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.