‘Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen’8/26/2015
In her 30-plus years in the copy department of The New Yorker, Mary Norris has corrected the work of many of the finest writers of the time, dedicating herself to maintaining the magazine’s high standards for grammar, spelling and punctuation. It turns out Norris is a wonderful writer herself, and in her book, “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen,” she manages to mesh a style guide with a memoir in a way that is fun, fresh and engaging.
Norris shares her takes on everything from the use and misuse of hyphens and apostrophes to the problem of the dangling participle and the lack of an English gender-neutral-third-person-singular personal pronoun. Interspersed are accounts of her first jobs (“I didn’t set out to be a comma queen”) and hilarious anecdotes about the oddball characters who have inhabited the offices of The New Yorker.
A chapter is devoted to Norris’ attachment to the softer, Number 1 pencil. As the pencils become increasingly hard to acquire, Norris begins a quest that ends in a tour of a pencil factory. Quick to poke fun at herself, she destroys any stereotype of the nitpicking copy editor. While precision is important, she notes that copy editors shouldn’t be so rigid they get in the way of the subtlety of a writer’s words, and that language and usage are constantly changing.
This book will appeal to anyone who is interested in language, writing and publishing or just likes an enjoyable, funny memoir. CV
Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.