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The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  4,958 Ratings  ·  585 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
Paperback, 195 pages
Published October 2nd 2006 by Fourth Estate (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Andrew
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
...more
Sasha Martinez
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
...more
Michele
Jun 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Rebecca
Jun 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeremy
Sep 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alicia
Sep 09, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Andra
Jul 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Corey
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Piperitapitta
Dimenticabile

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
...more
Tina
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've only recently become aware that Jonathan Franzen exists, so when I saw this book at my local bookstore for the price of a meagre 3 euros, I sort of had to buy it. Tbh, I wouldn't have minded paying a bit more now that I've read it.

It's a great book all in all. Franzen gives us a relatable look at his early life; he explores and portrays the Franzen family dynamics, proclaims his love for the Peanuts (esp. Snoopy), recalls his boyhood antics, talks about his non-existent sex life as a young
...more
Lobstergirl
Jan 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Petra Eggs
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.

Marcello S
Io e Jon continuiamo forse quasi a capirci ma non ancora ad amarci.

Infanzia e adolescenza a Webster Groves (St. Louis), tra famiglia, amici, ragazze, Peanuts, scherzi idioti, corsi di tedesco.
Maturità, tra New York e il Texas, a guardare gli uccelli.

Mi piace l’idea di focalizzarsi inizialmente su un argomento e poi aprire parentesi più o meno coerenti portando il filo del discorso chissà dove. Forse però non ho trovato le varie parentesi così interessanti (del tipo che ti ci immergi dentro e ti
...more
Jessica
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed it even though I didn't know the author beforehand, which is the mark of a good bio.
Koen Crolla
Jul 01, 2011 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
Eva
Dec 18, 2010 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
...more
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-
...more
Kat
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.
...more
Jesse
Apr 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mel
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gregory
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
I read a few of the reviews of "A Personal History" before writing and saw all the protesting that he didn't just say memoir, or, essays; my suggestion for a title, for at least the first three stories, is "The Roast of Jonathan Franzen, a Roast, by Jonathan Franzen."

"Jonathan Franzen seems like the kinda guy who's mom wouldn't let him wear jeans in high school.

Jonathan Franzen seems like the kinda nerd guy who tried to build a physics planned catapult unsuccessfully for a school prank in high
...more
Michael Shaw
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Franzen remains his brilliant self in this memoir. I found it less powerful than his tear-inducing novels, but in some ways more poignant in it's reality. His stories, like his novels, ring true. While I can't say he's always a good person, and I wish that I do not share some of the flaws he so exhibits, the work resonates with my own life experiences.

Short, and well worth it's <200 pages.
Miriam Jacobs
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Franzen remembers and is not too embarrassed to talk about the 70s in way I haven't encountered. He doesn't say much about writing, however, and the book doesn't really end but simply stops.
Ryan Louis
Jun 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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"

...more
Mowey
Aug 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Núria
Sep 18, 2008 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
Ann
Dec 06, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Nick H
May 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nicole
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
...more
Ted Burke
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
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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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“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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“I wanted all of her and resented other boys for wanting any part of her.” 30 likes
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