BETWEEN YOU & ME, BY MARY NORRIS
Should it be “short, balding man” or “short balding man”? “Bad hair day” or “bad-hair day”?
Mary Norris, a copy editor at The New Yorker for over thirty years, relishes these sorts of editorial decisions. “If commas are open to interpretation,” she writes in her literary memoir Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, “hyphens are downright Delphic.”
As an editor, I’m naturally interested in grammar, punctuation, and usage. But Norris’s book is not a practical guide with easy-to-locate advice. What drew me in and kept me reading was her voice: smart, straight-shooting, brassy and irreverent.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” she begins. “I didn’t set out to be a comma queen.”
But she has risen, over her 30 years at The New Yorker, to the august role of “page OK’er.” She is the one who gives the final “okay” to stories before they go to press.