(Belfast, ME) Left Bank Books is delighted to welcome The New Yorker’s Mary Norris, author of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, for a talk and signing at the shop on Friday evening, August 12 at 7:00 pm. The public is warmly invited to attend this free event, at which we will be minding our “Ps and Qs!” (Or, is it minding our p’s and q’s?)

Norris has spent more than three decades guarding The New Yorker’s celebrated copy department, where she’s worked with such distinguished writers as Philip Roth, Pauline Kael, and George Saunders. John McPhee has hailed her as the “verbal diagnostic” he would turn to for “a first, second, or third opinion on just about anything.”

Between You & Me is really two books in one: it’s a down-to-earth and very droll manual for untangling the most vexing spelling, punctuation, and usage quandaries in English, as well as a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the world of publishing.

Drawing on wide-ranging and funny examples (from Henry James, Emily Dickinson, and James Salter, to “The Girl from Ipanema,” Moby-Dick, and The Simpsons), Norris guides readers through the most common and confusing grammatical matters, including:

  • The hierarchy of punctuation, “a deeply conservative club [that] hardly ever admits a new member.” When is a dash like a dinner fork? Are semicolons necessary?
  • Why certain writers. . .are comma fanatics while others use the comma shaker more sparingly. . . .you’ll never look at the opening of the Lord’s Prayer the same way again.
  • The diminishing power of the apostrophe, which is continually scorned by governments and computer programmers. Instead of advocating for the Apostrophe Protection Society, Norris suggests embracing the apostrophe’s use both in possessives and contractions.

Although Norris is irreverent and blunt in her book, she is never snarky or snooty in her grammatical advice. She acknowledges the subjectivity of her work and advises readers to take a similar hands-on, case-by-case approach to language – “The dictionary is a wonderful thing, but don’t let it push you around.”

Norris began her professional career as a foot checker – dutifully checking patrons’ toes for athlete’s foot as they entered a Cleveland city pool – before working at a costume factory and driving a milk truck. Humble beginnings for a woman who would come to be known as a “prose goddess” at The New Yorker.

“Copy editing for The New Yorker,” Norris says, “is like playing shortstop for a Major League Baseball team — every little movement gets picked over by the critics.” And although she’s gotten a reputation for sternness and for being a “comma maniac,” this is unfounded, she says. Above all, “my work is aimed at one thing: making authors look good.”

Space is limited for Norris’s talk, so reservations are strongly encouraged. For more information, or to reserve signed copies of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, please call 207-338-9009 or email [email protected] The shop is open daily and located at 109 Church Street in downtown Belfast (opposite the post office).

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