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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review 'Between You and Me: Confessions of Comma Queen' by Mary Norris



Although this book should appeal to anyone and everyone that picks up a pen or types a message into an electronic device, it won’t. However, if you are a person that believes the rules of grammar are “rock solid” you most assuredly would benefit from this delightful book.

Oh, how I wish Mary Norris could have been my grammar school teacher.
Mary Norris aka the ‘Comma Queen,’ left Ohio in 1978, made her way to the Big Apple, and went to work in the copy department of The New Yorker.

Between You and Me is a memoir about her life and work at the magazine, but that’s not all. Her stories intertwine with oddly pertinent lessons about grammar that typically arose from editing controversy at The New Yorker. And, somehow, with remarkable skill, she manages to guide the reader into each chapter prepared to examine an editing dilemma and as promised, she delivers, but the experience she packages the knowledge in is every bit as enlightening. 

As a writer that has often been at odds with the dreaded comma, I feel vindicated by the ‘comma queen’ and her many examples about that melodramatic little mark that can change the entire meaning of a message. Not to mention, the many interpretations people have about any given piece of written information and the placement or the necessity of that breathtaking little pause it institutes within the text. Consequently, I nearly jumped with joy as she shared dialogue and reasoning, interjected by determined editors and authors at The New Yorker during pre-publishing meetings about a controversial comma.

Of course, commas are not the only topic of conversation in the book; Mary discusses prepositions, question marks, semi-colons and much more.

At the end of any day, not only is Mary Norris a fabulous teacher, but she is a delightful storyteller, reminiscent of a cool aunt determined to tell you how it is and most definitely without parsing words. Ultimately, she can make a trip to a pencil sharpener museum fun and that is exactly what she does in this fabulous book.
I haven’t said so in a while, but this is a book I will revisit, faithfully.


If you can, please listen to the audio version as Mary Norris narrates the book herself. 

Review by Sammy Sutton