Saturday, June 6, 2015

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

Do not read Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen unless you are infatuated with punctuation and its history and misuse, or if you have insomnia. I do not have insomnia.  I read it to further justify my use of the serial comma, the one before “and” in a series of three or more things. Mary is a serial comma user too. I like her.

Sometimes the serial comma is required to ensure clarity:

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

And sometimes, as Mary says, “to give starch to the prose.”

Me, I just like making the reader read the way I want them to read. It’s a control thing. Fortunately, my editor tosses them. Believe me, the original draft of this review had at least six more commas.

Mary Norris (pictured) began working at The New Yorker in 1978, and has been a query proofreader at the magazine since 1993, but she could have been a comedian or relaxation therapist as she had me alternately laughing and yawning. Her “behind the scenes” at The New Yorker were interesting, and I loved her story about finding just the right pencil to mark her proofreading. But a vast majority of the book is about commas, the use of the F word, ellipsis and other obscure punctuation marks, why Moby-Dick has a hyphen, and a lot of other things that will mesmerize you and send you to slumber land.

Here are a few fun punctuation jokes to fill out this rather lame review:

Some people find inspiration in cooking their families and their dogs.

A teacher wrote, "Woman without her man is nothing" on the blackboard, and told the class to add the correct punctuation.
All the boys wrote, "Woman, without her man, is nothing"
All the girls wrote, "Woman - without her, man is nothing"

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