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Thank You for Not Reading: Essays on Literary Trivia Paperback – Nov 1 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
In the bustling Anglo-American literary marketplace, the Eastern European exile doesn't stand a chance, says Ugresic (Have a Nice Day), herself in self-exile from Croatia. "The literary market demands that people adapt to the norms of production. As a rule, it does not tolerate disobedient artists, it does not tolerate experimenters, artistic subversives, performers of strange strategies in a literary text." Instead, it rewards the artistically obedient. Furthermore, Ugresic complains, literature has lost the exclusiveness it once had. Since the market determines what is good and what is bad based purely on what sells, the door has opened for every two-bit celebrity to hock their wares in mega-bookstores, leaving "real" writers out in the cold. The author compares herself to Eeyore, the famous grumbler, but the tone of this collection can be fickle-is the author playfully grumbling or bitterly mocking? In "GW, the Gloomy Writer" and "The Magnificent Buli," she mocks two types who have entered the global literary market: the male Eastern European writer with an inferiority complex and the genius/literary bulimic. In another piece, Ugresic playfully decries a marketplace that allows an empty personality like Ivana Trump to become a published author. At times, the analysis focuses so intently on the superficial business of marketing books that it overlooks the quiet intellectual activity that energizes English departments all across the United States, those little enclaves where Ivana Trump's output makes nary a ripple. And since an academic audience frustrated with the commodification of books is the primary target for these essays, that feels like a significant omission.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"A brilliant, enthralling spread of story-telling and high-velocity reflections... Ugresic is a writer to follow. A writer to be cherished."--Susan SontagSee all Product Description
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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.
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