I bought the book Between You and Me; Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris because I am a self-confessed grammar-nerd wannabe. I hope that I am worldlier than that in real life, but as a freelance copy editor, I do have an interest and a healthy respect for the English language. It turns out that this book is not a typical information book to add to my reference library. Along with explanations of many grammar rules, Mary Norris presents anecdotes from her thirty-five year career at The New Yorker’s legendary copy department, as well as some history of how our language developed. Pretty fascinating, even if you don’t get a charge out of proofreading and copy editing!
She explains frequently mistaken rules and expresses them in plain English, and each chapter outlines an element of style and details its origins. Simply looking at the table of contents (including Spelling Is for Weirdos, Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon, and Ballad of a Pencil Junkie); you know that the author is very funny.
This useful and entertaining book explains the mysteries of commas, hyphens, and dangling participles; while the author adds levity to the subject. For example, she speaks of one of her favorite words being “weird,” and her desire for profanity to be used properly. Her references range from classic literature to Homer Simpson, so you have to appreciate her sense of humor.
Many times, reading a book like this gives me that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” feeling, but the author’s unpretentious and witty writing style allowed me to enjoy the book while learning from it. In fact, she states, “Nobody knows everything – one of the pleasures of language is that there is always something new to learn – and everybody makes mistakes.” Phew!
Very enjoyable to read and not your traditional guide to spelling, punctuation, and grammar, I was not surprised to see this book make its way to the bestseller list. The author is self-deprecating and humble, and I admire and envy her great intelligence and her experience at The New Yorker. She has mastered her craft, and she presents it in a warm and non-intimidating manner. And yes, the correct grammar is, “Between you and me,” not “Between you and I!”
Don’t miss The Avid Reader interview with author Mary Norris about this book on May 30 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on WCHE 1520 AM and also on podcast.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop