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As I was putting the finishing touches on my last post, '50 Years Later, Paris' I'd just begun reading a book that sounded intriguing somehow, 'Between You & Me, Confessions of a Comma Queen', by Mary Norris, a copy editor for The New Yorker magazine.  I was attracted to it because commas have always been a mystery to me, not helped by the fact that a friend, Bill Moore, a poet and poetry journal publisher, commented once on the dearth of commas in my writing.  He said I needed more and implied there were firm rules (of which I was completely ignorant), about where they belonged. 

After reading Mary Norris, I now know the last to be false, there are no absolute rules.  Reading the book, which initially provoked panic, has now put my mind at rest.  She writes, for instance, "If commas are open to interpretation, hyphens are downright Delphic."  So, while Bill was right, I should consider commas my friends, I feel better knowing I do have a certain amount of latitude regarding both number and placement.  I can now move on to hyphens which, somehow, worry me less.

One might think a book about grammar and punctuation would be torture, and I admit to skipping a few pages here and there.  But between the discussions of rules are her experiences with writers, editors and life in general and it's a surprisingly good read.  And an easy way to take one's writing medicine.  I recommend it.

Last edited by PortMoresby
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I think you've just sold me another book (although I'm married to someone who has been accused—by me—of causing a world comma shortage). I think Mary Norris is nudging us all to the place I've arrived at: the two purposes of punctuation are clarity of intent, and to indicate emphasis for speaking. If the ancient rules don't accomplish that, and sometimes they don't, toss 'em!

As for me, I'm addicted to em dashes...hangover of my typographic career.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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