Quirky, funny, poignant, self-deprecating and ultimately wise.

THE DISCOMFORT ZONE

A PERSONAL HISTORY

Novelist Franzen (The Corrections, 2001, etc.) displays his mastery of nonfiction in this compact, affecting memoir, which begins with the aftermath of his mother’s death and ends with a quiet epiphany about love.

Today’s many autobiographers could learn a lot from Franzen about focus and about the immense significance of the littlest things. He sees the relevance of almost everything—though it sometimes takes him decades. Rather than a traditional story beginning with birth and ending with the present, Franzen offers six segments that together form a rough chronology. Each could stand alone but gains great power from its juxtaposition with the others. When the author appears to be drifting away from the narrative, he is instead inviting us along on a detour that often turns out to be a shortcut to surprise through some troubled terrain. We meet and grow to care deeply for his conventional, sometimes procrustean parents and his older brothers in suburban Webster Groves, Mo. We squirm as he tells us about his geeky boyhood, compulsively reading Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and his awkward adolescence. An early section on Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl reveals its importance 100 pages later. We read about church camp and high-school pranks, including repeated attempts by Franzen and his friends to get an automobile tire over the school’s flagpole. We learn why he majored in German in college and why he greatly admired a professor almost everyone else despised. We see the enduring conflict between man and boy that rages within him even now. He relates painful, protracted tales of his sexual awakenings and rejections; he grieves about his failed marriage. He explores what he at first thinks is his odd affinity for birds. Only rarely does he talk specifically about his emergence as a writer, but it’s all there, right in front of you.

Quirky, funny, poignant, self-deprecating and ultimately wise.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-374-29919-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

more