Book review: Between You & Me

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015), 200 pp; index, hardcover, $24.95.

Norris, a copy editor at the New Yorker, discusses grammar and punctuation in a chatty, breezy way, sprinkled with stories from her life and her career. She goes into some of the history of punctuation, spelling, and grammar; how copy editors use house style; and how her own career progressed. I was ready to love this book, just as I loved Brendan Gill’s Here at the New Yorker. However, Norris displays little courtesy toward the reader. Not far into the book, she tells you about a lewd costume that somebody wore to one of her Halloween parties. She discusses how pronoun usage affects her transgender brother and about pronouns and John Wayne Bobbitt. Soon she starts using the f-word and mentions that profanity should be fun. When Brendan Gill worked at the New Yorker, the writers had an informal contest to see who could get the longest sentence into print. Norris says that now there’s an informal contest to get the f-word into print the greatest number of times. One reader, chastising the New Yorker for a misspelling, wrote to ask, “Are the glory years of The New Yorker gone forever?” Maybe yes, but for different reasons.

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