I try really hard not to be “that guy” when it comes to grammar. I don’t have enough friends to play with fire and correct every grammatical mistake that flies out of their mouths. But like most voracious readers, I notice when these errors pop up. These days I work at a publishing company, where we pore over every minute detail. It’s pretty common here to see a production assistant with her face practically buried in a draft, searching for any errant commas to vanquish.
All this to say, I was really excited to pick up Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Written by long-time copy editor Mary Norris, the book details her journey to working for The New Yorker (it involved noticing flour had been spelled flower in a page about to go to print) and her love of the written word. I thought it would be a great celebration about all of the intricacies and insanities that make up our beloved language. And calling it Confessions of a Comma Queen made me think that the book would be funny(ish) as well. Instead…
It was pretty fricken boring. And I’m one of the dorks she was writing to (I’m sorry, to whom she was writing). I don’t understand why this was a book. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Morris knew either. Unfocused and puzzling, it veers from grammar lessons, to cheese-packing tricks (not a euphemism) to gendered-pronouns, to a treatise on the best brand of pencils. She flits around for 200 loooooooong pages talking about whatever pops into her head but never gave me a reason to care.
Between You and Me is a confessional without any confessions. It’s a memoir without any heart, a grammar book without any practical advice, and just so painfully boring. Her chapter about pencils or about her Sarah Vowell-esq quirky journey to a pencil sharpener museum are meant to be funny, but miss the mark.
There’s stuff to like in this book. Norris’ enthusiasm is infectious and she still so clearly loves her job. We should all be so lucky to feel passionate about the thing we’re paid to do. But her book was a slog. When I was finally done, I was surprised it was only 228 pages. It felt a lot longer.