I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams

A drive-by critique of an America gone mad, and a world where chaos and catastrophe are the new normal, by the cultural critic Wired called “provocative and cuttingly humorous.”



In May 2012, the University of Minnesota Press published I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams.

From the preface by SF legend Bruce Sterling:

Mark is always willing to venture to the fringes, the edges, the frontiers. … He’s very good at going into areas of culture you wouldn’t care to visit yourself, and performing autopsies. … Mark is like a Martian probe. … He is way out there, on his own. He came equipped with an onboard set of lenses and abrasion tools.

From the cultural critic Wired called “provocative and cuttingly humorous” comes a viciously funny, joltingly insightful new collection of drive-by critiques–of an America gone mad, and a world where chaos and catastrophe are the new normal.

Here are essays on the pornographic fantasies of Star Trek fans; Facebook as Limbo of the Lost; George W. Bush’s fear of his inner queer; the theme-parking of the Holocaust; the homoerotic subtext of the Superbowl; the hidden agendas of I.Q. tests; Santa’s secret kinship with Satan; the sadism of dentists; Hitler’s afterlife on YouTube; 2001’s HAL as a “closet case”; the suicide note considered as a literary genre; the Surrealist poetry of robot spam; the zombie apocalypse; Lady Gaga; the Church of Euthanasia; toy guns in the dream lives of American boys; and the polymorphous perversity of Madonna’s big toe.

From Menckenesque polemics on American society to deft deconstructions of pop culture to unflinching personal essays in which the author turns his scalpel-sharp wit on himself, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts is a head-spinning intellectual thrill ride.


“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.” – Lucy 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

“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

“No critic delves into the dark recesses of American consciousness quite like Dery. And perhaps at no time in recent history has national disillusionment been so primed for such critique.” – Matthew Newton, The Verge

“Always provocative, often humorous, Dery has a keen eye for absurdity, tragedy, and everything in between.” – Publishers Weekly

“Dery is a first-rate critic, one who makes the quotidian matter…I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts…contains some of the finest work of his career.” – Eric Been, L.A. Review of Books


CLICK HERE to see the Table of Contents.

NOTE: The Mark Dery reader, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, was first published by Editora Sulina, in Brazil, in Portuguese, as I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Essays on American Empire, Digital Culture, Posthuman Porn, and the Sexual Symbolism of Madonna’s Big Toe: briefly, Não Devo Pensar em Coisas Ruins. The contents of the Brazilian edition differ substantially from the American version, as do the illustrations, cover, and introduction.

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