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I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams Hardcover – April 6, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"More relevant than Mythologies, funnier than Travels in Hyperreality, more readable than Simulacra, less gloomy than Living in the End Times, smarter than Hitchens and without the pomposity, Dery's dazzling collection will, I unhesitatingly predict, become a classic of cultural criticism." - Jim Lawrence, Words, Noises and Other Stuff

"Whether writing about a severed head, toy gun lust, Lady Gaga, the Pope, Facebook, or Madonna's big toe, Dery indefatigably explores those dark corners of our collective, subconscious thoughts. [...] [A]  masterful mash-up of personal history, literary study, and philosophical rumination..." - Kate Walker, Notes for Headstones

"Dery wants to turn society over and shine some light on the dark, crawly things growing underneath it---and us."
[T]hese short, sharp, well-turned pieces...will make you look at the world in a whole new and rewardingly disturbing way."

- Deborah Sussman, Phoenix New Times

"Mark Dery’s cultural criticism is the stuff that nightmares are made of. He’s a witty and brilliant tour guide on an intellectual journey through our darkest desires and strangest inclinations. You can’t look away even if you want to." —Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz, Boing Boing

"Mark Dery is gifted with sanity, humor, learning, and a prose style as keen as a barber’s razor. He applies those qualities to a trustworthy and entertaining analysis of the lunatic fringe, which constitutes an ever-larger portion of the discourse in America today." —Luc Sante

"Do not turn squeamish from the many considerations of death that lurk within—vampires, tombs, disease, corruption of many varieties. Mark Dery’s restless and stylish essay is concerned with one thing only—what it means to be alive in America." —Richard Rodriguez, author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America

"The bebop rhythms of Mark Dery’s prose reflect an intellectual excitement that is rare among contemporary cultural essayists. Reading him is like ingesting a powerful jolt of espresso." —Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars

"Always provocative, often humorous, Dery has a keen eye for absurdity, tragedy, and everything in between. " —Publishers Weekly

"Mark Dery is an intellectually challenging writer. He makes few concessions to his readers. He has high expectations...He is witty. He is amusing. He is stimulating. The essays will force you to examine ideas you more than likely have never thought about before." —Blogcritics.org

"What makes Dery such an appealing tour guide through all these bad thoughts of his is that he's right there with us, trying to answer the tough questions, and willing to turn his probing mind and eye on himself, too." —Phoenix New Times

"Mark Dery has just published I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams, a long-awaited compendium of his oft-brutal, usually funny, and always-brilliant writings on the curious, bizarre, and downright dark crevices of our culture. Look no further than this new book for your next monstrous dose of Dery." —Boing Boing

"Whether you're starting your spring break or just slacking off work for another week, there's no better way to wile away your idle hours than reading through Mark Dery's new collection of essays I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts." —Reason

"Dery is willing to tackle some tough and controversial subject matter—the Holocaust ‘industry’, for example—and examine it with rigor and willingness to upset conventional or comfortable opinion and piety." —PopMatters

"Dery invokes Hunter S Thompson, but not as a prankster - rather as a stylist and satirist, in a tradition that runs from Swift through Twain and implicitly on to Dery himself." —The Word

About the Author

Mark Dery is a cultural critic and journalist whose writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Wired, Cabinet, Bookforum, and Boing Boing, among other publications. His books include Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture; The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink; and the widely republished pamphlet Culture Jamming. He is writing a biography of Edward Gorey.

Bruce Sterling is a science fiction author whose novels include Distraction, Zeitgeist, Holy Fire, and The Caryatids.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (April 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816677735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816677733
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,334,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I find it impossible to discuss Mark Dery's I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts in anything other than the first person. The book speaks so eloquently of its time that, uncannily, I can't help but feel it speaks of me. So many of my own interests and obsessions rise from its pages -- death, deviance, intellect. I recognize my iTunes library in Dery's tours de force on David Bowie and Lady Gaga. I recognize my bookshelf in Dery's essay on Amok Books, whose productions were once textbooks in the éducation sentimentale of the counterculture. I recognize my own rhetorical strategies in the move Dery makes in "Toe Fou," updating George Bataille's meditation on the big toe by riffing on a picture of Madonna's bare feet. Weirdest of all, I recognize what I thought was my own obscure fondness for "invisible literature" in Dery's essay on the New York Academy of Medicine Library -- a place I too have plundered in quiet hours of mad and horrible research. Was I sitting across the table from you, Mark? I feel as though you, like Baudelaire, have addressed your book to "mon semblable, mon frère."

How is it that Dery is able to produce this uncanny feeling of identification? You get the sense that, while the rest of us were living the zeitgeist, Dery was holding a stethoscope to its heart. His essays are EKGs showing that our pulse goes haywire in the presence of extremes -- perversion, violence, satanism. In an introduction, Dery declares that it is "the writer's job" to "think bad thoughts": "to wander footloose through the mind's labyrinth, following the thread of any idea that reels you in, no matter how arcane or depraved, obscene or blasphemous, untouchably controversial, irreducibly complex, or preposterous on its face.
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Dery is a forward-thinking-and-looking writer who puts many of the more insane aspects of contemporary life under a magnifying glass and dissects them with fearsome insight and intellect. As befits a modern splintered age of no common morality or life-threads or belief systems, he approaches his subjects with a pathology-anthropologist's eye and holds up some of the darker areas of life to wriggle complaining under the concise blinding light of his deep-dish musings and extrapolations about their (im)possible meanings and potential future directions. As noted science fiction writer Bruce Sterling sagely notes in his introduction, Dery "brandishes a Diogenes lantern as the smoke thickens on every side" and these "Google erudition" pieces that comprise the book (ranging from 1996-2011) read "like the contents of bottles pitched into the sea."

And what of the contents of these electronic-disinformation-sea-bobbing vessels? Well, if bemused and fascinating musings on subjects as diverse as the homoeroticism of George W. Bush, how Lady Gaga stands up in comparison to previous gender-and-agenda-bender bi-curious rockers, current zombie apocalypse obsession, Dadaist spam poetry, the homosexuality quotient of the tiresome Super Bowl (Dery does not shy away from any sexual matter, straight or not), Mayan apocalypse cultists, fundamentalist religion pamphleteers, the suicide note as a literary subgenre, the fascist-identifying proclivities of Prince Harry, and on and on (you get the general hyper-eclectic-discussions gist) interest you, then you will absolutely love this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Dery is a cultural mythographer for the 22nd Century. A modern philosopher, exploring the connections which bind our souls to art, music, film, commerce, and ultimately each other, Dery writes exuberant, eclectic essays which draw from the entire scope of human knowledge and experience. I unabashedly adore his work. By all means, read him.
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Format: Paperback
I am an adjunct professor of writing at a small, public, NJ liberal arts college. I teach, mostly, argumentative writing (argument & persuasion the class is called) and we have liberties and I like challenging students to write about difficult art and artists for their assignments. I also enjoy assigning them provocative, contemporary, and smart essays in order to provide some examples of what I think good cultural analysis and essay-writing look like. So never mind the poets and short stories or films or musicians they are exposed to (it focuses on arts and humanities), but they have had to read essays/criticism from folks like Nick Tosches, David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, Luc Sante, Greil Marcus, A.B. Spellman, Charles Bernstein, Simon Reynolds, Ron Silliman, Charles Olson, and yes, Mark Dery. He's a regular on my syllabus.

I have assigned this book for every class I've ever taught as an adjunct, or at least 3-4 essays from it. They have invaluable perspective, a wit which endemic to late 19th century and early 20th century essayists (Chesterton, Wilson, Wilde, Mencken), an occasionally melancholy lyricism, and a thoroughly modern and unquestionably necessary approach to things which we all-too-often overlook in our culture—or should I say, ignore. This book pokes around in our culture's abandoned houses, as it were, and surprises us with the discomfiting realization that they have not been "abandoned" at all, but rather that we are still living within them, as if it were a mirror capable of showing us that we are in fact ghosts, haunting ourselves.
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