The BKBF Interview: Mary Norris


Mary Norris, author of Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen.


Where is your favorite place to read?
I like to read on public transportation. It could be the A train out of Rockaway, where I grab a window seat to enjoy the view of Jamaica Bay, or New Jersey Transit to Princeton, or a ferry—there is nothing more luxurious than commanding a ship as your office.

Tell us your best book-receiving experience.
I resisted buying a scrapbook-like biography of Charles Dickens put together by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, his great-great-great-granddaughter, on the occasion of his bicentenary (1812-2012). The book has photographs and facsimiles of documents: letters, his will, theater programs . . . I have the same birthday as Dickens (February 7th), and when he turned 200, I was a mere 60. A friend heard me talking about the book and surprised me with it.

What books are currently piled in your “To Be Read” stack … and where can the stack be found in your home?
There are several “To Be Read” stacks in my home, vertical and horizontal, in the bedroom, the hallway, and the living room/office, on bureaus, shelves, coffee table, and piano bench. One I lust to read is James Merrill: Life and Art, a biography by Langdon Hammer. Another is Afternoons in Ithaca, by Spiri Tsintziras, a Greek Australian. I’ve developed a taste for scholarly works on Greek and am hoping to read Beyond Greek: The Beginnings of Latin Literature, by Denis Feeney. Also The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood—I have avoided it because I don’t like dystopian literature, but it’s time.

What book do you return to most often, whether passages or whole?
It is a tossup between the Odyssey and Moby-Dick.

Who made reading important to you?
It was my grandmother, Mary B. Norris. One Thanksgiving, when I was a child, I had stuffed myself and felt terrible. She sat me on her lap and read to me, and I got lost in the story. When it was over, I felt better. It was like a miracle—reading as antacid! It made me realize the transporting power of the book. As long as I had a book, I had someplace to escape to, a place of comfort and security—my grandmother’s lap.

BONUS QUESTION: In honor of the 5th anniversary of Children’s Day, we’re asking everyone, What’s your favorite children’s book?
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame (read in my twenties)

Mary Norris is a writer and editor who is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and lives in Manhattan and Rockaway. She was educated at Rutgers University and at the University of Vermont. Her first book, the New York Times best-selling Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, was about her day job at The New Yorker, where she worked for over thirty years as a copy editor. Published in January 2019, Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen, is about what she did in her spare time: study Greek, travel to Greece, read the classics, and otherwise cultivate life as a philhellene.


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