Published by Text Publishing on April 2015
Genres: Non Fiction
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Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker's copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.
Between You & Me features Norris's laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage comma faults, danglers, "who" vs. "whom," "that" vs. "which," compound words, gender-neutral language and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord's Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster's groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world's only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders.
Readers and writers will find in Norris neither a scold nor a softie but a wise and witty new friend in love with language and alive to the glories of its use in America, even in the age of autocorrect and spell-check. As Norris writes, "The dictionary is a wonderful thing, but you can't let it push you around."
– A delightful collection of stories and grammatical lessons.
Mary Norris has been a copy editor for The New Yorker magazine since 1978. In this book, she shares some anecdotes from her time working in editing, interspersed with some lessons in grammar, punctuation and spelling.
Grammar is not the easiest subject to write an interesting book about, but Between You & Me is a delightful discussion of different aspects of an editor’s job. As someone who (not whom) hopes to do some professional editing in the future, I really enjoyed reading about the trials faced by comma queens. I’m not sure I’d describe it as “laugh-out-loud” as the blurb suggests, but it’s certainly very entertaining and well written.
Ms Norris covers the usual grammatical errors involving genders, who/whom, comma and hyphen placement, as well as some history about American spelling and a particular bugbear with the misuse of “you and I” and “you and me”. I hope I learned something from these informative chapters, even if they do go on a bit at times. The thing about language and grammar is that everyone has their own opinion on how it should work. The Americans also do things a little differently to those who write and edit “British English”. The best parts of the book are the chapter dedicated to swearing and profanity in print, and yet another to a love of pencils!
Over all, it’s a rather random collection of tales and lessons, but I enjoyed reading it.