STUMP » Articles » Weekend books: Lost in Language - quick review, and my search for new voices » 11 April 2015, 19:20

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Weekend books: Lost in Language - quick review, and my search for new voices  


11 April 2015, 19:20

I was going to write a book review here, but I’m still thinking on elaborating.

Short story (to be elaborated in a post later): Someone saw I had reviewed David Sedaris’s book Me Talk Pretty One Day … back in 2001. Anyway, he had obviously sent out some targeted marketing to promote his own memoir, thinking it would be related to something like Sedaris’s.

And while he absolutely found the right target with me, I didn’t see him like Sedaris.

Jay Desind, the author, sent me a review copy of his not-quite-yet-finished-at-the-time (in terms of editing) book, and after reading it, I wrote the following:

I feel I have made a new friend.

Jay shows there’s nothing so American as an American in a different country. The structure of the memoir is based on the days of an Italian language class in Padua, but it is more an expanding spiral where you get glimpses of a story that you don’t see until you look back from the end. It reminded me of Tristram Shandy, but with much more of a point.

Lots of good humor, and very touching to this middle-aged lady, this is a book for people with a few years on them. Just got out of college? Mmmm, you’re probably not ready yet. Get it and take it out in ten years, when you’re no longer feeling like a kid. No you don’t need to have dreamed about going to a different country, just accumulate the dings all of us get as we get experience, esp. outside the well-ordered paths.

The book is Lost in Language: really long subtitle I’m not copying right now.

There were many differences: while I enjoyed the story of David Sedaris, a gay American who ended up finding love in Continental Europe and was having a hell of a time learning the local language – which is the surface story Jay Desind has to tell – I didn’t feel like I had made a friend with him, even though both of us had lived in Raleigh. This is not to detract from Sedaris, just something I noticed.

Also, I was still in my 20s when I reviewed Me Talk Pretty One Day. I’m almost 41 years old now. This is extremely relevant. I’ve been through a lot in the almost 15 years since I read Sedaris’s book.

So, let’s say you’re an author who wants someone to review your book. I’m not a big name, to be sure, but I’m a heavy reader, and I have a wide range of interests. I’m especially good if you have a niche market you’re going for — not only do I post reviews at Amazon (which, if you look at my history, has a hole larger than a decade) and Goodreads, but sometimes I get reviews published in actuarial newsletters. Okay, so it’s not only beach reading I cover.

If you want to look at my publication history you are welcome to, and you’ll see that I’ve done lots of book reviews of relevant nonfictional books for actuaries, and I also did an analysis of Niven & Pournelle’s Inferno, which can be seen on my website (and Niven ran it on his own website as well). I did a bunch of Amazon reviews before I had kids.

Jeez, I’m getting old.

Anyway, my primary form of entertainment is reading. I’m not a lot into TV or movies. I like opera, but it’s more listening to the music than watching any action.

I go in waves, and right now I’m in a mood to find new voices.

I have my stable of authors I keep re-reading, like Dickens, Austen, and Pratchett. But every so often I get bitten by a bug to read authors who are new to me. I signed up for a sustaining Worldcon membership this year, because a friend told me that you get e-copies of most of the works to vote for the Hugo awards… I hadn’t read any of the nominated works, so thought this was an awesome opportunity.

I do get queried on review copies from time to time, so let me tell you the types of stuff I like to read:

  • Comedy (I don’t mean jokes – I mean comedic genre like comedic fantasy – Pratchett; comedic SF like Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog; comedic mystery… okay, that one’s a bit tougher..and yes, comedic memoirs like Jay Desind’s)
  • Generally scifi/fantasy/mysteries that do not take themselves too seriously, not necessarily comedic
  • Linguistics (think Steven Pinker, John McWhorter, and any history of linguistic study, lexicography, grammarians, etc)
  • History of really specific topics – yes, I did really enjoy a book just on history of bananas in the United States.
  • Biographies of really interesting people from a variety of angles (I’ve been through multiple bios of Ben Franklin and Winston Churchill lately – from all sorts of angles – but I also love lives like what Don Surber has been covering. One person who has captivated me is Candace Wheeler.)
  • Business/finance/management books, but you need a good hook
  • Excel/programming/data analysis

I have a wide variety of interests, and I’m not sure if other people can see my Goodreads profile but yes, I have read 181 unique books since August 2012. Many of those books on the list I’ve read multiple times, even in the three years. And yes, I usually am reading more than 5 books concurrently. I have my reasons, the main one being reading is my primary entertainment and just like most people switch between TV shows, I switch between books.

The other reason is that I still read dead tree books, and sometimes I forget where I left specific copies.

Anyway, if you’re an author who wants your work reviewed and it relates to my list of stuff I put above, feel free to email me at

I can’t promise I’ll get through your book or even review it, but I can promise that I will not publicly post a negative review if you give me a free copy. I’ll give you negative feedback privately or not at all.

I tend to review things only to promote them to other people, because we all have only finite time on this earth, so I want to tell people what I think is worthwhile spending that time on… or telling people if they like particular sorts of things, they’ll like it.

So back to Jay Desind: if you are a middle-aged person who has been dinged up a bit, and you can deal with a narrative that is more spiral in time than linear, and like tangents about a story the author wrote as a kid about a tree in a town where everybody died of the plague…. then you’ll like his book.

But I’ll write more about it later, because there’s other issues that touch on my own experience.

I don’t care if the whole memoir is a lie, but it reads as true to me, because it’s not the dramatic “OHHHH I OVERCAME DRUGS!!!” bullshit that got other people on Oprah’s book list. It’s the normal pinball machine caroming one gets caught up in.

But as I said, that’s for another time.

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