We loved every single letter to every single mark. Thank you!
Ben Greenman’s new book, What He’s Poised to Do, was recently published by Harper Perennial, and critics are already hailing its mix of emotional sophistication and formal innovation. Just the tip of the iceberg: Steve Almond, writing in the Los Angeles Times, calls the fourteen stories in the collection “astonishing,” and Pauls Toutonghi at Bookslut calls them “beautiful”—even better, “a book so beautiful, you’ll feel mysteriously compelled to mail it to a stranger.”
The book, in large part, deals with letters: how they are (or aren’t) effective conveyances for emotional intimacy and truth. Along with the book, Mr. Greenman has launched a site called Letters With Character, which invites readers to write letters to their favorite fictional characters—most recently, Alyosha Karamazov, Madame Psychosis from Infinite Jest, and Ernest Hemingway’s Yogi Johnson from The Torrents of Spring.
Here at Emdashes, we love letters (especially those sent through the postal mail), but there’s something we love even more: punctuation. Indeed, when we discovered that the upside-down question mark—as in ¿Qué?—had no official name, we challenged you, our readers, to rename it, and now the frequent (you wouldn’t believe how frequent) googlers who seek this information know the answer: it is the interroverti, all thanks to you.
In the same spirit, we’re combining two of our top-ten passions in life and challenging you to write a letter to your favorite punctuation mark, or perhaps one you find elusive, insufficiently loved, or sound but overexposed. Tell it anything you want: your fears, your frustrations, your innermost desires. Then put it in the comments section below so we can read it, too. Deadline: August 16. (We know all too well that it can take a bit of time to write a good letter—or even a telegraphic telegram.)
Here is a partial list of possible correspondents, with the current tally of blushing recipients marked in bold, and also ranked here in descending order of popularity: the acute accent, the air quote, the ampersand (3), the apostrophe (7), the asterisk (2), the at-the-price-of, the at sign (3), the backslash, the bracket, the bullet, the caret, the colon (3), the comma, the curly quote, the dagger, the dash ditto mark, the diaeresis, the dollar sign, the double hyphen (which is perhaps not what you thought it was), the ellipsis (10), the em dash (2)—toward which some jurors are slightly biased—or the en dash, the newly coined exclaquestion mark, the exclamation point (7), the full stop (2), the grawlix (2), the hyphen, the interpunct, the interrobang (2), the inverted exclamation point, the interroverti (formerly the inverted question mark), the little star, the macron, the manicule (2), the number sign, the parenthesis (((3))), the percent sign, the period (3), the pilcrow, the pound sign, the question mark (3), the quotation mark (or a pair of them), the controversial semicolon (7), the smart quote, the slash, the tilde (2), the underline, the Oxford comma, or any other mark close to your heart but not listed here. We will select the best letter and award the writer a signed copy of Mr. Greenman’s book, which may in fact contain the beloved mark in question. He may even add an extra one just for you.
Remember: Post your letter in the comments below by August 16, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of this exceptionally satisfying book of stories by one of our favorite writers. The best of the entry letters will all be collected in a post of their own, with sparkles, blue ribbons, and plenty of punctuation. If you can’t wait till mid-August to find out if you’ve won, and/or have friends who love letters and will love this book, of course, you can also order a copy.
Posting tip: You can use basic HTML tags to make line spaces; try the paragraph and break tags, as needed. If you don’t know how or would like our help, we are obsessive editor types and are happy to right the spacing for you.
Art note: The painting on the book cover is by Alyssa Monks, whose portraits of women and men and bodies and children and water and funny faces are scorchingly beautiful.
Factual note: We realize that some of these marks are really less punctuation than they are typographical elements. But since they’re getting letters, or we think they should, we’re including them.
Related posts and links:
Short Imagined Monologues: I Am the Period at the End of This Paragraph. [Ben Greenman, McSweeney’s]
Exciting Emdashes Contest! ¿What Should We Call the Upside-Down Question Mark?
Our in-depth coverage of punctuation—five years and counting!
More Emdashes contests, giveaways, and assorted bunk
Is That an Emoticon in 1862? [NYT/City Room]
Hello! We're a small band of culture writers, editors, and artists based in New York and Los Angeles. Emdashes, which spent its formative years as a New Yorker fan blog, is our collection of conversations—mostly civilized—about magazines, movies, design, punctuation, and other things that stir us.
Want to know more about the people who contribute to Emdashes, and the secret meanings behind our column titles? All about us.
We welcome tips, questions, comments, and corrections, and are always on the lookout for ardent, obsessive contributors. Click here to email us.
We host occasional book giveaways. Publishers, please email us for our postal address.
Looking for The New Yorker magazine? Kudos on your classy taste. Here's how to contact The New Yorker.
Emdashes, founded in 2004, is written and drawn by Emily Gordon, Martin Schneider, Pollux, Jonathan Taylor, and Benjamin Chambers, as well as occasional guest contributors. All posts before October 2008 are by Emily Gordon.