Between You & Me

Confessions of a Comma Queen
by Mary Norris
First sentence: “Let’s get one thing straight right from the beginning: I didn’t set out to be a comma queen.”
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Content: There’s a passage with about four F-words, and then a whole chapter on swearing. It’s in the Literary Reference section of the bookstore.

I am not an expert grammarian. I didn’t really pay attention in school when it came to the parts of a sentence or how things are ordered, or when to use (or not use) commas (which I use much too abundantly). But, a good book on grammar? I love that. I don’t know what it is, why I adore learning about this obnoxious language of ours, but I do.

And Between You & Me is a great book on grammar. (Which means I adored it.)

Mary Norris has been a copy-editor at the New Yorker magazine for the past thirty years, so she has some credibility. But, what she also has is a terrific voice. It’s not only readable, she has a snarky streak that is just endearing. She recounts a bit of the history of her time at the magazine, their style differences with the New York Times, and a little bit about how she ended up as a copy-editor. All of which is fascinating.

But what I really enjoyed was a refresher on grammar. Her chapter on commas (where she took on both Melville and Dickens). Or a whole one on apostrophes. (Where she came up with this: “If you are going to put a sign with your family’s name on it in front of your house, as if to say ‘Our House,’ then you wan the plural possessive: The Volts’. And if your name ends in an s you still want the plural, even if it looks terrible: The Norrises’. And if you don’t like it, simply refrain from putting a sign with your name on it in front of your house.” I almost stood up and cheered.) And even the chapter on cursing was entertaining.

I could go on, but i won’t. I’ll just say this: read it. You won’t regret it.