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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

     

Thank You for Not Reading

by
Dubravka Ugrešić


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Thank You for Not Reading



Title: Thank You for Not Reading
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 220 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: Thank You for Not Reading - US
Thank You for Not Reading - UK
Thank You for Not Reading - Canada
Thank You for Not Reading - India
Ceci n'est pas un livre - France
Lesen verboten - Deutschland
Gracias por no leer - España
  • Essays on Literary Trivia
  • Translated by Celia Hawkesworth
  • Croatian title: Zabranjeno citanje
  • First published in Dutch as Verboden te lezen !

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining pieces on the (dreadful) state of literary affairs

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 8/11/2002 Karl-Markus Gauss
Frankfurter Rundschau . 4/3/2003 Ernest Wichner
The Guardian A+ 8/5/2004 Julian Evans
Libération . 10/11/2005 Natalie Levisalles
The Village Voice . 3/11/2003 Joy Press
The Washington Post . 9/12/2003 Chris Lehmann
Die Zeit A (38/2002) Ilma Rakusa


  Review Consensus:

  Nicely done

  From the Reviews:
  • "Lesen verboten ist ein zyklisch angelegter Essayband, der von den Erfahrungen erzählt, die eine durchaus renommierte osteuropäische Autorin macht, wenn sie am amerikanischen Literaturmarkt Fuß fassen möchte; es geht aber nicht nur um die Staaten, sondern um das, was man wohl als "Amerikanisierung" des Kulturbetriebs bezeichnen müßte" - Karl-Markus Gauss, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Ihre Reaktionsweise ist durchweg das ironische Maskenspiel. (...) Dubravka Ugresic' Fazit ist niederschmetternd. Aber vergnüglich zu lesen." - Ernest Wichner, Frankfurter Rundschau

  • "This intellectual spat with herself has produced a fast-moving, brilliant compendium of reflections and polemics about contemporary literary culture; a book to be compared with, perhaps preferred to, Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. It also made me laugh out loud on at least a dozen occasions." - Julian Evans, The Guardian

  • "A lot has been written about the sour relationship between books and the marketplace, and Ugresic's conclusions are not always shockingly original. But the pleasures of her effervescent prose (as translated by Celia Hawkesworth) and off-kilter observations more than compensate." - Joy Press, The Village Voice

  • "Ugresic makes it abundantly clear that her primary allegiance is not to any cluster of ideological camp followers, but rather to the far more honorable literary tradition of calling things by their true names. She is also, unlike most higher-profile literary commentators, blessed with an ample supply of sly and self-deprecating wit" - Chris Lehmann, The Washington Post

  • "Alles schon gelesen, alles schon gehört ? Nein, so nicht. Nicht in dieser pointierten, unlarmoyanten Art, nicht aus dem Mund einer Autorin, die Ost und West gut kennt und als Exilantin für einen fairen Kosmopolitismus plädiert. (....) Selbstgerechtigkeit oder Selbstmitleid kann man der Autorin nirgends vorwerfen. Das macht ihr Buch sympathisch, auch wenn es stellenweise bitter wirkt. (...) Solange Bücher dieser Art erscheinen, ist nicht alle Hoffnung verloren." - Ilma Rakusa, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Thank You for Not Reading is a collection of short pieces -- mainly non-fiction, but with a few more creative efforts tossed in as well. They are Essays (in the broadest sense of the word) in Literary Trivia -- attempts at making sense of and describing the odd world of publishing, writing, and even (occasionally) reading.
       Ugresic gets right to the point, admitting already on the first page:

(T)rivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become, it seems, more important than the books. A book's blurb is more important than the book itself, the author's photograph on the book jacket more important than its content, the author's appearance in wide-circulation newspapers and on TV is more important than what the author has actually written.
       It is this literary culture - or rather: the absence thereof -- that dominate this book, as Ugresic describes and addresses all parts of it, often amusingly, sometimes wistfully. (Remarkably she isn't very cynical, preferring to play at the wide-eyed Eastern European, a bit stunned and overwhelmed by Western ways but, with few exceptions, accepting and adapting to them.)
       The world she describes is a familiar one to writers: of agents who are impossible to reach (and ineffectual), of a world where the book proposal is more important than the book, and the chances of a 'European' literary work getting published seem somewhere between small and negligible. Ugresic describes some of her own experiences, and though she does so humorously they make for the usual litany of complaints about an industry that has lost all respectability.
       Ugresic also considers the larger literary culture, including the phenomenon of the best-seller (she is particularly baffled by the success of Pablo Coehlo), the inescapable all-inclusiveness of mainstream culture ("Come back, cynics, all is forgiven !" is the title and plaintive last line of one of the pieces), and the loss of any true sense of literature ("The concept of literature is disappearing, and its place is increasingly being taken by books"). As someone who takes literature seriously this new world is a disturbing one to her -- but, of course, one that is so overwhelming that there is little to be done save write little pieces like these against (or at least about) it.
       The world she would like to live (or at least work) in no longer exists. She believes:
To be an intellectual today means above all to be a conformist, to adapt to the alleged laws of the market.
       Or:
The intellectual today is a socialite who adapts to political, cultural and intellectual mainstream trends and represents what is expected of every decent thinking person.
       Most of these observations aren't novel, and Ugresic doesn't offer many striking new insights, but her presentation is effective and can be thought- (or discussion-) provoking, and so it's a worthwhile exercise.

       Ugresic also focusses on her Eastern European roots -- doubly foreign, in her case, as she was still a child of the Titoist system (and in fact only fled post-communist Croatia) -- and on trying to find a place in the Western-dominated, post-communist new world. There are the obvious differences from the world which she grew up in:
The greatest shock for an East European writer who turned up in the Western literary marketplace was provoked by the absence of aesthetic criteria.
       (This fact, of course, allows her to go an amusing (if, in its general outlines, already very familiar) riff on the consequences of this situation.)
       Only occasionally are there moments where hope glimmers -- such as the libraries of Slavic departments in European universities, where books that have already disappeared in the countries they came from can still be found.
       Ugresic has some fun with being a writer in a marginal language and from a marginal place (offering "The Top Ten Reasons to Be a Croatian Writer"), and also discusses the phenomenon of the writer in exile.

       The thirty-one pieces collected here cover a fair amount of territory: Ugresic is literature-obsessed, but -- as she shows here -- there are a lot of facets to the subject. At heart she still believes in the power and significance of writing and literature (of a specific sort -- true literature, not the debased mess that flourishes in these times), and she winningly fights the good fight here. With (astonishingly) only occasional bitter notes creeping in, Ugresic offers amusing and sharp short pieces, with episodes and anecdotes to make her points (and to entertain).
       A fun -- though also depressing -- collection of reflections on an awry world.

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Links:

Thank You for Not Reading: Reviews: Dubravka Ugrešić: Other Books by Dubravka Ugresic under Review: Other books of interest under Review:

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About the Author:

       Dubravka Ugrešić was born in 1949, in Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Her writing has been translated into numerous languages. She was awarded the prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize in 2000.

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© 2003-2014 the complete review

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