Book Review

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris

I will admit that I began reading Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen expecting a sort of grammar textbook, but that’s not the case at all. Although I would highly suggest having an interest in grammar before reading this book, it would be worth reading just because it is refreshing. It was wonderful to be able to experience grammar in such an entertaining way. Mary Norris adopted a writing style that is witty and mischievous. Her sense of humor was displayed immediately, just from the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Spelling is for Weirdos
Chapter 2. That Witch!
Chapter 3. The Problem of Heesh
Chapter 4. Between You and Me
Chapter 5. Comma Comma Comma Comma, Chameleon
Chapter 6. Who Put the Hyphen in Moby-Dick?
Chapter 7. A Dash, a Semicolon, and a Colon Walk into a Bar
Chapter 8. What’s Up with the Apostrophe?
Chapter 9. F*ck This Sh*t
Chapter 10. Ballad of a Pencil Junkie

Norris guides the reader through her journey from her first job at a public pool to her interest in the dairy industry (she was a milkman for a brief period), and then finally to her copy-editing position at The New Yorker, peppering each memory and thought with a valuable and intriguing lesson on grammar. These lessons flow so smoothly with her stories that they’re indistinguishable, which makes the lessons both comprehensible and enjoyable. Some of my favorite quotes include:

  • “‘Whom’ may indeed be on the way out, but so is Venice, and we still like to go there.”
  • “If a sentence were a picket fence, the serial commas would be posts at regular intervals.”
  • “There is no mark of punctuation so upper-crust as the semicolon.”

Norris examines each mark of punctuation thoroughly and with a great deal of consideration, and while this would seem like a dull task, her lively writing actually assigns personalities and temperament to semicolons, commas, and dashes.

The reader gains an insight into Norris’s life and everyday thoughts, and when she eventually reaches the memories of her time as a copy editor at The New Yorker, she presents both her frustrations and successes with positivity. I particularly enjoyed her obvious bewilderment at some of the strict rules that The New Yorker followed, and her perplexed (but respectful) approach to them.

I would recommend this book to grammar enthusiasts and novices alike, and everyone in between. Although Norris undoubtedly has a vaster knowledge of grammar than she included in this book, it’s clear that the strict teaching of grammar wasn’t her purpose. It’s a navigation of her life with a consideration of grammar, and it’s not to be taken too seriously. After reading many tedious grammar textbooks for college, this book was a breath of fresh air. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen was the most satisfying and hilarious book on grammar I’ve had the pleasure of reading.