Don’t expect this book to be your quick and handy, go-to reference guide! While it includes sections on grammar, the peculiarities of English spelling, the use of the comma and other useful elements it is really an autobiography of the author’s 35-year career at The New Yorker.
Between You & Me by Mary Norris is descriptive and entertaining. Norris is self-deprecating, describing herself; ‘In the hierarchy of prose goddesses, I am way, way down the list,’ but also admits to writing the book as a way of sharing some of her professional expertise.
The book’s introduction chronicles Norris’ first job at a local swimming pool, followed by a job as ‘milkwoman’, then dishwasher and cashier and she goes on to describe how she landed the job at The New Yorker, firstly in the editorial library before becoming a page OK’er.
Norris introduces the reader to some of the colourful characters she has encountered on her professional journey and includes snippets about her life, working in New York, studying in Vermont, and holidaying with her family in Cleveland.
The book looks at some of the history of the English language and explores the differences and similarities between English and Italian, French and German. Do you know where our common use of the comma originated?
There is also a chapter dedicated to the language of gender which talks about the problem of English not having a common-sex singular personal pronoun other than he, she or it and that the use of their when you mean his or her is incorrect.
There are chapters in the book dedicated to the use of the comma, hyphen, apostrophe and changing attitudes to the use of profanity. The end result is funny and entertaining read and the references to grammar, spelling and word usage are interesting, if not particularly useful to editors.
Norris M, Between you & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, New York, W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2015. ISBN 978-0393352146.