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In Gratitude

In July 2014, Jenny Diski was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and given "two or three years" to live. She didn't know how to react. All responses felt scripted, as if she were acting out her part. To find the response that felt wholly her own, she had to face the cliches and try to write about it. And there was another story to write, one she had not yet told: that of being taken in at age fifteen by the author Doris Lessing, and the subsequent fifty years of their complex relationship.

The future flashed before my eyes in all its pre-ordained banality. Embarrassment, at first, to the exclusion of all other feelings. But embarrassment curled at the edges with a weariness ?
I got a joke in.
'So ? we'd better get cooking the meth,' I said to the Poet.


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What I Don't Know About Animals

What does Jenny Diski know about animals? She's really not sure. There is, however, one thing of which she is certain: our relationships with and attitudes to animals are worth thinking about. In What I Don't Know About Animals, she shows why. She sets out to investigate what she does and doesn't know about animals. She remembers the stuffed cuddly creatures from her childhood; the animal books she read; the cartoons she watched; the strays she found; the animals who have lived and still live with her; the animals she has observed close up, and those she has feared. She examines human beings, too, and the way in which they have looked at, studied, treated and written about the non-human creatures with whom we share the planet. Subtle, intelligent and brilliantly observed, What I Don't Know About Animals is an engaging look at what it means to be human and what it means to be animal.

'A quirky, exhilarating expedition into the animal kingdom . . . You end the book feeling that you've been made to think in new ways about a subject so familiar that it has almost become a series of cliches'

Kathryn Hughes, DAILY MAIL

What I Don't Know About Animals is a socio-philosophical investigation of immense skill, erudition and subtlety, charmingly disguised as a travel book. Diski walks into an idea like no one else and here is journeying into the dark continent of our relationship with animals . . . It's also a hard-hitting moral argument that lets nobody off the hook, not even its author'

Ruth Padel, GUARDIAN

Out in paperback in August 2012.

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The Sixties

This is Jenny Diski at her essayistic best in a highly personal and entertaining exploration of the twentieth century's most colourful decade.

Many books have been written on the Sixties: tributes to music and fashion, sex, drugs and revolution. In The Sixties, Jenny Diski breaks the mould, wryly dismantling the big ideas that dominated the era – liberation, permissiveness and self-invention – to consider what she and her generation were really up to. Was it rude to refuse to have sex with someone? Did they take drugs to get by, or to see the world differently? How responsible were they for the self-interest and greed of the Eighties? With characteristic wit and verve, Diski takes an incisive look at the radical beliefs to which her generation subscribed, little realising they were often old ideas dressed up in new forms, sometimes patterned by BIBA. She considers whether she and her peers were as serious as they thought about changing the world, if the radical sixties were funded by the baby-boomers' parents, and if the big idea shaping the Sixties was that it really felt as if it meant something to be young.

Click on any of the links below to view some online reviews:

Paperback available in July

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On Trying To Keep Still

(Little, Brown April 2006)

Jenny Diski's two most recent works of nonfiction, SKATING TO ANTARCTICA and STRANGER ON A TRAIN, described what were as much inner as outer journeys, journeys of the mind. In these books, she confessed that she is never so happy as when she is at home, and that her urge to travel is a contrary one, something she is not sure that she herself understands. In ON TRYING TO KEEP STILL, she explores her own contrariness in new and challenging ways. Inspired by Michel de Montaigne, who retired to a tower in southern France in middle life and hardly ever left it, writing timeless essays which have since become famous, Jenny sets out to record her own state of mind in places as varied as New Zealand, deepest Somerset and inside the Arctic Circle.

On Trying to Keep Still was published in April, 2006 by LittleBrown.

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only human by jenny diski

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Stranger on a Train

(Virago, 2002)

In spite of the fact that her idea of travel is to stay home with the phone off the hook, Jenny Diski takes a trip around the perimeter of the USA by train. Somewhat reluctantly, she meets all kinds of characters, all bursting with stories to tell, and finds herself brooding about the marvellously familiar landscape of America, half-known already through film and television. Like the pulse of the train over the rails, the theme of the dying pleasures of smoking thrums through the book, along with reflections on the condition of solitude and the nature of friendship and memories triggered by her past times in psychiatric hospitals. Cutting between her troubled teenaged years and contemporary America, the journey becomes a study of strangers, strangeness and estrangement – from oneself, as well as from the world.

'Rattles furiously along its tracks, creating frequent sparks and taking unforseen turns.' Financial Times

'More like a memoir than a travelogue: a magical history tour.' Sunday Telegraph

'Beautifully written.' The Times

'A formidable travel writer.' Irish Times

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Skating to Antarctica

(Virago 1997)

'This strange and brilliant book recounts Jenny Diski's journey to Antarctica last year, intercut with another journey into her own heart and soul… a book of dazzling variety, which weaves disquisitions on indolence, truth, inconsistency, ambiguousness, the elephant seal, Shackleton, boredom and over and over again memory, into a sparse narrative, caustic observation and vivid description of the natural world. While Diski's writing is laconic, her images are haunting.' Elspeth Barker, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

'The spareness of the writing, leavened by an icicle-sharp sense of humour, makes this book both difficult to put down and impossible to forget'

'This is her best and most moving book to date, because she puts her human self into it, sassy and vulnerable'
Michèle Roberts, THE TIMES

'Exploring her genuinely horrific childhood and the strangeness of Antarctica, Diski, an immensely cool writer, unravels both with superb understatement'

'Diski's brilliant account of her bleak childhood, her breakdowns and her attempt to make sense of it all is funny, strange and unforgettable'

'Memoirs of family misery have become publishing clichés over the past few years, but Diski's shines out for its wit, lack of self-pity and strong interest in survival'
Helen Dunmore, EXPRESS

'This is the most unusual and beautiful of memoirs'

'Astonishing, harrowing, very funny, and always completely enthralling and brilliantly written'

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(Granta 1998)

'Literate, witty, sad essays...Diski's experience of being female, Jewish and depressed and her habitually sceptical, helplessly humorous tone make for stimulating reading.'

'She has a fine eye and ear for human details that make the sublime ridiculous…her thought is sinuous, not slack, provoked by a fathomless curiosity about human experience.'

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A View From the Bed

(Virago 2003)

This is a collection of wonderfully animated essays. In her inimitable style, with sharp wit and idiosyncratic views, Diski meditates on her own experiences, an array of key historical figures and contemporary topics including her ponderings on the thrill of guilt and the biblical role of water in 'Did Jesus walk on water because he couldn't swim?', this is vintage Diski.

'Grouped thematically under titles like "Awkward Dames" and "Sex…" there's a good mix of longer pieces drawn from the London Review of Books and shorter journalism like "…And Shopping", a year's worth of columns for the Sunday Times describing her thoughts as a con-sumer. It's a delight to read someone discussing subjects like this so engagingly without once de-generating into either academic hieroglyphics or the inanity of lifestyle journalism.'