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Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  398 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
Using two cross-country trips on Amtrak as her narrative vehicles, British writer Jenny Diski connects the humming rails, taking her into the heart of America with the track-like scars leading back to her own past. As in the highly acclaimed Skating to Antarctica, Diski has created a seamless and seemingly effortless amalgam of reflections and revelation in a unique combin ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Picador (first published 2002)
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(showing 1-30)
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May 28, 2016 Nicola rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
One of my favourite books.
David Yoon
Sep 22, 2016 David Yoon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jenny Diski endeavours to circumnavigate the United States …by train. She’s not really intent on doing anything more than watch the scenery whip past and smoke. She finds a special place in the smoking car with it’s cracked linoleum floor, institutional gray walls and hard plastic chairs. There, along with the outcast, nicotine hungry pariahs she can unrepentantly smoke in peace.

People seem to have other ideas and their lives and attendant stories reach out to her. Diski does a fair bit of lite
Martin Budd
Jan 30, 2014 Martin Budd rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing work, I thought this would be a travel book in the same style as Paul Theroux or similar, it is, but it is also so much more than that. Like "Catcher in the Rye" Jenny's dialogue confirms to you that there are people who really do think like you do, who experience life as you do,that what goes on behind the eyes really can be very profound indeed.The book overflows with her warmth and humanity,but there is a good sharp bite with some of her observations giving a real depth to her ...more
Feb 18, 2008 Angel rated it it was amazing
to read and re-read and re-read, especially while travelling. most recently, i re-read this on the beach in miami, eavesdropping on americans. it was a chilly day (by floridian standards), but i was comfortingly wrapped in towels and diski's prose: acerbic, remote, kind and quite funny. her eye for detail is impressive.
Davida Chazan
How wonderful is this book? Diski's travel across the USA and her experiences with being a smoker were just perfect - and made even more fun to read since I read it on a train myself. Highly recommended!
I am struggling a bit with this review, as this book was very different from my expectation. Sometimes that is a good thing... but not this time.

I usually find winners of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award excellent. This book won in 2003. For me however this is not a travel book. In this book travel is the least important element. America is just a setting, only what is seen out the train window when the author breaks eye contact with her fellow passengers, or sits alone in reflection. This book
Jun 09, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
Diski is a very self-absorbed writer but her reflections on her life and her interactions (and worries about her interactions) with others are well worth reading, often chiming with and elucidating one's own feelings. Her reserve breaks down when she combines the anonimity of train travel in a foreign country with the shared sin of being a smoker amongst (when she can manage it) other smokers. She builds a handsome collection of personal vignettes from her fellow travellers, usually provoking th ...more
Joey Gan
Aug 26, 2011 Joey Gan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a great way to explore the least explored. Despite the less-than-encouraging connotations associated with train travel in the US, Jenny still managed a trip that informed her more than the bitter hearsay. Curiosity is all you need to take on the road to make the journey a little more worth remembering!
Apr 28, 2015 Demetzy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing insight into the USA and mental health great read
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sep 16, 2015 Jenny (Reading Envy) marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Love the cover and the title but not the narrator, 100 pages in and still not on the train. I had chosen this for book speed dating so will abandon for other reads.
Sep 16, 2014 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This travelog/memoir, by a writer for whom travel, ideally, is "to be in or move through empty spaces in circumstances where nothing much will happen," was a lot more successful than you might think. Diski begins the book by describing how, when she was thirteen and unhappy, she would spend the days she wasn't in school riding the Circle Line underground train, smoking and reading an armful of library books. The two American train journeys she describes in this book are similarly circuitous and ...more
Margaret Sullivan
Apr 04, 2014 Margaret Sullivan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
What a disappointment. I love the idea of this book--traveling around more or less the circumference of the continental U.S. by train, and writing about it. I would like to WRITE that book (maybe--I might be too much of an introvert). But I would settle for reading it. Unfortunately, this was not really what I was looking for. The writing is lovely and deep and interesting, but the author is way too neurotic to write the book I was looking for, unfortunately. There were interesting parts, when D ...more
Zora O'Neill
Oct 26, 2014 Zora O'Neill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is nothing quite as illuminating as travel literature about your own country. Diski is British, and she makes strange gaffes like calling the city "St. Paul's-Minneapolis," but has an overall sympathetic ear for Americans. I found it a little bit slow to start, but once I relaxed into it, it was perfect. The meat of it is really a catalog of every strange person and their strange stories, as encountered on Amtrak, especially in the smoking sections (when such a thing still existed--this wa ...more
Jul 12, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure what is it about it, but I just love travel writing. I have a romanticised notion of train travel and this book fitted perfectly with that. The passengers she met along the way we're so open and their simple stories universal and moving. I do wonder if it would be like that now, more than a decade later. I'd like to think so.
Gunnar Andersson
Aug 01, 2011 Gunnar Andersson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nothing happens yet you want to read more, that is a good author! Weird people jump in and out from the story but it's not individual story's that makes the book interesting, it's the general mentality of the people that is depicted, a side of the US Hollywood rarely speak of.
May 16, 2016 Fiona rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Less about the landscape and more about the interesting mix of people Diski meets on her train journeys. Her insights and observations are so astute and she also reveals details about her own troubled early years.
Mar 14, 2015 Nirmal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-review
I liked this somewhat quirky travel writing and memoirs combo book. It is not a usual planned travel book where you go to a specific geography/region and do sightseeing and interacting with local folks and understand the local culture and report back your impressions about the place, people and their culture. In that sense it is more of selective memoirs enveloped in travel writing. Its subtitle "Daydreaming and Smoking around America with interruptions". An addition of 'on Amtrak trains' in the ...more
Stephen AB
About 3.5 really - I enjoyed it very much, but I found the Antarctica book trip more thoughtful and easier to lose myself. Funny too, as Diski became more weary of other people's stories as she goes along, so did I as a reader. I appreciated that, but it doesn't make for losing yourself in the reading. I felt her weariness and alarm and desire to be home, that the journey had really ended before the "end". I find this often too in my experience - you find something important on the way there, so ...more
Oct 18, 2013 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mid 3. The author undertakes a journey to discover what it felt like to have no real destination in mind and whether true solitude was possible with no real anticipation of arriving somewhere. This self-confessed loner recounts her memorable encounters aboard a cargo ship bound for America, and then on a circuitous journey by Amtrak across the States. Yet, this is no simple travelogue, as Diski relates her experience to memoirs of her childhood and adolescence from a broken home, and confinement ...more
Jul 17, 2011 Hilary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, travel
Author Jenny Diski, for reasons best known to herself, decides to tour the circumference of America (or more or less; there s a big gap in the west coast) by train. But this isn t a travel book; it s mainly an account of the people she meets on these trains mostly in the smoking carriages, and they re mostly people the rest of us would go out of our way to avoid partly a reflection on the train service itself, where delays of up to half a day are not only not impossible but are almost expected ...more
Apr 03, 2011 Ashley rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Bit of an odd one this. It wasn't an entirely travel book, half of it was about the author's history of being in mental institutions, tales of her childhood, her love of smoking and her mental health problems, which isn't necessarily bad in itself but just not was I expecting. There didn't seem any real reason why she went on the trip and how she just decided to skip the last few days of her schedule seemed a bit of a cop-out and it ended really quickly. I read a far better travel book about an ...more
Carron Brown
May 20, 2016 Carron Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't your normal sugary look-at-the-landscape travel book. This is by far more about the people and the journey. In fact, by the sounds of the book, Jenny doesn't really look out the window that much. I was really drawn by the first leg of her journey, travelling by boat from the UK to the US - that sounded great! I think I was less enamoured by the train journey because the smoking cars put me off (I'm not a smoker). However, the people she meets and their stories are what makes this book ...more
Bella Grewal
Läste boken när jag reste till Thailand. I egenskap av lokförare var det extra kul att läsa en bok som handlade om att resa med tåg. Jag har ingen erfarenhet av att resa runt i USA på det här sättet som Jenny gör. Man fick följa hennes möten med människor i rökkupén och hennes egna tankar om livet och döden och en mängd saker däremellan. Det verkar inte som om persontrafiken på järnvägen i USA är varken utbredd eller prioriterad (godstågen går först där, som jag förstod det hela). En precis lago ...more
Basia Korzeniowska
A most extraordinary book. A paean to smoking and travel, Jenny Diski reminds me of myself as a child - reading endlessly on the Circle line - and of my mother - life punctuated by frequent cigarette breaks. what more can a reader want than to feel so totally at home with the writer.
she has a wonderful air of detachment, yet you could hardly get closer as she is so painfully - and humorously - honest about everything she encounters.
Debbie Windley
its hard to characterise this book - part travel book, part memoir part autobiography. Although there is very little evocation of place she does get to parts of the US hidden to outsiders. Collecting the remarkable stories of the the unremarkable, experiencing the horror of the suburbs. I enjoyed the way in which she tries on alternate lives for size before realising she cannot go against her core being.
All journeys resemble life one way or another; Diski's journey is not only about getting to know strangers travelling by train "around" the U.S. The books is about how present journeys bring back the memories of the past we need to "exorcise" or reflect about.
Sep 02, 2007 Beth rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
What makes this worth reading is the concept: Diski (who is British) traveled around the U.S. on a train and made friends in the smoking cars along the way. It probably helps if you find train travel alluring and appreciate the idea of aimlessly meandering around the country.
Mar 17, 2009 Libbeth marked it as to-read
Aquired this when someone wanted to swap it for my copy of The Unconsoled. I look forward to reading it.
Elizabeth Schurman
Reminded me of Simone de Beauvoir's similar book. This is more philosophical, actually, drier in temperament and juicer in details. Not so much isn't-travel-interesting as how you see yourself, and escape yourself, through certain kinds of travel.
Not one of my favorite Diskis. Uneven. Some startling insights interspersed with banality. Visiting people for five days that you met in a smoking car on a train is just creepy. Not a smoker but the best bits were about smoking. Should have been titled Smoker on a Train.
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College Students! : Stranger on a Train by Jenny Diski 1 9 Jun 04, 2015 02:23PM  
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Jenny Diski was a British writer. Diski was a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction articles, reviews and books. She was awarded the 2003 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking around America With Interruptions.

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“It isn't important what you do, it is the attitude with which you proceed through the world that matters.” 6 likes
“But I do know a kind of madness that lies low in the mind, half-buried in consciousness, which lives in parallel to sanity, and given the right circumstances or even just half a chance, creeps like a lick of flame or a growing tumour up and around ordinary perception, consuming it for a while, and causing one, even when not at the movies, to quake in fear of the world and people and what they--I mean, of, we--are capable of.” 3 likes
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