Instead of a Book

Letters to a Friend

Diana Athill

Published: 4 October 2012
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 352 pages
ISBN: 9781847084149

Other Editions


Image of

Published: 6 October 2011
Hardback, Royal HB
156x234mm, 352 pages
ISBN: 9781847084897

Ebook Available


Diana Athill has corresponded with the American poet Edward Field for over thirty years, freely sharing jokes, pleasures and pains with her old friend, and writing with an intimacy and spontaneity even more revealing than the candour of her celebrated memoirs.

Edited, selected and introduced by Athill, and annotated with her own delightful notes, this collection of those letters reveals a sharply intelligent woman with a keen eye for the absurd, a brilliant turn of phrase and a wicked sense of humour. Covering her career as an editor, the adventure of her retirement, her immersion in her own writing and her reactions to becoming unexpectedly famous in her old-age, and including gossip about mutual friends, sharp pen portraits, and uninhibited accounts her relationships - and ailments - Instead of a Book gives a wonderful description of a woman growing older without ever losing her zest for life.

About the author

Image of Diana Athill

Diana Athill was born in 1917. She helped André Deutsch establish the publishing company that bore his name and worked as an editor for Deutsch for four decades. Athill's distinguished career as an editor is the subject of her acclaimed memoir Stet, which is also published by Granta Books, as are several further volumes of memoirs, Instead of a Letter, After a Funeral, Yesterday Morning, Make Believe, Somewhere Towards the End, and Alive, Alive Oh!, the travelogue A Florence Diary, a novel, Don't Look at Me Like That, and a collection of letters, Instead of a Book. In January 2009, she won the Costa Biography Award for Somewhere Towards the End, and was presented with an OBE. She lives in London. More about the author


‘A joy to read ... Grand, splendid and wonderfully entertaining, Athill makes you hope that letter-writing is not a lost art’ Tina Jackson



‘A revealing document... There's a disarming honesty in the detail of [her] daily struggles with domesticity and mortality’

‘A superb description of a woman growing older without losing her sense of humour or enthusiasm for life’

‘Athill is wonderful - always aware of the need to entertain and beguile her reader ... Fascinating and surprising’ Daisy Goodwin

‘Encounter again, the sheer joy of her brisk, wry and hugely energetic prose’ Christina Patterson

‘Fascinating and surprising ... Athill is a wonderful letter writer - always aware of the need to entertain and beguile the reader ... Every page of this book shows that Athill's eye is as beady as ever’ Daisy Goodwin

‘She documents her dotage with affecting candour ... Athill is never remotely maudlin or self-pitying, and she describes beautifully those "lovely moments of pure being" that make it all worthwhile’ David Evans

‘Spirited sketches of OAP life... tackles the big questions through the small increments’ Alexandra Harris

‘The keenly intelligent letters between Athill and her friend, the American poet Edward Field, provide an intimate insight into the relationship between the two writers’

‘These are vivid reports on life in late 20th-century Britain as experienced by a writer, editor, daughter, partner and pensioner with an extraordinarily "beady eye" on human relations and a phenomenal capacity for making the most of everything that comes her way ... She owes us nothing. She has given a very great deal’ Alexandra Harris

Mind Unit - websites, content management and email marketing for the arts