After thirty-five years as a book editor in New York City, Ann Patty stopped working and moved to the country. Read more...
After thirty-five years as a book editor in New York City, Ann Patty stopped working and moved to the country. Bored, aimless, and lost in the woods, she hoped to challenge her restless, word-loving brain by beginning a serious study of Latin at local colleges. As she begins to make sense of Latin grammar and syntax, her studies open unexpected windows into her own life. The louche poetry of Catullus calls up her early days in 1970s New York, Lucretius elucidates her intractable drivenness and her attraction to Buddhism, while Ovid's verse conjures a delightful dimension to the flora and fauna that surround her. Women in Roman history, and an ancient tomb inscription give her new understanding and empathy for her tragic, long deceased mother. Finally, Virgil reconciles her to her new life--no longer an urban exile, but a rustic scholar, writer and teacher. Along the way, she meets an impassioned cast of characters: professors, students and classicists outside of academia who keep Latin very much alive. Written with humor, heart, and an infectious enthusiasm for words, Patty's book is an object lesson in how learning and literature can transform the past and lead to an unexpected future.
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Learning to carpe diem
Ann Patty was at loose ends after being forced into early retirement from her high-powered job in book publishing. It was 2008, the recession was grinding everything to a halt, and suddenly Patty, the editor of the bestselling Life of Pi, was rattling around her home in upstate New York. She joined Match.com, read piles of books and weeded her garden. But something was missing from this new life.
“I took on more and more uninspiring freelance work and honed my gourmet cooking skills,” she writes in her lovely new memoir, Living with a Dead Language. “With the companionship of too many glasses of wine, I could while away hours comparing recipes, shopping, and preparing meals. . . . I gained ten pounds.”
Worried that she would become “a drunk, a bore, a depressive,” Patty decides to study Latin at nearby Vassar College. She is the oldest student—by far—and her classmates don’t quite know what to make of her, mostly choosing instead to gaze at their cellphones until class starts. But slowly, Patty decodes the language and learns some things about herself in the process.
Look, I know what you’re thinking: a book about a retiree studying Latin in Poughkeepsie. Titillating! But Patty brings humor and clarity to her storytelling, and she paints a vivid picture of her hours toiling in a musty college classroom. Anyone who loves words and language will recognize him or herself in these pages. Through the study of a dead language, she makes peace with her past and finds purpose in this next phase of her life.