons to explore the man s work, and to tune out the critics whom, I suspect, mostly haven t read it I spent the weekend at the beach, but I thought I might wind up enjoying something, so I brought along the gloomiest Gus in town, Jonathan Franzen.Here s the thing Franzen is the only mainstream American culture he s been on Oprah and the cover of Time, and as far as I m concerned that puts him at Miley Cyrus levels of mainstream for the middle aged, class, and Western who actually spits venom at the system I appreciate this.Here he unleashes his rage against himself and his various insecur I spent the weekend at the beach, but I thought I might wind up enjoying something, so I brought along the gloomiest Gus in town, Jonathan Franzen.Here s the thing Franzen is the only mainstream American culture he s been on Oprah and the cover of Time, and as far as I m concerned that puts him at Miley Cyrus levels of mainstream for the middle aged, class, and Western who actually spits venom at the system I appreciate this.Here he unleashes his rage against himself and his various insecurities And as someone who was likewise an oversensitive youth in Middle America, I should empathize But instead I see all my least attractive traits on the page And Franzen is enumerating those unattractive traits as his unattractive traits I don t need to read that.And then he mopes about girls he crushed over at a distance as a teenager This is a bad habit I mostly, successfully purged Yet somehow he felt the need to publish this, while at the same time, thankfully, thankfully and how afraid I was he was going to go there sparing us the story of losing his virginity He might as well have though.Harumph There were some good parts in this, some parts that would have made outstanding essays in their own right But as a whole, I just really didn t give much of a shit In which I tell Jonathan Franzen to stop trying to distract me with goddamned ducks, dammit Why not call it essays Or a memoir Because Franzen is at pains to show you what a cool cat he is, that s why Franzen s a different animal here, is all I can say or, perhapsaptly I come to strange realizations about the big grump I ve always loved I was drawn to The Discomfort Zone because he can be so incisive about his family see his other essays in How to Be Alone and in Farther Away, whic In which I tell Jonathan Franzen to stop trying to distract me with goddamned ducks, dammit Why not call it essays Or a memoir Because Franzen is at pains to show you what a cool cat he is, that s why Franzen s a different animal here, is all I can say or, perhapsaptly I come to strange realizations about the big grump I ve always loved I was drawn to The Discomfort Zone because he can be so incisive about his family see his other essays in How to Be Alone and in Farther Away, which I read and enjoyed in last year s blog coma and, consequently, himself that is, I saw The Discomfort Zone as a back door into The Corrections and partly into Freedom This is Franzen, I told myself, unadorned no excuse of fiction to cover it up This is, perhaps, the curmudgeon explained, if obliquely Why do you read memoirs, Sasha Reading The Discomfort Zone, however, I m reminded of how much I have always hated the man s digressions In The Corrections, it was Lithuanian shenanigans in Freedom, it was the goddamned environment and the frakking birds everywhere I understand now, however, that this is how Franzen s mind works Franzen, I ve found, shies away from an indulgent narrative about families about his family, here in particular Snidely, I think His essays need to have reach they shouldn t only be about the Franzens And so Family dynamics should naturally draw on Snoopy and its creator An awkward adolescence too enlightening, really who knew Franzen was such a big dorkus dignified by an examination of the youth group he belonged to Selling the house his mother had spent nearly a lifetime to build a house full, no doubt, of his mother s disappoints should lead to a dissection of real estate in America And, goddammit, troubles with his wife should veer into bird watching in them good ol United States.Perhaps he s living up to that irritating moniker, a personal history that this wasn t indulgent and navel gazing, that this wasn t a book of essays that focused merely on one s self This was broad this tackled Big Issues But come on, Jon Your family is the story, your patent uncoolness is the story, your heartaches and your disappointments are the story Stop trying to distract me with ducks, dammit I loved him best when he let go, when he so baldly talked about what made him tick I loved it when he was earnest, if clumsy I ve always maintained that Franzen possesses such heart, all the better because it is so unexpected and it s no different here More of that, please.A tiny voice in my head sneers that this is just about what interests me I tell that tiny voice that it is mostly right I wanted apersonal Franzen I found that in How to Be Alone, and I found that in about one and a half essays in The Discomfort Zone What these have in common, aside from the family as touchstone Language and literature, the wielding and the imbibing of I will argue, though, that those remain personal That is I found apersonal Franzen than what we normally see and read In much the same way I can t seem to sever my private life from my reading life when I blab here, Franzen assures me that the books one devours and the life one tries so very hard to lead are intricately, if irrevocably, connected So, you know More of that, please cross posted I am perplexed by the New York Times reviewers antipathy to this book I have always found Franzen to be a captivating essayist, and Discomfort Zone is no exception Most distressing to his critics, it seems, is Discomfort Zone s abundant narcissism but I found the essays to be a reflection on youthful egotism from a mature and contrite remove To the Times reviewers, Franzen s description of his family is sterile and unloving His disarming, sometimes misguided candor, seems instead, to me, I am perplexed by the New York Times reviewers antipathy to this book I have always found Franzen to be a captivating essayist, and Discomfort Zone is no exception Most distressing to his critics, it seems, is Discomfort Zone s abundant narcissism but I found the essays to be a reflection on youthful egotism from a mature and contrite remove To the Times reviewers, Franzen s description of his family is sterile and unloving His disarming, sometimes misguided candor, seems instead, to me, a genuine struggle to reconcile the myopic interiority of childhood a common enough crime and the smothering expectations and self abnegation of his parents again, common enough Hilariously, the author resents his own liberal beliefs he is bitter at his own convictions that he should moderate his material consumption and sacrifice to promote the welfare of others sentiments I often intuit from the liberal community but never hear articulated I found none of these confessions outsized or repugnant If anything, I found Franzen s view of himself and his family refreshingly healthy and honest No family is free of resentment, and all resentment is rooted in a sense of entitlement.The essays are not contiguous Each is an autonomous work three of the five have appeared in the New Yorker Each paints a picture of Franzen s emotional development The second, for example, describes a boy aware of his many sins but comically oblivious to the degrees by which they vary Just after summer vacation started, Toczko ran out into Grant Road and was killed by a car What little I knew then about the world s badness I knew mainly from a camping trip, some years earlier, when I d dropped a frog into a campfire and watched it shrivel and roll down the flat side of a log I felt guilty about Toczko I felt guilty about the little frog I felt guilty about shunning my mother s hugs when she seemed to need them most I felt guilty about the washcloths at the bottom of the stack in the linen closet, the older, thinner washcloths that we seldom used I felt guilty for preferring my best shooter marbles, a solid red agate and a solid yellow agate, my king and my queen, to marbles father down my rigid marble hierarchy The most enticing thing about Franzen s essays is his use of the objective correlative In his early childhood, the author s identification with Snoopy of the Peanuts comics conveys all we need to know about his buoyant and wicked playfulness In his early adulthood, the author s fascination with dark, psychological German literature dovetails his sexual preoccupations, his frustrated literary ambitions, and the realization of his parents frailty In each essay, the objective correlative weaves neatly into the personal history, sometimes as a reprieve from the traditional narrative and sometimes as a momentum building digression from it It s an effective mechanism, mostly light hearted, sometimes nerdy, and almost always charming

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