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Between You & Me : Confessions of a Comma Queen

Walmart # 559343577

Between You & Me : Confessions of a Comma Queen

Walmart # 559343577
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The most irreverent and helpful book on language since the #1 New York Times bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

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The most irreverent and helpful book on language since the #1 New York Times bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Mary Norris has spent more than three decades working in The New Yorker's renowned copy department, helping to maintain its celebrated high standards. In Between You & Me, she brings her vast experience with grammar and usage, her good cheer and irreverence, and her finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.

Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Amazon, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal.


W. W. Norton & Company
Book Format
Original Languages
Number of Pages
Mary Norris
Publication Date
April, 2016
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
8.20 x 5.40 x 0.70 Inches
Customer Reviews
1 reviews
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Believe it or not, I have

Believe it or not, I have a collection of The New Yorker magazine dating back to the early 1970s. An English teacher I had in high school, recommended that I read the magazine to learn about all sorts of writing, and when I bought my first copy, it had a story by John Updike. This worm on a hook captured me, and I began my first "author obsession." John Updike is gone, but I still read every issue nearly cover to cover. When I heard of a book by a copy editor at the magazine, I could not resist adding to the lore of the fabled magazine now in its 92nd year. In Between You & Me, Mary Norris-aka the Comma Queen-has written a thoroughly enjoyable tale of her adventures working for the pre-eminent magazine published today. In a chapter titled "Spelling is for Weirdos," she writes, "The English language is full of words that are just waiting to be misspelled, and the world is full of sticklers, ready to pounce. Ours is not a phonetic language, like Italian and Spanish and Modern Greek, where certain letters and combinations of letter can be relied on to produce consistent sounds. English has many silent letters. And its motley origins make it fiendishly difficult to untangle. Besides the Germanic roots of our Anglo-Saxon tongue and the influence of Latin (Emperor Hadrian) and French (the Norman Invasion), and borrowings from Greek and Italian and Portuguese and even a soupçon of Basque, American English has a lot of Dutch from early settlers in the East; plenty of Spanish, from the conquistadors and missionaries who explored the West; and a huge vocabulary of place-names from Native American languages, often blended with French, for added confusion" (17). We native speakers of English treat our language as though it was a simple matter, but even good students can get tangled in is many webs vines. But my favorite chapter is "Ballad of a Pencil Junkie." I love writing with pencils much more than pens. Every room has a discarded mug filled with pencils, which outnumber pens by at least 4-to-1. Norris writes, "In the old days, at The New Yorker, when your pencil point got dull, you just tossed it aside and picked up a new one. There was an office boy who came around in the morning with a tray of freshly sharpened wooden pencils. And they were nice long ones-no stubs. The boy held out his tray of pencils, and you scooped up a quiver of them. It sounds like something out of a dream! Even then I think I knew that the office boy and his tray would go the way of the ivory-billed woodpecker" (171). Oh how warm and fuzzy it is to know there are others who share this innocuous obsession. Norris has a preference for No. 1 pencils. I have never used one-I prefer a sturdy German mechanical pencil for my pocket. No. 2s are for all other tasks. Norris writes, "Writing with a No. 2 pencil made me feel as if I had a hangover. It created a distance between my hand and my brain, put me at a remove from the surface of the paper I was writing on. I would throw it into a drawer" (172). Mary also made an excursion to The Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in Ohio. The museum boasts 3,441 pencil sharpeners. The rules for admission to this august temple of pencildom were set down by the founder. "each pencil sharpener had to be unique-no duplicates" however, "it could mean a sharpener was the same shape but a different color, or highly polished instead of dull" (180). After completing her visit, Mary "went back to my car, found the pencil sharpener just where I had packed it, in a pocket of the zippered compartment on my backpack, and photographed it on the back of my car before shaking out all the shavings in the parking lot. I did not want the fact that my sharpener was not a virgin to make it ineligible for display in the museum" (191). Mary Norris's delightful story, Between You Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, is an antidote to all the other dark things we read, hear on the news, or read in the papers, I am not a serious punctuation freak-outside of an English Composition class-but I do enjoy catching an errant apostrophe here and there. 5 No. 2 Pencils! --Jim, 5/29/17

I really enjoyed this boo

I really enjoyed this book. It's kind of all-over-the-place; part memoir, part history, part usage guide. If you're just looking for clear rules of usage and punctuation, look elsewhere, but if you can't digest that stuff in large chunks (I know I can't) this is a good place to start. I feel that I got a better grasp on what the heck a semi-colon is for, and the difference between a hyphen and a dash, and why I never hear about n-dashes, though m-dashes are all over the place. I especially appreciated the chapter in which the author wrestles with the problem of gender in the English language, specifically the lack of a good, widely accepted non-gendered third-person pronoun. She fumbled with pronoun changes when her brother announced his->her new identity as a woman. I don't have anyone that close to me going through gender-ambiguous territory, but I do know some more casually, and I've found it a bit disorienting, linguistically. There's a lot of gossipy literary New York name-dropping here, which I rather enjoyed, but again, probably not for everyone.

Entertaining, fascinating

Entertaining, fascinating and thought provoking.

The haters hate this book

The haters hate this book so much that I feel compelled to warn those of you who may be the type to walk into a movie, for example, without ever having read a review or considered the intended audience: apparently such people exist. You must be interested in English usage to enjoy this book. You should have read the New Yorker magazine at least once or twice without having broken out in hives. You probably shouldn't be the kind of person who thinks that "elitism" is a constant affront to you. Is the author elitist? Maybe. I don't know. She has standards. It's her job to have them and to enforce them. I don't think she mentions Dan Brown or Danielle Steele in her book, but if you think those authors are good writers, you might think that Mary Norris is an awful elitist. I guess I am one too. This book is full of lively discussions about issues such as when a comma should appear between two adjectives that modify the same noun and whether the English language could benefit from the adoption of an epicene pronoun. I think Norris does a wonderful job of making these discussions chatty, witty, and fun, but then I'm an editor, and I take to this kind of stuff like Nabokov took to butterflies. Anyway, she also tells lots of stories about the interesting people who have worked for or written for the New Yorker. And this isn't a usage guide. It's basically shop talk from someone's who's one of the best at what she does. I concede her mastery of her subject, but I still want to argue with her sometimes, and that's part of the fun. (A book that this is sometimes compared to, "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves," isn't fun at all, because the author isn't an expert-she's just an opinionated layperson on a rant. I want to shake her instead of argue with her.) I'm going to read this book again, slowly, using a pen to mark issues, and skipping to the back more frequently to read the endnotes. Then I'm going to write Mary Norris a letter explaining that the archaic long 's' is not an "f." I'm not sure she doesn't know that, but she writes as if she doesn't. It bugs me. That's the kind of person I am, and that's why I love this book so much.

Part memoir, part English

Part memoir, part English usage guide, and very humorous is written by Mary Norris, a recently retired copy editor of New Yorker Magazine. The chapters are broken down into grammatical topics, including discussions of style vs. rules. She cleverly applies the usage of the topic under discussion in the text, which is humorous and sometimes a bit like a puzzle. It also made me think that it must be very difficult to read for pleasure when your work is to edit for punctuation and spelling errors.
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Electrode, App-product, Comp-476641790, DC-prod-cdc04, ENV-prod-alpha, PROF-PROD, VER-29.0.16-rc-3, SHA-be3b5cd33cf2201002aafe92047174b804e8a87a, CID-
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Electrode, Comp-476641790, DC-prod-cdc04, ENV-prod-alpha, PROF-PROD, VER-29.0.16-rc-3, SHA-be3b5cd33cf2201002aafe92047174b804e8a87a, CID-4bd392c3-88c-16adf01ea3629b, Generated: Wed, 22 May 2019 10:06:46 GMT