Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: Between You and Me by Mary Norris

I am a complete grammar nerd; I just love grammar. My children don't want to let me read their papers because they know that they won't just get corrections, they will get explanations for the corrections. They are not grammar nerds, and they do not appreciate my teachable moments. This drives me nuts (although my dad contends that it's not a drive; it's a short putt). If I can't influence their writing, at least I seem to have had an impact on their speaking. Maybe someday they'll let me look at their papers too. I doubt it, but in the meantime, I can at least feed my inner grammar nerd by reading books like Mary Norris' Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen to get my fix.

Norris is a copy editor at The New Yorker. She's been there for more than three decades, copyediting amazing authors, meeting famous literati, and being surrounded by some of the best and brightest in the publishing and magazine industries. As she addresses some of the most common grammatical problems normal people encounter, she weaves in her experiences at work on the same subject. She tackles all sorts of punctuation (commas, hyphens, dashes, parentheses, etc.), spelling, word order, profanity in print, pronouns, and more. Each self-contained essay is fairly short and her stance on the topic is easily understood. Her examples from her years at the magazine are not only real world examples, they are completely engaging. Norris explains prescriptive grammarians versus descriptive grammarians, where she falls on the spectrum, and why. Her writing is accessible and the anecdotes are fun. Those looking for a handbook of grammar will not find it here, even though most readers will still learn several things from these highly entertaining and intelligent essays.

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