Commas Can Be Sexy
A memoir from a “New Yorker” copy editor
Do you know when to use that versus which? (It has to do with restrictive clauses.)
Is it a “bright red car” or a “bright-red car”? (“Bright-red.” Bright modifies the shade of red.)
And why on earth do you need a second comma in the sentence “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin”? (We’ll let you noodle on that one.)
Learn all this and more in Mary Norris’s delightful new memoir-cum-usage-manual, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.
Norris, a 30-year copy editor for The New Yorker, is a stickler for the rules. It drives her bananas when folks say “between you and I” when they mean “between you and me.” But she also has a real love of literary culture, and in the midst of lessons on semicolon usage and gendered pronouns, she paints a delicious behind-the-scenes picture of life at the storied magazine.
There’s the time she quibbled with neurologist Oliver Sacks over the spelling of sulphur (The New Yorker prefers sulfur); the time film critic Pauline Kael fought to get the word shit into print; the time novelist Philip Roth was so smitten with her changes that he asked Norris to move in with him. (Alas, she didn’t.)
Basically, reading this book is like having a long, boozy lunch with Strunk and White.
What? That’s not a fantasy you’ve always harbored?