Diary of a Detour

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: September 2020

Author: Lesley Stern

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Creative Nonfiction, Medicine and Health > Medical Humanities

Diary of a Detour is film scholar and author Lesley Stern's memoir of living with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. She chronicles the fears and daily experience of coming to grips with an incurable form of cancer by describing the dramas and delving into the science. Stern also nudges cancer off center stage by turning to alternative obsessions and pleasures. In seductive writing she describes her life in the garden and kitchen, the hospital and the library, and her travels—down the street to her meditation center, across the border to Mexico, and across the world to Australia. Her immediate world is inhabited with books, movies, politics, and medical reports that provoke essayistic reflections. As her environment is shared with friends, chickens, a cat called Elvis, mountain goats, whales, lions, and microbes the book opens onto a larger than human world. Intimate and meditative, engrossing and singular, Diary of a Detour offers new ideas about what it might mean to live and think with cancer, and with chronic illness more broadly.


Diary of a Detour is such a great book, excessive like Lesley Stern's own intense appetite for life that includes her wide knowledge about the intricacies of disease. It's the most pleasurable cancer book imaginable. I was riveted, the specificity of the writing is a drug. Stern has written a wonderful, stirring, magnificent book. Oh, World, you are the love object of this hardworking, self-deprecating extravagant genius.” — Eileen Myles, author of Evolution

Diary of a Detour is wonderful on so many levels. Besides being an extraordinary writer, Lesley Stern is emotionally and intellectually sophisticated in such subtle and deep ways. She outlines the stakes of learning to live and feel in the grip of inescapable finitude and mortality, together with others of many kinds and species, but also alone, as irreducibly this vulnerable person and no other. I love this book.” — Donna J. Haraway, author of Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene

"What emerges most powerfully is Stern’s determination to live—not just to stay alive but, as Tennyson writes in 'Ulysses,' 'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.' . . . A mixture of the mundane and the medical, the ordinary and the extraordinary." — Kirkus Reviews

"[Stern's] final book, the magnificent Diary of a Detour (2020) that appeared just before her passing, records how the force of obsession – obsessions with planting and tending, with chickens, with the growing and preparing of food, with the cycles of nature – literally prolonged her life, pulling her through into new and brilliant investigations, and an ever-widening collaboration with activists at all levels of the environmental movement." — Adrian Martin, ArtsHub


Availability: In stock
Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lesley Stern is Professor Emerita of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego; author of Dead and Alive: The Body as Cinematic Thing, The Smoking Book, and The Scorsese Connection; and coeditor of Falling for You: Essays on Cinema and Performance.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
1. Chickens Saved My Life  1
2. The Time It Takes (By Way of an Introduction)  3
3. Secret  7
4. A Possum Fate (Averted)  9
5. Events Unfold in the Snow  12
6. Chicken Feet  17
7. Why Chickens or Homage to Gloria  18
8. Boomerang  22
9. A Way of Making Another Egg  25
10. Shivers and Shakes  28
11. The Chicken or the Egg  32
12. Strawberry/Fetish  34
13. Life after Life  40
14. The Poetry of Pigs  44
15. Some Musings on Metaphor  45
16. Tricking the Body  51
17. Chicken Joke  53
18. Nice Paint Job  57
19. Frenzied Calm  59
20. Tokhm-e Morgh  73
21. Disability  74
22. Why Me, Lord?  75
23. Five Down, Two to Go  80
24. The Warrior Song of King Gesar  81
25. Euphoria  85
26. A Fern Romance  87
27. Weeding  89
28. Untimely  92
29. Blue/Shimmer  93
30. Missed Connection  109
31. Blown through the Air  111
32. Don't Think about It (For the Moment)  114
33. Spheres of Glass  115
34. Purple Haze  123
35. Cantankerous Rooster  125
36. Dead and Alive: A Tenuous Continuum  128
37. Breakfast Anecdotes  138
38. Landscape  139
39. Tootin Pootin  143
40. Dragon Inn  150
41. All along the Highway  153
42. A Lion's Roar  156
43. The Ecology of Cancer, and What Do Ants Have to Do with It?  158
44. What Does It Matter?  164
45. So Unctuous and So Tender  166
46. Dorland  169
47. Touched by a Whale  174
48. Travel  181
49. The Answer Is Not Coming  182
50. Night Club Bouncers  184
51. All Natural  187
52. Anza Borrego  190
53. Lighten Up  197
54. Glad to Be Here (Plaintive Knowledge)  203
55. Stinging Nettles  205
56. A Talent for Cancer  212
57. Phobia: The Chickens Come Home to Roost  214
58. Walking Meditation  219
59. A Ticket for Tuppence  221
60. Reaching Yirrkala  226
61. Chookless  245
62. Chicken Shit  246
63. Mimetic Pain  250
64. You Are Mostly Not You  254
65. R.I.P. Elvis, the King of the Cats  260
66. Afterlife  263
67. Art Alive  268
68. Bodies in Pieces  271
69. A Prospect of Consolation  275
70. Fig Future  278
71. Between Fresh and Rotten  280
72. Blood Poetry  294
73. Shimmer and Glimmer  295
74. I Need an Advocate  297
75. Nameless  302
76. Fermentation Dreams  306
77. The Structure That a Life Has  309
78. Like a Cat in a Hat, Sleek and Brave: R.I.P. Ryoko  311
79. The Malvolio Gene  314
80. What Do You Expect?  318
81. Chimera  320
82. The Last Chicken Standing  335
83. Arrivderci  338
Notes  343
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0967-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0881-1