Tales of Paris and Language
by Laurie Graham

"Would you like to have an apartment here someday?” Laurie Graham’s husband asked as they stood on the Pont des Arts in Paris, gazing downriver, framed by the Louvre and the Institut de France. It was a question entirely out of the blue. The thought had never occurred to her. But confronted with the possibility, extraordinary as it seemed, who could say no?

In Other Words is the story of a love affair with a place and with a language. In prose filled with wit and self-deprecating charm, Laurie Graham tells of her search for that magical apartment, amid the accompanying muddle of French real estate practices, and her delight in and anxiety over the postage-stamp sized apartment on the Left Bank that she eventually found. The modest building, with its simple façade, dated to the mid-seventeenth century. Her fellow owners proved to be types that could have stepped out of a French novel. It was a perfect place to become, if only briefly and only once in a while—French!

Equally important, the apartment would give her a chance to plunge more deeply into a language she had loved since childhood. In her forays through the city, she found herself dazzled by the sounds, the meanings, the taste of words, testing them on her tongue, even writing poem lines based on the most beautiful words she encountered in her neighborhood—in shops, in restaurant windows, on street signs. “What makes a word beautiful?” she asked herself. “Why do things just sound better in French?"

Her experience of Paris has admittedly had its anxieties over the years—or worse. There was the bulge in the building’s façade that made her question the building’s soundness. And the phone call at four o’clock in the morning after a return trip to the States to the effect that her apartment ceiling had caved in. Most alarming was the sight of her husband lying delirious in a Paris hospital after being rushed there by ambulance late one cold winter night.

But most of all this is a book about joy, a book inspired by her desire—after the loss of nearly 2,000 books in a fire and her particular despair over the loss of her books in French—to explain to herself what it has meant to inhabit this alternate language and place. Filled with amusing anecdotes and unique insights, it sheds new light on why so many of us love Paris and the pleasure to be found in living in other words.

Laurie Graham was an editor at Scribner’s for eighteen years and is the author of Rebuilding the House, a New York Times Notable Book, and Singing the City: The Bonds of Home in an Industrial Landscape. With In Other Words she offers a unique look at Paris and language, shedding new light on why so many of us love Paris and the pleasure to be found in living in other words.

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