Jonathan Franzen's The Discomfort Zone, a 2006 collection of personal essays and childhood remembrances issued recently in paperback, got mixed reviews. Those who didn't like it seemed to object chiefly to Franzen himself. The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani wrote that Discomfort provided "an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish, and overwhelmingly self-absorbed." Granted, Franzen doesn't often come off like a guy you want to have a beer with. Sometimes, perhaps, he's the guy you want to throw a beer at. But there's bravery in how uninterested he is in being "likable," and the reader who can't relate to at least some of his revelations of pettiness, selfishness, and misanthropy might not be leveling with herself. A piece about selling his late parents' home in suburban St. Louis is especially sharp and witty, and even the lesser essays are well-stocked with the sort of sculpted sentences that helped win The Corrections its deserved hype.
Sun., Sept. 16, 3 p.m.
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