“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
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.
Readers—and writers—will find in Norris neither a scold nor a softie but a wise and witty new friend in love with language and alive to the glories of its use in America, even in the age of autocorrect and spell-check. As Norris writes, “The dictionary is a wonderful thing, but you can’t let it push you around.”
What fun! Mary Norris’s excellent memoir/grammar book is funny, clever, informative, and endlessly entertaining. She recounts her early days at The New Yorker, learning the rules of copy editing one pencil mark at a time. She has chapters dedicated to the finer nuances of punctuation, a fascinating chapter on vulgarity and swear words in print, and an homage to her obsession with pencils.
I listened to the audiobook, which has pros and cons. On the pro side, Mary Norris herself is the narrator. She has a distinctive voice, very sharp and clear, and you can sense the humor underlying every sentence she utters. On the con side, some of the punctuation chapters were especially difficult to follow, and I think I would have enjoyed them more if I’d at least had a print copy on hand for reference.
Between You & Me is perfect for word geeks and bibliophiles everywhere. I think I need to grab a hard copy to keep on hand for the next time I need to clarify some commas or hyphens, or finally settle on whether to use “which” or “that”.
Title: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
Author: Mary Norris
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
Publication date: August 4, 2016
Print length: 240 pages
Audiobook length: 8 hours, 10 minutes