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Thank You for Not Reading [Paperback]

Dubravka Ugresic , Celia Hawkesworth
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Dec 2003
In this collection of acerbic essays, Ugresic dissects the nature of the contemporary book industry, which she argues is so infected with the need to create and promote literature that will appeal to the masses -- literally to everyone -- that if Thomas Mann were writing nowadays, his books wouldn't even be published in the U.S. because they're not sexy enough. A playful and biting critique, Ugresic's essays hit on all of the major aspects of publishing: agents, subagents, and scouts, supermarket-like bookstores, Joan Collins, book fairs that have little to do with books, authors promoted because of sex appeal instead of merit, and editors trying to look like writers by having their photograph taken against a background of bookshelves. Thanks to cultural influences such as Oprah, The Today Show, and Kelly Ripa, best-seller lists have become just a modern form of socialist realism, a manifestation of a society that generally ignores literature in favor of the next big thing.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; First English Edition edition (1 Dec 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564782980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564782984
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 14.1 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 858,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A brilliant, enthralling spread of story-telling and high-velocity reflections... Ugresic is a writer to follow. A writer to be cherished." -- Susan Sontag

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Light, but serious 27 Jun 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The book starts with a great Brodsky quote that I now have as my screensaver at work: "I sit at my desk. My life is grotesque." The first half is mainly about the literary business, disarmingly written in a light self-deprecating tone, but with an amusing passive aggression simmering underneath. It then deepens with some substantial essays about exile and the role of intellectuals in the Balkan conflicts. The book ends back on one of her key themes: the fact that everyone now thinks they can write, including amateur reviews for Amazon. It could have been a different kind of book, e.g. a more in depth comparison between Yugoslav socialist realism and the commercial feel-good books of the global market place. But the unusual structure serves to emphasise that Ugresic doesn't want writers to turn out neat products. It can be a bit frustrating when she leaves you wondering about her specific targets. It's understandable that she doesn't give too many clues about who she's thinking of when she sketches charicatures of different types of East European writer, but I'd love to know who the contemporary writers are that she values or feels are neglected, which small presses she has in mind that have gone out of business etc. She often deliberately avoids rigorous argument in favour of ambiguous and humorous asides. She says for example that Kundera's 'The Joke' can now be found in bookshops filed under humour, which sounds highly unlikely, but would neatly encapsulate the book's theme. It is clear that she is writing about deeply serious issues and in making the book 'sparkle' she leaves you to reflect on one of her fundamental concerns: how difficult it is for serious writers to hold our attention today.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Entertaining Essays 10 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This collection of essays from the Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic deals with the state of literature and the arts, the media, the condition of exile and other subjects. While a few of the essays are merely glib, most offer many interesting insights, such as the fact that it is the market, rather than communism, which has most successfully enforced the ideals of "socialist realism" in the arts; that it is the sheer volume of new books, rather than their absence, which has resulted in the death of literature. An entertaining and interesting collection - recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern critique of the publishing and editing world 29 Jun 2008
By Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It has been many years since I read one of Ms. Ugresic's books. I loved her short stories, so when I saw her book "Thank you for Not Reading" featured prominently in my local library display, I had to read her latest essays on the literary publishing world. I have enjoyed this book very much, since it makes very careful observations about book market here in the US. Ms. Ugresic is able to be critical without being cynical or bitter. Her references to the work of contemporary eastern european writers, exiled in the West, attempting to present their work to the larger audiences is understandably painful at times, but yet she manages to write about it with dignity and humor. Quotes from grumbling Eeyore are very humbling which reminds me that I should read about Eeyore's (mis)adventures soon again. I guess what surprised me a litlle is that in her earlier works, Ms. Ugresic's publishers have always referred to her as a Croatian writer, while in this book Ms. Ugresic seems to refer to herself as a Yugoslav writer. In any case, I have enjoyed this book, it is right on the mark on what is happening in the publishing industry and I am looking forward to reading and re-reading Ms. Ugresic's literary work.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sensible in sections, too repetitive to digest as a whole 21 Aug 2005
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Many European writers craft what's called a "feuilleton," a short--maybe a thousand words--essay on a theme, often appearing in newspapers. While no information is given about the origin of these stories, only their late-90s dates, and that the collection was "originally published in Dutch", Ugresic has certainly assembled what the subtitle of her collection indicates. I cannot tell if these essays were written in her native language or in Dutch, which adds to the slight confusion I felt when dealing with these nearly thirty appetizers. If taken in small portions, she offers her thoughts efficiently.

Contrasting the plight of the literary writer with the best-selling, commodified celebrity, she gives a series of elegies or curses at what looms as the funeral of the book for the educated reader. Now, she's preaching to the converted surely, given that the fine Dalkey Archive, a doughty holdout against the Oprah book clubs and Ivana Trump-driven marketplace, publishes her own efforts. But, over the course of only 220 pages, her critique wears so thin that she sounds griping rather than analyzing.

She does warn that the "professor of literature" scolding tone does creep into these essays; I respond, though at a far more proletarian institution than the ones she teaches at: yes, "it takes one to know one." I sympathize with her position, and support it, but the limitations of the 1000-word limit that straightjackets her into repetition and frequent lack of development keeps this anthology (the fiction, by the way, is negligible in amount compared to the essays) from wholly succeeding as a study of the decline of literary fiction and belles-lettres.

Not that her comparisons lack hard-earned insight. Socialist realism and the optimism of self-help books, whether peddled in big-box retailers, on talk shows, or the glossy magazines, makes for an original thesis. She speaks movingly of exile and the manufactured status that this is supposed to confer upon the exile from the former Communist bloc. Juxtaposing Tito-era "houses of culture" in every village with the peddling of books as nostrums on TV, or women, smoking, and the sacrifices they make for the male-dominated literary elite illustrate her knack for not only clever but informative anecdotes from her own life in Yugoslavia. This element, as a Croatian who chose to flee her country once it attained independence, and once it co-opted so many of its intellectuals and fellow authors, makes for sobering reading about the seductive power that continues, after the Stalinist and Tito eras, to recruit willing propagandists who, as in the former times, subvert yet support the regime.

So, this collection makes me want to read more of Ugresic. But, a warning--unless taken in small doses, you may find this brief but too ponderous assortment of essays too much for one or two sittings. She's confident, understandably aggrieved and rather bitter, and for better and worse, this is who you contend with while hearing her insistent and rather petulant voice in TYFNR.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks For Writing 3 July 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"The literary market does not tolerate the old-fashioned idea of a work of art as a unique, unrepeatable, deeply individual artistic act. In the literary industry, writers are obedient workers, just a link in the chain of production..." - with thoughts like these and many more, Dubravka Ugresic dares to open our eyes to the shortcomings of our literary scene. She dares us to reexamine our restricted notions about what is good or bad, what is saleable and what is not, and, ultimately, what we think is worthy of our complete attention. All the denizens of Amazon's 'reviewing elite' owe her a serious read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but too fragmented 12 July 2013
By Witold - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a very stimulating book and I really enjoyed reading it. The problem seems to be that (as it did in the "Have a Nice Day") it deals with too many things at the same time, between the issues of free market and literature, the problems of exile, the issues of former Yugoslavia and so on. You do have to be very flexible to digest it all with equal ease. I really enjoyed the writing and the content but I always get the feeling that Ms. Ugresic is still a "young" writer who has to develop. She is a great at presenting nd debating issues but not so good at providing creative solutions. Maybe a bit too smart sometime?
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