Summary and book reviews of Greek to Me by Mary Norris

Greek to Me

Adventures of the Comma Queen

by Mary Norris

Greek to Me by Mary Norris X
Greek to Me by Mary Norris
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  • Published:
    Apr 2019, 240 pages

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Book Summary

The Comma Queen returns with a buoyant book about language, love, and the wine-dark sea.

In her New York Times bestseller Between You & Me, Mary Norris delighted readers with her irreverent tales of pencils and punctuation in The New Yorker's celebrated copy department. In Greek to Me, she delivers another wise and funny paean to the art of self-expression, this time filtered through her greatest passion: all things Greek.

Greek to Me is a charming account of Norris's lifelong love affair with words and her solo adventures in the land of olive trees and ouzo. Along the way, Norris explains how the alphabet originated in Greece, makes the case for Athena as a feminist icon, goes searching for the fabled Baths of Aphrodite, and reveals the surprising ways Greek helped form English. Filled with Norris's memorable encounters with Greek words, Greek gods, Greek wine' - and more than a few Greek men' - Greek to Me is the Comma Queen's fresh take on Greece and the exotic yet strangely familiar language that so deeply influences our own.

Invocation

Sing in me, O Muse, of all things Greek that excite the imagination and delight the senses and magnify the lives of mortals, things that have survived three thousand years and more, since the time before the time of Homer, things that were old then and are new now—you know, the eternal. If that's not too much to ask, Muse. Please?

I don't know what gave me the idea I was good at foreign languages. I was an indifferent student of French in high school, though I longed to study at the Sorbonne instead of on the banks of the Cuyahoga. When I was in about fifth grade, my father refused to let me study Latin. The nuns had handpicked some students for a Saturday Latin class, and I was keen on it, but Dad flatly refused. My father was a pragmatic man. He worked for the fire department—one day on and two days off—and he could do anything around the house: roofing, plumbing, carpentry, laying linoleum. He grew up during the Depression, when jobs were scarce, so for ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A tribute to the written and spoken word, Greek To Me allows the reader the pleasure of meeting a writer who breaks all stereotypes for proofreaders, linguists and copy editors. Norris' sense of adventure and contagious love of learning for learning's sake shines through every page (Patricia E). What a fun book! It was like sitting down with a very down-to-earth chatty friend and comparing notes about all things classical - languages, literature and travel (Kathryn S).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (583 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A delightful celebration of a consuming passion.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
At the center of it all is her passion for Greek , a language often 'held to be impenetrable,' yet which gives her 'an erotic thrill, as if every verb and noun had some visceral connection to what it stands for.' For those who have long followed the Comma Queen, her latest outing will not disappoint.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
What a fantastic book! Not only is Greek to Me educational, entertaining, and gorgeously written, it shows us how intellectual curiosity coupled with a dash of bravery can pave the way for a more meaningful life. Mary Norris does for Greek and Greece what Cheryl Strayed did for hiking. Readers will long to follow in her footsteps.

Author Blurb Steve Martin
I fell in love with Mary Norris's first book, and am now even more in love with this charming, ribald, highly informed, and always funny excursion through the language, culture, and oddities of Greece and the Greek language. An adventure tale for intellectuals - and also for the rest of us.

Author Blurb Madeline Miller, best-selling author of Circe
In Greek to Me, Mary Norris' love for all things Greek is palpable and infectious. She is a charming, insightful guide through both ancient and modern glories, and I expect her lush descriptions of the Greek countryside to provoke a tourism stampede.

Author Blurb David Grann
As a reader, I would follow the writer Mary Norris wherever she goes, and I found myself enthralled by this wondrous journey through Greek myths and language and art. Norris brings everything into the glimmering light - most of all the beauty of words.

Author Blurb Caroline Fraser
Poignant, antic, hilarious, Mary Norris is the definition of wearing your learning lightly, and after a lifetime of Greek immersion, pouring beer libations, and skinny-dipping in the waters of Aphrodite, her lessons slip down sweetly. This book is true ambrosia.

Author Blurb Ian Frazier
Mary Norris, our master grammarian, proves that knowing the rules sets you free. Here she writes about Greek language, culture, and mythology with an untrammeled grace that's a delight to read and, almost incidentally, a demonstration of high-level literary skill. Greek to Me is a book to dive into - a page-turning and wonderful achievement.

Reader Reviews

Mary P. (Bellingham, WA)

Greek to Me
The author, Mary Norris, is an unabashed devotee of Greece-- its language, culture, history. ancient remains. Her enthusiasm comes through in this memoir, written with love and humor. Greece, here I come!

Patricia G. (Dyer, IN)

Ode on a Grecian Yearning
I thoroughly enjoyed traveling with Mary Norris through her experience of all things Greek, both ancient and modern. I truly learned something new on every page, and her vibrant voice and comprehensive scholarship brought each detail to life. ...   Read More

Marganna K. (Edmonds, WA)

Delightful
I love this book primarily for Mary Norris' writing style. The book is a memoir, a travelogue & a study of all things Greek. Admittedly this book won't appeal to all but what a fun romp through Greece with Ms. Norris! As a lover of language I am in ...   Read More

Susan L. (Alexandria, VA)

Greek Immersion
Norris indulges her love of all things Greek in this book and shares her passion for the language, both modern and ancient, as well as for the people and culture of Greece. The book was a delightful introduction to a land that changed and influenced ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Greek Influence on the English Language

Painting of the Greek nymph Echo by Talbot HughesAs Mary Norris notes in her travelogue/memoir/historical narrative Greek to Me, many words and terms in the English language are derived from Greek. These range from somewhat arcane medical and scientific terminology, to more commonly used words and phrases. The etymological evolutions are generally divided into three categories: learned borrowings, neologisms and vernacular words.

Learned borrowings came from the work of Medieval and Renaissance scholars studying Greek texts. These include words like "telescope" from the Greek  τηλεσκόπος, meaning "far-seeing."

Medical, scientific and technical neologisms (new words created from Greek prefixes and suffixes) make up the great ...

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