Book Review: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
July 4, 2015 4 Comments
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 amazon.com 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: http://video.newyorker.com/watch/comma-queen-comma-queen-series-premiere