Between You & Me: Book summary and reviews of Between You & Me by Mary Norris

Between You & Me

Confessions of a Comma Queen

by Mary Norris

Between You & Me by Mary Norris X
Between You & Me by Mary Norris
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  • Published Apr 2015
    240 pages
    Genre: Advice

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Book Summary

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."

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. An educational, entertaining narrative… Unforgettable anecdotes… Countless laugh-out-loud passages… A funny book for any serious reader." - Kirkus

"Starred Review. Norris's handy guide is for writers of all levels. A great addition to public and academic library collections that support writing groups or programs." - Library Journal

A delightful discourse on the most common grammar, punctuation, and usage challenges faced by writers of all stripes… Norris writes with wit, sass, and smarts." - Publishers Weekly

"Between You & Me is smart and funny and soulful and effortlessly illuminating." - Ian Frazier

"Mary Norris brings a tough-minded, clear-eyed, fine-tuned wisdom to all the perplexities and traps and terrors of the English sentence." - Adam Gopnik

"Mary Norris is a grammar geek with a streak of mischief, and her book is obscenely fun." - Marilyn Johnson

"This is as entertaining as grammar can be. Very very. Read it and savor it." - Garrison Keillor

"A delightful mix of autobiography, New Yorker lore, and good language sense." - Ben Yagoda

"Mary Norris is the verbal diagnostician I would turn to for a first, second, or third opinion on just about anything." - John McPhee, in The New Yorker

This information about Between You & Me was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Cloggie Downunder

informative, witty and very funny
“What is a semicolon, anyway?” Is it half a colon? Is it a period on top of a comma? Or an apostrophe that has been knocked down and pinned by a period?”

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is the first book by Mary Norris, who has been on the staff of The New Yorker for some 35 years, and a Page OK’er for twenty of those. She has been referred to by some as a prose goddess, or a comma queen, and indeed, a whole chapter of this book is devoted to comma usage, and cleverly titled “Comma, comma, comma, comma, chameleon”.

This is a book that seems to be a mix of memoir, opinion piece, language textbook and history book. Norris describes the New Yorker’s Style rules (“It did sometimes feel as if we belonged to some strange cloistered order, the Sisters of the Holy Humility of Hyphens”) and some of its more eccentric personalities. This is a book packed with facts, but Norris conveys them in a manner that makes them easy to assimilate, and often treats the reader to laugh-out-loud examples such as those on the serial comma debate. And who knew there were such things as Dictionary Wars, an Apostrophe Eradication Policy (USA), an Apostrophe Protection Society (England) and a Pencil Sharpener Museum?

As well as demonstrating just why spelling, grammar and punctuation DO matter, Norris explains just what a copy-editor does, and the risks of being one (“When I finally made it to the copydesk, it was a long time before I could once again read for pleasure. I spontaneously copy-edited everything I laid eyes on”), and provides a wealth of handy hints about pronouns, hyphens, expletives (deleted and not), restrictive clauses, dashes, colons and semicolons and copulative verbs. She backs up her advice with plenty of examples, extensive references and a comprehensive index. And, of course, her punctuation is absolutely flawless!

Norris offers plenty of succinct opinions: On autocorrect: “I type “adverbial” and it comes out “adrenal,” which is like a knife thrust to my adverbial gland”. On compound words: “I was learning that the dictionary is a wonderful thing, but you can’t let it push you around, especially where compound words are concerned. Also that a hyphen is not a moral issue”. And on gender: “The idea that gender in language is decorative, a way of dressing up words, can be applied to the human body: things that identify us as male or female—breasts, hips, bulges—are decorative as well as essential to the survival of the species. Lipstick and high heels are inflections, tokens of the feminine: lures, sex apps. Those extra letters dangling at the ends of words are the genitalia of grammar”


She tells us: “I would get lost in throngs of adjectives”. And when her friend remarks “There is no pleasure so acute as that of a well-placed semicolon”, Mary concludes that there must therefore be “no displeasure so obtuse as that of an ill-placed semicolon”. The Text Publishing edition has a cover designed by W.H.Chong with a very clever constructed crown for the Comma Queen. This book is informative, witty and very funny: a must for anyone who cares about what they write. 4.5 stars

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Author Information

Mary Norris Author Biography

Mary Norris is the author of Greek to Me and the New York Times bestseller Between You & Me, an account of her years in The New Yorker copy department. Originally from Cleveland, she lives in New York.

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