For the Word Nerd

Between-You-and-MeIf you’re a word nerd like me, fascinated by grammar and tickled by punctuation, you’ll want to read Mary Norris’s amusing, quirky Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Part memoir, part essay collection, it is by turns instructive and chatty.

Norris, a long-time copy-editor at The New Yorker, tackles English’s baffling spelling, the bugaboo of gendered pronouns (everybody wants her way? his way? their way?), the challenge of case (you and me? you and I? who or whom?), and the history, uses, and abuses of the hyphen, dash, semicolon, colon, and apostrophe. As a bonus, she has an entire chapter on her favorite pencil (really!), and she sprinkles everything with gossip about The New Yorker’s staff and writers.

She becomes quite technical when she marches into the swamp of transitive and intransitive verbs and restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. (Readers who don’t make the errors Norris wants to prevent won’t need her explanations; those who do make these errors will get lost in the jargon.) And some readers will feel that Norris’s more private revelations simply don’t belong in a book like this. Others may appreciate the more personal glimpse of the lady wielding that special pencil.

—Diane

 

 

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