Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: Between You and Me by Mary Norris

Title: Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
Author: Mary Norris
Enjoyment Rating: **
Source: Audible
Content Alert: some mild swearing

There are some kinds of books that simply don't lend themselves to being made into audiobooks. Comic books and math textbooks, for example, have such important visual components that the transition to an audio format would require extra descriptions, and a lot would still be lost in the translation. You might not expect that a memoir would suffer from the same fate, but Mary Norris's Between You and Me is definitely a book where the audiobook feels like a pale imitation of the original. Yes, it's true, there are lots of places where Norris tells engaging stories about her life as a copyeditor for The New Yorker. The book is completely irreverent, and she tells hilarious stories (the story about her obsession with #1 pencils was my favorite). However, there are lots of places where she's talking about how the printed word appears on a page. When she talks about the placement of commas, for example, this listener was totally lost. Although I'm an editor, I'm much more a big-picture (or is it "big picture"?) kind of person, and I tend not to care much about the minutae of grammar. In that sense Norris's book felt both pedantic and like I finally started to understand why some people care so dang much about when to use "who" and when to use "whom." If you pick this book up, you'll probably enjoy it, but listening to it often left me frustrated and confused, which is not the feeling you want a reader to have when attempting to demystify grammar.

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