Book of the Week 4/20/15

Between You and Me

I discovered Mary Norris’ Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015) on the feed of my personal Tumblr blog and found it too splendid not to feature it as a Book of the Week profile. Review:

An Amazon Best Book of April 2015: Once upon a time, a couple or few decades ago, most American boys and girls in grade school were taught grammar and punctuation; we learned, for example, that “i” came before “e,” except after “c” (except sometimes, but never mind) and that the verb “to be” was “like an equal sign,” which meant that you used the nominative case (have I lost you yet?) on both sides of it. (“It is I,” in other words, is the correct, if dowdy, response to “Who’s there?”) Some of us were even taught to diagram sentences; some had parents who corrected us at the family dinner table. (I can still hear my father pressing the subjunctive upon me. “If I WERE,” he’d bellow, when I allowed as how there’d be later curfews if I “was” in charge.) Whether they retained the lessons or not, most people probably don’t wax romantic about the grammar lessons or teachers of yore.

Which is why even those of you who don’t have the soul of a second-grade grammar teacher will love Between You and Me, the hilarious and delightful “memoir” by the longtime New Yorker copy editor, Mary Norris, who confides in the subtitle that she is a “comma queen.” (The above is not a full sentence, I know — but I think I can get away with it by calling it “my style.” Also, I put quotation marks around the word “memoir,” Mary – I know you’re wondering — because I was trying to make the point that your book is an unusual take on the form, dealing as it does with thats and whiches as well as with your Ohio adolescence as a foot-checker at the local pool.) Who knew grammar could be so much fun — that silly marks of punctuation could be so wickedly anthropomorphized (a question mark is like a lazy person), that dashes grow in families (there are big dashes and little dashes and they can all live peaceably within one sentence), that there was once a serious movement to solve the he-or-she problem with the catchall “heesh”? Clearly, Norris knows: her book is plenty smart, but it’s its (one’s a contraction, one’s a possessive) joyful, generous style that makes it so winning. This is a celebration of language that won’t make anyone feel dumb – but it’s also the perfect gift for the coworker you haven’t been able to tell that “between” is a preposition that never, ever, takes an object that includes the pronoun “I.” – Sara Nelson

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is lighthearted yet doesn’t fail to emphasize on the lost art of grammar in our modern world of texting, Internet, and sometimes plain lazy writing. This book covers the uses of proper spelling, punctuation, and – believe it or not – the use of curse words, among other important factors of flawless grammar.

While it can make a good handbook for authors and others in the printed word fields, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen also comes highly recommended for everyday language use. For example spelling, proper sentence structure, and placement of commas, periods, etc. make a large difference between having a resume noticed or immediately having it tossed in a trash bin.

For those who love usage of words combined with wit, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is a sure bet!


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