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There’s a delightful essay in the 90th anniversary issue of the New Yorker, in which longtime copy editor Mary Norris expounds on her craft, with particular attention to the comma, and defends, almost successfully, the magazine’s indefensibly arcane comma style in sentences like “When I was in high school, at Horace Mann, in the Bronx, in the nineteen-seventies, everyone took pride in the brilliant eccentricity of our teachers.” (“I really don’t see how any of them could be done without.”) My favorite passage involves her questioning the idiosyncratic commas in James Salter’s novel Light Years. She’s sure Salter is too careful a writer to make a mistake; so why then does he insert an unnecessary comma in a line about a “thin, burgundy dress” that shows the outline of a woman’s stomach? And later: “that stunning, wide smile.” A ship’s “black, stained side.”
More… “Much Hinges”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.

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