© 2022 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Book Review

'Comma Queen' Is A Joy To Read


Mary Norris describes the birth of her love affair with the New Yorker in her new book Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.

In the summer of 1977, she was reading one of writer John McPhee’s impeccable and exact pieces about the Alaskan wilderness, and came across a new word, "synecdoche." She could deduce what it meant from the context—a small thing writ large—as in the wilds of Alaska. What made her ecstatic was the knowledge that when McPhee used such a word, she knew it was the right word at exactly the right time.

Soon after, Norris left her career in the dairy industry and moved to Manhattan and got a job at The New Yorker. In Between You and Me, Norris describes her years as a member of the stratified team of readers who go through each article submitted for publication. The hierarchy is elaborate and based on years of passion for publishing great writing.

Working with such writers as Philip Roth, Pauline Kael, Ian Frazier and George Saunders, the word-loving Norris combines gossip with incredible grammar tips and reveals her passion for high-quality pencils. For Norris, choosing a great pencil is like finding a fine wine.

Between You and Me is a joy to read for so many reasons: Mary Norris’s down-to-earth, colorful voice, her useful and anecdotal tips on grammar, chapter headings such as “Spelling is for Weirdos” and “Comma Comma Comma Comma, Chameleon” and “Who put the Hyphen in Moby-Dick?” Not the least is that I feel like I met my new best friend.