The Observer reached veteran New Yorker copy editor Mary Norris last week at Rockaway Beach, where she was taking a deserved vacation. She had, after all, just sold a book.
After three decades of red-pencil duties, Ms. Norris has, of late, been punchily defending the peculiarities of the storied weekly’s punctuation and house style for its Page-Turner blog. From these posts, which range in topic from the dreaded diaeresis (seen in coöperate and reëlect) to the mag’s prudish-but-evolving stance on the F-word, her forthcoming book, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, was born, with development help from her agent, David Kuhn.
An “irreverent manifesto” about the pleasures of language (“English, mostly, although I may throw in some Portuguese,” Ms. Norris wrote in an email), the book will be more instructive than personal, her editor at W.W. Norton, Matt Weiland, told us. But it’s not as if her own story doesn’t deserve telling: she has kept a blog for five years that is tangentially about alternate-side parking (tangentially being the only way one could sustain discussion of such a topic for so long), and she has written for other outlets about the two Dennises in her life—her transsexual sibling (now called Dee) and her second cousin Dennis Kucinich.
The book sold at auction for a rumored $425,000. Ms. Norris declined to comment on her advance, but noted wryly that it was considerably smaller than the reported $4 million Billy Crystal received for his memoir, which was sold on the same day. Despite the windfall, will she continue to report to the Condé Nast building every day? “Yes, I plan to keep my job,” she told us. “For one thing, I need the material.”
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