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The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History

3.39  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,574 Ratings  ·  545 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 195 pages
Published September 5th 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2006)
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The Road by Cormac McCarthySuite Française by Irène NémirovskyThe Inheritance of Loss by Kiran DesaiEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2006
28th out of 200 books — 33 voters
A Room of One's Own by Virginia WoolfWalden by Henry David ThoreauA Collection of Essays by George OrwellArguably by Christopher HitchensThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus
Best/Favorite Books of Essays
131st out of 393 books — 161 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
Sasha Martinez
Jan 10, 2013 Sasha Martinez added it
Shelves: 2013
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, perhaps more aptly: 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
Jul 19, 2014 Jeremy rated it liked it
Franzen trying to dissect his own existence isn't quite as thrilling as Franzen dissecting the existence of the characters in his novels, but this definitely has its moments, and unlike so many memoir-ish books, this has no interest in romanticizing anything from out of the past, in fact when it works well, it does so because it reminds you that a mid-western, middle class upbringing (I'm telegraphing myself into this now) is usually just full of a lot of petty little triumphs and disappointment ...more
Feb 09, 2008 Michele rated it really liked it
A Mixed Bag
I believe Jonathan Franzen fans will be both delighted and disappointed with this collection, The Discomfort Zone. It starts out very strong, showing off Franzen's remarkable vocabulary, storytelling ability, and his disregard for political-correctness. In a piece called, "House for Sale," Franzen tells what it feels like to take on the chore of emptying and selling what was his childhood home. Anyone who has faced the death of a parent and has undergone this emotional task will relat
Oct 03, 2013 Corey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 09, 2007 Alicia rated it it was ok
Jonathan Franzen has come home to St Louis to get his parent's house ready to sell after the death of his mother. While he is waiting for it to sell he reflects on the significant moments of his life with particular emphasis on his childhood. The language in the book is beautiful and it is well constructed but for me, the characters were flat and uninteresting. For someone who has had such a rich and varied life and writes so well I think he could have come up with more interesting things to tal ...more
Patricia Murphy
Apr 23, 2016 Patricia Murphy rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Mister Cranky Pants. Which is a completely viable position in our times. And I'm glad I know his story. I loved the discussion of how Charles Schultz shaped him as an author and that influence becomes clear as soon as he clarifies it. Normally self-deprecating humor is humorous. Here it feels leveraged. One negative comment buys two brags.
Dec 30, 2014 Piperitapitta rated it liked it

Raccolta disorganica di articoli giornalistici a sfondo autobiografico di Jonathan Franzen che, partendo dalla morte della madre, e dalla vendita della casa di famiglia, cerca di ripercorrere attraverso i suoi ricordi d'infanzia e dell'adolescanza quella che dovrebbe essere stata una vita costantemente vissuta fuori dalla zona di comfort* (da cui il titolo originale The Discomfort Zone).
Ne risulta, come dicevo all'inizio, una raccolta slegata, discontinua e a tratti noiosa, in mezzo
Petar X
May 05, 2015 Petar X rated it it was ok
I enjoyed some of the stories of him as a kid, especially the Christian stuff, less so his school exploits. However, I am not a fan of writer-as-hero books with context, and other characters, left fuzzy, and so I found the book mostly pretty tedious.

Nov 09, 2011 Kat added it
All my books nowadays come from the English section of the library in Oslo, so a smaller selection than I've ever experienced. I chose this book only for it's title. And I knew I'd heard of Franzen, but couldn't remember what.
The book travels through time while the main character, who seems to be Franzen himself,remembers his childhood, his teenage years, young adulthood, adulthood when his mother died, his divorce, his subsequent relationship and eventual immersion in bird watching as a hobby.
Jul 13, 2011 Andra rated it really liked it
I read the New York Times’ review of The Discomfort Zone earlier today. The Times’ conclusion after reading was that Jonathan Franzen is hopelessly self-absorbed. I don’t disagree, but I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. We’re all self-absorbed and at least Franzen had the good sense to use it for comedy.

Anyways, onward with my review…

I enjoyed learning more about Franzen as a person. I liked seeing how his personal experiences (fascination with birds, environmentalism, strange relations
RE de Leon
There really wasn't any reason for me to read Franzen. His settings tend towards suburban America like the plague. And I normally I avoid suburban America. But a friend wanted me to read and review it. So I picked it up, read it, liked it, and predictably I'm uncomfortable about the fact that I did.

There is so much hear that resonates with my own life, and I suspect, the lives of many who were raised the Hollywood-driven global culture. Awkward-but-still-close family ties, the thousand faux pas-
Mar 09, 2011 Eva rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographical
It starts out very strong. He uses his remarkable vocabulary, storytelling ability, and his disregard for political-correctness. The book is divided in five chapters and in first Franzen describes in detail how he chose the wrong realtor to sell his mother's house.
I think he uses this start as an introduce, where he stops a continual disappointment to his strict, provincial parents and shows how his mother's opinions have deeply influence on his life.

He goes back to his childhood with the next
Jul 07, 2008 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
Apr 08, 2008 Jesse rated it liked it
Shelves: us, him
Last week I was reading Andrei Codrescu's Involuntary Genius at home and listening to Franzen's Discomfort Zone at work. There isn't a doubt in my mind that Codrescu has lead the better life. It kills me that it's Franzen I can relate to. Why, why, why does my heart sink into my stomach when I'm faced with the brands of soy milk that I never buy? Why do I make a ceremony of apologizing to things before throwing them away? Where does this guilt come from? It has to be our least useful emotion. Do ...more
Jan 27, 2009 Lobstergirl rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Ted Bundy
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: St. Francis of Assisi
Franzen is a good writer, but leaves you with that nagging feeling that you wouldn't like him if you met him. He's awfully self-absorbed. Still, I really enjoyed this dream he relates - and he seems to be aware there's much truth in it:

“...I had a nightmare about the Averys’ sweet-tempered German shepherd, Ina. In the dream, as I was sitting on the floor in the Averys’ living room, the dog walked up to me and began to insult me. She said I was a frivolous, cynical, attention-seeking “fag” whose
Jonathan Karmel
Nov 01, 2015 Jonathan Karmel rated it liked it
I enjoyed this memoir on the strength of the writing, but I thought the book was somewhat limited by the fact that Franzen's childhood in a affluent suburban Missouri community just isn't that interesting. My least favorite chapter was "The Foreign Language," maybe because I don't have any interest in German language. I like the way he criticizes and makes fun of American liberals. Since he seems to be writing as a liberal who has nothing but disdain for conservative political views, I can't tel ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
I think I had been expecting to like Franzen less, but maybe his obsession with Peanuts characters and childish antics have swayed me.
I like the writing style- with everything based on two central pivot points which meet to make a point. That point is not always the most interesting to me, but it's there, so it's not just wandering prose.
Also, he's got a good sense of humor- not goofy, but always present- that gives even the harder essays here a bit of an enjoyable quality.
Less, I care about h
May 20, 2013 Mel rated it it was ok
I love his fiction, but hot damn this one was a tedious read. Some moments of brilliance, but for the most part this was self-satisfied self-indulgence that felt oh so clever. I'll stick to Franzen's fiction.
Nov 17, 2014 Mowey rated it really liked it
recently, there's this period of time in my life when something's not going right. during which i decided to read Franzen to see if it would get me through the night. exactly the reason why i thank literature so much, cos it did every time. when other people chose to waste up at clubs to try to be cool & be seen, i was lying in my bed reading Franzen, & it's like the feeling of home, comfortable. it's like a pet you come home to after a long, tiring day. loyal, uncomplaining.

The Discomf
Having reluctantly hated "Freedom," which I am reading for a book club, I thought I might prefer Franzen's non-fiction. I enjoy birdwatching and my beloved father made me squirm by his enthusiasm for Snoopy, which he used as a teaching aid in his third grade classes. Skimming over the topics of Franzen's autobiographical essays, I saw many possible grounds for fellow feeling. And yet I read this book as I did Freedom, gulping it down like a bad-tasting medicine, in a hurry to be done with it. I ...more
Koen Crolla
Nov 21, 2015 Koen Crolla rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I've been reading far too many memoirs and autobiographies for someone who's on record as hating them. For this one, my specific aim was to establish if an anonymous inquirer was right in believing me to have been too generous in my review of The Corrections. Regrettably, I was unable to answer this question with certainty, The Discomfort Zone not being a straightforward autobiography or memoir so much as an elaborate attempt on Franzen's part of proving himself not to be the most boring person ...more
Nick H
May 13, 2011 Nick H rated it liked it
First, the positives. It takes a lot of courage, I imagine, to put your personal life out there with any kind of details for, what has become a rabid fan base, to pick apart. Franzen does it, and goes into some of the uglier details. Awkward childhood and adolescents, failed marriage, and the perception of being an avid bird watcher? Man, what a bold thing to do. Also, the quality of writing does not suffer, surprisingly, from Franzen's novels to the autobiographical format. There are some real ...more
Ted Burke
Jun 11, 2010 Ted Burke rated it liked it
Franzen, author of the flawed (and overpraised) novel The Corrections, is a good prose stylist who none the less makes my hairline hurt when I encountered his essays in the collection How to Be Alone. Bright, ironic, discerning, Franzen took off on several topics, filtering his observations through his general air of feeling people, places and things are an imposition on his right to be in a bubble, brilliant and unsoiled by alien hands. Fine , I thought, his itchy irritation with things was wor ...more
Ryan Louis
Jun 11, 2010 Ryan Louis rated it really liked it
I started reading Jonathan Franzen, it seemed, because I could no longer resist the world's infatuation with "The Corrections." I was a fruit-loop for Oprah's book club and had resisted the book for years merely because Franzen had resisted Oprah when she attempted to make it part of her Club.

"What an arrogant fool," I'm sure I defensively muttered. For though I never watch Oprah, her books are amazing. So I took up a pretentious opinion of all things Franzen-esque.

But I read "The Corrections"

May 29, 2011 Nicole rated it it was ok
First off, beautiful cover, so kudos to that. I'm trying to decide whether the Discomfort Zone refers to Franzen's childhood or his adult life. This book was written after Franzen's mother died, so it seemed to me like he was using the written word as a coping mechanism.

Franzen had an upper-middle class upbringing in an affluent neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up in his own little world and was a pretty well adjusted kid who seemed to be more of a grown up than a child. He was geek
Dec 16, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
I found a hardcover first edition of this on Clearance for $3, and as silly as it is, I can never resist that kind of deal if the book is by an author I've read and enjoyed. So, I bought this book back in Sept. and kept it on my bedside to be my non-required reading for the semester.

I love the essays at the beginning of the collection, when Franzen talks about his youth and his family. Even though Franzen and I really have nothing in common on a surface level, whenever he writes about his famil
Sep 18, 2008 Núria rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: niños solitarios que se identificaban con Charlie Brown
'Zona templada' es una mezcla entre un relato autobiográfico y un ensayo sobre las tiras cómicas de Charles Schulz. Lástima que estos dos aspectos no acaben de confluir en una unidad perfecta, porque no dejo de tener la sensación que están pegados un poco por los pelos, pero por separado funcionan perfectamente y son de lo más interesantes. Jonathan Franzen se presenta como un niño de once años que se empieza a dar cuenta de que la vida no es tan perfecta como le había parecido hasta entonces, s ...more
Dec 06, 2007 Ann rated it liked it
Jonathan Franzen wrote The Corrections, the 2001 National Book Award for fiction winner. He has also written two other novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion along with a book of essays How To Be Alone. Mr. Franzen’s books are rich with truth, his truth. In The Discomfort Zone the reader gets a glimpse inside his life through six personal essays.

The book opens with "House For Sale." This chronicles the experience of the sale of his family home after his mother’s death. It gives insigh
Oct 16, 2010 Dnicebear rated it it was amazing
Midwestern roots and boomer experiences are wordsmithed by Franzen into delicious sentences and paragraphs. I chafed when he wrote like an atheist, but I kept looking at his title to realize it was all so Christ-like, so true. He makes it look easy to write about being a teenager, sex, religion and bird watching. What really saves him turns out to be bird watching. Here's an experience of 'salvation'--one that I share, except I find it in my neighborhood, mostly on foot: "to be juggling a stick ...more
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Jonathan Franzen is the author of The Corrections, winner of the 2001 National Book Award for fiction; the novels The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion; and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by FSG. His fourth novel, Freedom, was published in the fall of 2010.

Franzen's other honors include a 1988 Whiting Writers' Award, Granta's Best Of Young Ameri
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“I wanted all of her and resented other boys for wanting any part of her.” 30 likes
“At forty-five, I feel grateful almost daily to be the adult I wished I could be when I was seventeen. I work on my arm strength at the gym; I've become pretty good with tools. At the same time, almost daily, 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 judgments. I run around 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 can't belong. I feel the urge to key Range Rovers and slash their tires; I pretend I'm never going to die.

You never stop waiting for the real story to start, because the only real story, in the end, is that you die.”
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