Other People's Words: Friendship, Loss, and the Conversations That Never End (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

The moment after I read the last sentence, I sent a message to Lissa thanking her for writing this. In a beautiful combination of linguistics, letters, and love, Lissa shares her story of grief after the unrelated passing of two of her closest friends. As someone with an affinity for language, I deeply appreciate her use of linguistic philosophy and theory to impress the weight of words and meaning and how they emanate beyond their initial utterance. I have sinfully dog-eared many of my copy’s pages in an attempt to squirrel away sentences for when I need to read them most. I hope this book brings readers the same comfort it brought me.

— From Bailey


What if the great love of your life is friendship?

In their twenties, Lissa Soep and her boyfriend forged deep friendships with two other couples--Mercy and Christine; and Emily and Jonnie--until, decades later, Jonnie died suddenly, in an accident, and Christine passed away after a mysterious illness. Christine had been a writer, Jonnie a storyteller. Lissa couldn't imagine a world without their letters, postcards, texts--a world without their voices. Then she found comfort in a surprising place. As a graduate student, she had studied the philosophy of the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who wrote about the many voices that can echo through a single person's speech. Suddenly, Bakhtin's theory that our language is "filled to overflowing with other people's words" came to life. Lissa began hearing Jonnie and Christine when least expected. In a conversation with Emily, a familiar phrase was spoken, and suddenly, there was Jonnie, with his riotous laugh, vibrant in her mind. Mercy recited an Adrienne Rich poem in just the way Christine used to and, for a moment, Christine was with them in the room.

Other People's Words shows us how we carry within us the language of loved ones who are gone, and how their words can be portals to other times and places. Language--as with love--is boundless, and Other People's Words is an intimate, original, and profoundly generous look at its power to nurture life amid the wreckage of grief. Dialogues do not end when a friendship or person is gone; instead, they accrue new layers of meaning, showing how the conversations we share with those we love continue after them, and will continue after us.

About the Author

Lissa Soep is senior editor for audio at Vox Media and special projects producer and senior scholar-in-residence at YR Media. She has a PhD from Stanford, where she studied education, social theory, and linguistic anthropology with leading Bakhtin scholars. She lives in San Francisco.

Product Details
ISBN: 9781954118355
ISBN-10: 195411835X
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Publication Date: April 16th, 2024
Pages: 160
Language: English