Greek To Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen, Mary Norris; W. W. Norton & Company, 2019
If you’re lucky enough to have read her previous book, or seen any of her video clips (“vodcasts?”) from The New Yorker, where she’s been a copy editor, contributor, proofreader, and general “Comma Queen,” you already know that she doesn’t fit the “Mrs. Grundy” image many of us (especially writers) have of people in such roles. Her writing convinces me that not only would it be worthwhile to have her correct my punctuation, but that she would be fun to be with while she did it.
Greek to Me…, is part memoir, part excursion into the works of Homer, part meditation on a midwestern-America Catholic girlhood in the ‘50s and ’60s, and the womanhood that followed it. The book is entirely, however, a showcase for a mind and sensibility that impresses with its breadth of reference material (she seems to remember everything she ever learned or read or heard in conversation), and the agility with which connections and associations seem to occur to her.
She also impresses with her restraint; there are frequent constructions that suggest (to me at least) that she has made some off-the-wall associations of the type that would occur to me naturally, but perhaps not so to everyone, so she sort of backhands a clue into a seemingly harmless sentence, where it can sit and simply do its obvious job otherwise unnoticed except by some of us whose mind appears to work in ways similar to hers. My eyebrows rose a number of times while thinking “That sounded like something Groucho would have said,” or “That sounds like a Monty Python line…” (not a specific Groucho quote or Python line, just typologically).
Greek to Me is highly entertaining, even more highly informative, and (as far as I can tell) flawlessly punctuated. I recommend it totally.