cover image Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?: Essays

Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?: Essays

Jenny Diski. Bloomsbury, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-1-5266-2190-0

This effortlessly readable posthumous essay collection from Diski (1947–2016) (In Gratitude) shows her at her best. In “A Feeling for Ice,” she writes about her troubled childhood and her longing to visit Antarctica: “I wanted white and ice as far as the eye could see.” “It Wasn’t Him, It Was Her” explores the reputation of Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, known primarily for having “corrupted Nietzsche’s work.” “He Could Afford It” investigates Howard Hughes’s obsessive compulsions: “What made Hughes remarkable,” she writes, is that “there was no practical reason for him to try to control his madness.” In “I Haven’t Been Nearly Mad Enough,” she compares writer Barbara Taylor’s memories of mental institutionalization with her own: in the midst of fear, both found a sense of community. Diski’s works are varied and surprising, and she puts a fresh spin on the personal essay with her bracing, singular prose, never veering into self-indulgence: “One of the basic beliefs we all have... is that we are who we are because we know that by definition there can be only one of us. I’m Jenny Diski. You therefore aren’t.” To miss these essays would be a shame. Agent: Peter Straus, RCW Literary. (Apr.)