Book Review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Between You & Me by Mary NorrisBetween You & Me: What it is about

The publisher says: “Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker‘s copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.

Between You & Me features Norris’s laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage—comma faults, danglers, “who” vs. “whom,” “that” vs. “which,” compound words, gender-neutral language—and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster’s groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world’s only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders.”

Between You & Me: What I thought

As soon as I found out about this book, I knew this was one for me. So when I got an amazon voucher for my birthday, from one of the freelance editors I work with at Book Helpline, I decided this was the perfect book to buy with it, and a perfect birthday present.

Since I’m an editor myself, I was curious to find out what an editor of the distinguished magazine The New Yorker had to say about our profession. I only know The New Yorker from their use of the diaeresis, the double dots on the second vowel in a word such as naïve. I had a fun email conversation with a Dutch author about this once; we researched it and found that The New Yorker is one of the very few publications that still uses it. The diaeresis is discussed in this book, I was happy to see.

Mary Norris starts off her story with her background: her education and her first jobs, and describes how she ended up, many years ago, at The New Yorker. Then she moves on to her editorial pet peeves and other nasty traps an unsuspecting writer may fall into. We also get a peek of her shelves in the office when she describes which dictionaries she preferably uses, and how the first dictionaries came into being. Her love for pencils and pencil sharpeners is described to some detail, too.

The beginning chapters had a certain logical order to them, about Mary Norris’s career and her first steps into the editing world. However, the later chapters seemed like a random selection of topics that interest her. Although I, too, found these topics interesting, for me the book fell apart a little at some point. Still, with her fun, no-nonsense way of writing, Norris managed to entertain me for all 230 pages which I read almost as fast as a good thriller.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 230

First published: 2015

I got this book: from an voucher that I received for my birthday

Genre: non-fiction, editing

Extra: See also the video’s that Mary Norris made, in which she describes some common spelling and grammar issues:


Book Review: The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry by Helen FitzgeraldThe Cry: What it is about

The publisher says: “When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.
Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other. Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?
Perfect for fans of Julia Crouch, Sophie Hannah and Laura Lippman, The Cry was widely acclaimed as one of the best psychological thrillers of the year. There’s a gripping moral dilemma at its heart and characters who will keep you guessing on every page.”

The Cry: What I thought

In this novel, you know more or less what happened from the start. And that’s fine. What we don’t know is, what will happen to Joanna and Alistair, the parents of the missing baby.

They made a bad decision (I believe), the kind that, once you’ve done it, you can’t go back without making things ten times worse. So they stick with it.

After the first chapters are narrated by Joanna, the story moves to Alexandra, the ex-wife of Alastair. She’s worried because, as his ex-wife, she is one of the suspects of the baby’s disappearance. Since we already have a good idea of what happened, it’s interesting to see the continuation of the story through someone else’s eyes, who does not know the truth.

Later, we discover that Joanna is on the brink of collapsing, while Alastair tries to keep it together. Their relationship starts to crumble as their reactions to what happened differ so much, and Alastair tries to force Joanna to follow his example.

An interesting tale, with a few unexpected twists. Fun to read, and a quick read, too!

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 280 (my Dutch edition: De overdosis)

First published: 2013

I got this book: because a thriller festival that I had bought tickets for had been cancelled. They refunded the ticket and sent me a thriller book of my choice, as a consolation prize.

Genre: thriller

Also read by Helen Fitzgerald:  The Duplicate, Bloody Women, My Last ConfessionThe Donor


Book Review: Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Love May Fail by Matthew QuickLove May Fail: What it is about

Harper (publisher) says: “An aspiring feminist and underappreciated housewife embarks on an odyssey to find human decency and goodness—and her high school English teacher—in New York Times bestselling author Matthew Quick’s offbeat masterpiece, a quirky ode to love, fate, and hair metal.

Portia Kane is having a meltdown. After escaping her ritzy Florida life and her cheating pornographer husband, she finds herself back in South Jersey, a place that remains largely unchanged from the years of her unhappy youth. Lost and alone, looking to find the goodness in the world she believes still exists, Portia sets off to save herself by saving someone else—a beloved high school English teacher who has retired after a traumatic incident.

Will a sassy nun, an ex-heroin addict, a metal-head little boy, and her hoarder mother help or hurt her chances on this madcap quest to restore a good man’s reputation and find renewed hope in the human race? Love May Fail is a story of the great highs and lows of existence: the heartache and daring choices it takes to become the person you know (deep down) you are meant to be.”

Love May Fail: What I thought

A book about helping other people and almost forgetting about yourself. People who may not deserve your help, and who certainly aren’t grateful for it. But it’s also a story about destiny: are certain things pre-ordained? There are some amazing coincidences in the story – but are they really just coincidences? Is this all meant to be?

Portia has walked out of her marriage and decides to find back her old school teacher who was such an inspiration to her. He’s not who he used to be and Portia tries to help him, but he does not want her help. She fails badly. Luckily, she is more successful in other ways, until she reaches rock bottom herself and she needs help from others.

The book is divided into several parts, each told by a different narrator, in such a way that one person picks up where the previous one left. One person is dead, but we read her letters. This is only a short section; many letters in a row can be a bit tiresome, but this was just fine.

The story was sometimes a little slow and sometimes ridiculous. It was not a perfect book, but it was interesting, and, like Quick’s previous book, The Good Luck of Right Now, discusses some important questions about life and death.

An easy and fun read, with something to think about.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 400

First published: 2015

I got this book: from the publisher for an honest review

Genre: contemporary fiction

Also read by this author: The Good Luck of Right Now 


Book Review: Light and Dark by Natsume Sōseki

Light and Dark by Natsume SosekiLight and Dark: What it is about

Columbia University Press (publisher) says: “Light and Dark, Natsume Soseki’s longest novel and masterpiece, although unfinished, is a minutely observed study of haute-bourgeois manners on the eve of World War I. It is also a psychological portrait of a new marriage that achieves a depth and exactitude of character revelation that had no precedent in Japan at the time of its publication and has not been equaled since. With Light and Dark, Soseki invented the modern Japanese novel.

Recovering in a clinic following surgery, thirty-year-old Tsuda Yoshio receives visits from a procession of intimates: his coquettish young wife, O-Nobu; his unsparing younger sister, O-Hide, who blames O-Nobu’s extravagance for her brother’s financial difficulties; his self-deprecating friend, Kobayashi, a ne’er-do-well and troublemaker who might have stepped from the pages of a Dostoevsky novel; and his employer’s wife, Madam Yoshikawa, a conniving meddler with a connection to Tsuda that is unknown to the others. Divergent interests create friction among this closely interrelated cast of characters that explodes into scenes of jealousy, rancor, and recrimination that will astonish Western readers conditioned to expect Japanese reticence.

Released from the clinic, Tsuda leaves Tokyo to continue his convalescence at a hot-springs resort. For reasons of her own, Madam Yoshikawa informs him that a woman who inhabits his dreams, Kiyoko, is staying alone at the same inn, recovering from a miscarriage. Dissuading O-Nobu from accompanying him, Tsuda travels to the spa, a lengthy journey fraught with real and symbolic obstacles that feels like a passage from one world to another. He encounters Kiyoko, who attempts to avoid him, but finally manages a meeting alone with her in her room. Soseki’s final scene is a sublime exercise in indirection that leaves Tsuda to “explain the meaning of her smile.”

Light and Dark: What I thought

First of all, this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned. A hardback, with a pressed-in print of the title and author, a beautiful loose cover. The paper has serrated edges and each chapter starts with a small picture. The paper is slightly shiny and very pleasant to read from. I love this physical book!

soseki1 soseki2

The story of the newlywed couple is fun to read but rather slow. Although the story was written in 1916, it felt quite modern, with O-Nobu, the wife, going her own way as much as she could. She seems quite the feminist. Of course, she hadn’t know her husband for very long (I think the marriage was arranged) so she was more likely to spend time in the theater with her friends than visiting her husband Tsuda in the hospital.

Also the wife of Tsuda’s employer plays a mysterious role in this story. She is an independent woman, too, who hides certain things from her husband and has a connection with Tsuda of some kind. In addition, Tsuda’s friend Kobayashi, who is so poor he has to beg a coat off Tsuda, is a fun character.

The combination of the beautiful book, the interesting characters and the exotic setting in time and place, made this a magical read. However, the story itself never grabbed me enough to keep reading. I read several pages a day for the month of April and part of May (because of East-Asia Month) but almost halfway, I felt it was enough. I may get back to this book at some point, but for now, I’m just very pleased that I own this beautiful book and that I read some of the story. In fact, since the author died before he could finish the manuscript, I would not be able to read the full story anyway. :-)

Rating: DNF (Did Not Finish – but: very beautiful!)

Number of pages: 422 (I read until page 188)

First published: 1916 (Japanese edition, Meian; this edition 2014, translated by John Nathan)

I got this book: I won a giveaway by Tony of Tony’s Reading List

Genre: classic (Japanese)



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