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Things I Don't Want to Know

(Living Autobiography #1)

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,749 ratings  ·  402 reviews
'Perhaps when Orwell described sheer egoism as a necessary quality for a writer, he was not thinking about the sheer egoism of a female writer. Even the most arrogant female writer has to work over time to build an ego that is robust enough to get her through January, never mind all the way to December.' Deborah Levy ...more
Hardcover, 109 pages
Published March 1st 2013 by Notting Hill Editions
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Adam Dalva
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Levy is a wonderful writer - this short slice of a memoir has 4 quick sections, two glimpses at her fractured life as she's writing it, sandwiching two moving sequences, most notably the story of Levy's father's jailing in South Africa when she was a young girl. All along, the thru-line is clear: what makes someone want to write, and how do they keep going in the face of adversity? A bit A Room of One's Own, a bit The Argonauts (in its excellent quotation of feminist theory), challenging and cha ...more
Dr. Appu Sasidharan
Summary (Throwback Review)
This book will make us whizz through three countries Mallorca, South Africa, and England, to know more about the author's life and her opinion about writing and her life as a woman. The author's outlook on multiple subjects might enlighten you, perturb you, perplex you, depress you, and enliven you.

What I learned from this book
1) Neopatriarchy in 21st century

Neopatriarchy is the form of patriarchal projection into the millennial's nuclear families
Stefan Szczelkun
This exquisite little book is dangerous to read on public transport because you will miss your stop. It is also dangerous to read in bed because it will not send you to sleep. I must also warn the potential reader that she will grieve being without this book soon after starting on it, because it is too short.

Having said that the book is concentrated literary goodness. And expands my knowledge and wisdom by a magical transference. I will never again see Barby dolls, budgerigars, soft toys, door h
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Marketed as a feminist response to Orwell’s “Why I Write,” Things I Don’t Want to Know tracks how a soft-spoken girl became a prolific writer. Across four fast-moving sections, novelist Deborah Levy recounts her childhood spent in South Africa at the height of apartheid, with her father incarcerated as a political prisoner, as well as her tumultuous adolescence in England, with few friends to rely on. In understated prose, Levy considers the many challenges she faced in finding her voice as a wo ...more
Canadian Reader
I was frustrated by Political Purpose, the opening chapter of Deborah Levy’s four-part memoir—a work which some regard as “a feminist response to Orwell’s ‘Why I Write’.” I found it hard going, pretentious, and opaque. Could you just get to the point, I wondered. Well, Levy does eventually manage to do that—sort of. One spring, she writes, “life was very hard”, and its difficulty was often most apparent to her when she was standing on an ascending escalator. Something about being moved passively ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021, 2018
Now re-read because I have an ARC of the third part (Real Estate) and want to read all three parts consecutively. Now on to The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography

I notice my original review below does not pick up a couple of quotes on the repeated idea of speaking up, which is key to the book, so:

"Melissa was the first person in my life who had encouraged me to speak up. With her blue painted-on eyes and blonde beehive that was nearly as tall as I was, she was spirited and brave and she was
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
There's something exquisite about Deborah Levy's non-fiction. ...more
Dannii Elle
Just incredible! Review to follow.
I'm probably an awful listener because I never listen to recommendations about books, never. It's just something special I'm looking for in books and people don't always know what it is and I can't usually explain it. A colleague of mine recommended Deborah Levy's novels again and again and I never considered reading them even for twenty seconds because I'm in a big non-fiction period. Then walking out of a book store last month I looked at my pile of five books by favourite writers and I picked ...more
Feb 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
This short collection of essays is a response to the question George Orwell posed in his essay "Why I Write." Through glimpses of her own history and life, Levy examines "4 great motives for writing" (political purpose, historical impulse, sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm) in a clear, compelling voice. ...more
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even if I do not always agree with Levy, her writing is impeccable. Especially the second chapter, about her childhood in Apartheid South Africa, was brilliant. I cannot wait to get to the rest of her Living Autobiography (and in time to read the final volumne which will come out later this year!).
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Levy is one of my all time favorite fiction writers, but I have never really been able to get into her non-fiction (or, for that matter, her plays - which is odd, since theatre is my field). That said, I really enjoyed this mash-up of autobiography and 'justice' for writing, which perhaps has more in common with her fiction than I first supposed. I could wax on about the specifics, but I'm going to be lazy and just reference my friend Neil's review, which says everything and more I could/would, ...more
Diane Barnes
Nov 08, 2018 rated it liked it
I have not read any of Levy's fiction, but this short autobiographical book was a good introduction to her writing. The section on her childhood in South Africa was especially good. ...more
aayushi girdhar
Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk
deborah levy wrote 'things i don't want to know' as a feminist response to orwell's 'why i write'. this first part of a three part living autobiography series tracks how a gentle and reserved woman became a prolific writer.

'to speak up is to not about speaking louder, it is about feeling entitled to voice a wish.'
i never thought of myself as a writer, but in the past few months I've found myself turn to the blank pages of my diary to find my voice. it refuses to speak to me unless i give it an
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I bumped this up to a 5 as I’ve been thinking about it since I finished it. Levy explains why in her childhood no one in her family was capable of putting the lid back on any jar of bottle, as they were living in exile, and thus their kitchen was in a permanent state of metaphoric squalor they could do nothing about. And plenty of other lovely bits in this small book.

Her description of motherhood is hilarious and harsh and so true.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly enjoyable read on why Deborah Levy writes. My only criticism is that it felt way too short, but at least the second instalment of this "living autobiography" - The Cost of Living - is out soon. ...more
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Things I don't want to know:

As a woman, I would be counted amongst the most vulnerable at any given point of time, children and the elderly my only companions in this wretched demarcation.

As a woman, if I were to ever aspire to be anything, anything at all, my gendered existence would always accompany me, as an albatross around my neck, suffocating my attempts, and this tedious journey would end only with my own cessation.

As a woman, my achievements at work would never come easy and always be qu
Cátia Vieira
Why should you read this book?

Why I write is an essay by the renowned writer and essayist George Orwell, in which he explains his four motives for writing. His first motive is sheer egoism, his second is what he calls aesthetic enthusiasm, his third is historical impulse, and the last one is political impulse. In Things I Don’t Want to Know, Deborah Levy responds to all these motives with episodes from her own life.

From the first pages of this memoir/autobiographical essay, I was hooked. Deborah
Dec 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For two weeks I carried this small blue book with me wherever I went. Reading about someone else's life, someone else's reasons to write, someone else's urge to cry on escalators in train stations, someone else's struggles with all the things they don't want to know was comforting. The back cover and spine are ruined, because I carried it with me in my bag in the rain when I had conversations about things I didn't want to know, reading as a tranquillizer, the reasons there are to write, the stru ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“When happiness is happening it feels as if nothing else happened before it, it is a sensation that happens only in the present tense.”

now this is a book i wish i wrote.
Beth Bonini
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
In this book of essays - positioned as a ‘response to George Orwell’s 1946 essay Why I Write - author Deborah Levy has removed herself to an isolated spot outside of Palma, Majorca in order to contemplate a crossroads in her life. This particular crossroads seems to have something to do with the breakdown of her marriage, although she refers to that only obliquely. Instead, she talks about crying uncontrollably on elevators and the ways in which the ‘twenty-first-century Neo-Patriarchy’ make wom ...more
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think Levy is a really interesting writer and I enjoyed this memoiry book which despite being quite slight manages to touch on motherhood, feminism and identity, snapshots of her childhood in south Africa and 70s England, and how the past catches up with you when you're an adult feeling lost. At times Levy can get a little writerly and there are lines that for me don't always feel authentic, but gosh writing is tough. ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
‘The way we laugh. At our own desires. The way we mock ourselves. Before anyone else can. The way we are wired to kill. Ourselves. It doesn’t bear thinking about.’

A small, perfectly-formed gem about writing, memory and history. In her response to Orwell’s essay ‘Why I Write’ Levy is a passionate and measured guide unpicking the threads of her creative impulses.
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I too would smoke cigarettes and be able to make squiggles on paper in Pitman's code and drive barefoot in fast cars with my stilettos chucked on the back seat for later."

"To become a writer I had to learn to interrupt, to speak up, to speak a little louder, and then louder, and then to just speak in my own voice which is not loud at all."
Chapter one reads like the beautifully written, scholarly journal of a feminist with a PhD. She quotes Sartre, Julia Kristeva, Marguerite Duras, and Simone de Beauvoir. (Later she quotes Nietzsche and Virginia Woolf.)

Chapter two is exceptional.

Chapter four borders on being too much - too much meaning in random items and events - but doesn't cross the line.

(view spoiler)
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Just like The Cost of Living, I was absolutely smitten with Things I Don't Want to Know. This 'living autobiography' is the portrait of a woman in a turbulent time in her life, who uses a specific moment - sharing a table with a stranger on a snowy Mediterranean island - to revisit memories of her - also turbulent - early life.

What I especially loved was that when Levy touches upon something tender or fragile, she treats it with care, precision and a deep love for the little absurdities of life.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
This really wasn't for me. I feel like I'm the unpopular opinion on this one because it has so many positive reviews, but I just didn't totally get it.

I feel like this was more autobiographical than I expected. I knew this was part memoir but the actual process of writing was barely touched on - or maybe it was just so subtle that it went over my head. Levy does have a way with words and images, and perhaps it's my own fault that her reflections on life and writing didn't resonate with me on eit
M. Sarki
May 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

Certainly a major disappointment after reading Levy’s latest memoir titled The Cost of Living. Perhaps if this book had been read first I would feel differently. But honestly, I doubt I would have read the amazing The Cost of Living after reading this. There is really nothing much to say about this title other than it felt dead, disjointed, and a waste of my time.
Liina Bachmann
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Somehow this left me completely untouched. If I would recommend something good written on writing it would be "My Vocation", an essay by Natalia Ginzburg, found in her collected essays "Little Virtues". ...more
Teenu Vijayan
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Always fascinated to know about the kind of childhood and life these amazing people have lived through!
Still in awe of the humble beginnings and the writing was so captivating.
A must read for Levy's fans or otherwise too!
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Deborah Levy trained at Dartington College of Arts leaving in 1981 to write a number of plays, highly acclaimed for their "intellectual rigour, poetic fantasy and visual imagination", including PAX, HERESIES for the Royal Shakespeare Company, CLAM, CALL BLUE JANE, SHINY NYLON, HONEY BABY MIDDLE ENGLAND, PUSHING THE PRINCE INTO DENMARK and MACBETH-FALSE MEMORIES, some of which are published in LEVY ...more

Other books in the series

Living Autobiography (3 books)
  • The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography
  • Real Estate

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“To become a WRITER I had to learn to INTERRUPT, to speak up, to speak a little louder, and then LOUDER, and then to just speak in my own voice which is NOT LOUD AT ALL.” 26 likes
“Like everything that involves love, our children made us happy beyond measure – and unhappy too – but never as miserable as the twenty-first century Neo-Patriarchy made us feel. It required us to be passive but ambitious, maternal but erotically energetic, self-sacrificing but fulfilled – we were to be Strong Modern Women while being subjected to all kinds of humiliations, both economic and domestic. If we felt guilty about everything most of the time, we were not sure what it was we had actually done wrong." (from "Things I Don't Want to Know" by Deborah Levy)” 7 likes
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