- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 6, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393240185
- ISBN-13: 978-0393240184
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 450 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen 1st Edition
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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
“Hilarious… [T]his book charmed my socks off.”
- Patricia O’Conner, New York Times Book Review
“Ms. Norris, who has a dirty laugh that evokes late nights and Scotch, is…like the worldly aunt who pulls you aside at Thanksgiving and whispers that it is all right to occasionally flout the rules.”
- Sarah Lyall, The New York Times
“[P]ure porn for word nerds.”
- Allan Fallow, Washington Post
“Mary Norris has an enthusiasm for the proper use of language that’s contagious. Her memoir is so engaging, in fact, that it’s easy to forget you’re learning things.”
- Miriam Krule, Slate
“[A] winningly tender, funny reckoning with labor and language.”
- Megan O'Grady, Vogue
“Very funny, lucid, and lively.”
- Julia Holmes, The New Republic
“Funny and endearing.”
- Joanna Connors, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Laugh-out-loud funny and wise and compelling from beginning to end.”
- Steve Weinberg, Houston Chronicle
“Down-to-earth memoir interwoven with idiosyncratic, often funny ruminations on the nuts and bolts of language.”
- Linda Lowenthal, Boston Globe
Top customer reviews
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Ms Norris's book is not a grammar textbook and she's really quite gentle on everyday speaking and writing. She discusses some punctuation that we all use - I really don't think she likes writing with dashes - and gives us examples of the good and the bad. (Let me say right up front that I couldn't write without using dashes and that's my excuse for using them! But I'm not writing for The New Yorker, and thanks god for that.) Ms Norris quotes a note Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Richard Nixon after her husband's death. The note was dashed off in that breathy style with which she spoke - full of dashes to keep her thoughts somewhat straight. Norris takes the same note and "corrects" it. The result was a grammatical correct message, but one lacking in Mrs Kennedy's distinctive style. Would Richard Nixon want correctness - or heart? I know which one I'd want!
Ms Norris's book is great fun to read, while learning some "Ps" and "Qs". There are some swear words in the text; it's not offensive but just surprising. Now, in this review, I've tried to use most of the punctuation she writes about. Let's hope I'm using it correctly!
A great deal of the book is devoted to discussion of grammar and punctuation -- again a topic which most people aren't interested in. Most of us learn to speak and write as young children, and our understanding of the basic rules is inculcated along with the superego. Add a star if you care to review the proper use of the semi colon or pronoun selection.
Finally, there's Ms. Norris herself, who looks as if she should be devoting her life to perfecting the chocolate chip cookie, discussing her search for a source of #1 (soft lead) pencils, and revealing what for most of us will be new information about the two-hole pencil sharpener. Her charm should be good for the fifth star.
In other words, this is a wonderful book if all conditions are met. If you don't care for the magazine, could not care less about the future of the apostrophe, and have no interest in the properties of pencil erasers, you'll probably skip chapters and consider this book a waste of time and money. But, if all conditions are met, Between You and Me is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.
I love this type of book but get the puckers when I start to review it. The how-tos are here but it’s simply too late to correct my wayward word usage. I’ll just have to make do with my ingrained incompetence. Mary Norris, Comma Queen, please accept my apologies for the errors of my ways. But know that “Between You & Me” is one of the best of the help books I’ve read.
Norris is one of those people: a copy editor with all the answers. But she’s not prickly. She knows what to do with grammar and punctuation; passing on her knowledge without snipe or snarl. Her explanations are clever, clear, and sometimes comical. The advice is practical and should be easily assimilated by even the biggest dolt. One doesn’t expect to have fun reading about punctuation, spelling, and usage. But this book is pure entertainment in its counsel with amusement on every page.
The author is going to coach you on subjunctives, spoken versus written language, word breaks, compounds, pronoun gender, and other scary elements. Along the way she’ll touch on commas, colons, dashes, hyphens, semicolons, and other punctuation marks that we all know about. Or do we? If you let this frighten you away, you’ll miss some unforgettable examples of how to get it right.
It would be a good idea for the censor cops at Amazon to read Chapter 9 with the earthy title of F*CK THIS SH*T. Norris discusses the use of profanity, decries its abolition, and, obliquely, takes a poke at Amazon’s hypercritical policy of bouncing reviews that have even a hint of impropiety. That practice has always been annoying to me. Amazon is a publishing giant that is willing to sell anything—erotica, rap music with explicit lyrics, sexual tools and potions, books with profanity in the title—but will not publish a review that even hints at bad language or contains veiled sexual banter.
This is a must-have book for readers and writers. It might not improve your overall grammar and language skills, but it will make you appreciate that there are people out there who would have you to do better, who work hard at making it simple, and who should be listened to with an appreciative ear. Mary Norris. More than just a Comma Queen.
Schuyler T Wallace
Author of TIN LIZARD TALES