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Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  5,817 ratings  ·  1,239 reviews
Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker's copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.

Between You & Me features Norris's laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of
Hardcover, 228 pages
Published April 6th 2015 by W. W. Norton Company
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Popular Answered Questions
Jill this isn't an error! In Latin, it's called the ablative of comparison (following the word "than"), so it's still an object (me).
Adding "to be" to the…more
this isn't an error! In Latin, it's called the ablative of comparison (following the word "than"), so it's still an object (me).
Adding "to be" to the end would change the sentence so it's not just "she was older than me" but "she was older than I was"--comparing what she was, and what I was, as opposed to her versus me.
Hope this makes sense!
- a Classicist and copyeditor :)(less)
Bibliothekerin Norris answers many questions in a PBS NEWSHOUR interview with Jeffrey Brown which aired tonight and is now online at…moreNorris answers many questions in a PBS NEWSHOUR interview with Jeffrey Brown which aired tonight and is now online at

She said that adults ask her all the time whether they should use a serial comma or not. She joked that it is "not a moral decision"; just be consistent. She decided in part to write her book to help the "grammatically insecure"--which is most of us, Jeffrey Brown quipped.

She prefers to use the serial comma because it "prevents ambiguity." She used the following sentence as an example: "We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin." Without the comma after "JFK": "We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin." (Implying that JFK and Stalin are the strippers. ;)

She then showed an image of a T-shirt bearing the message "Commas save lives" preceded by the sentences "We ate, Grandma." and "We ate Grandma."

Clearly this copyeditor has a sense of humor!

Norris decries critics who think copyeditors are pedantic and wield a pencil as a weapon. She stresses that a good copyeditor will know when to leave well enough alone, will recognize, for example, when an author is using incorrect grammar intentionally to reflect how an uneducated character speaks.

I have yet to read her book, but have a good sense of its tone after seeing the interview tonight. Anyone willing to wear a friend's handmade crown of dangling commas on national television has a healthy sense of the absurd. ;)(less)

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Will Byrnes
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Mary Norris has been carving text into shape at The New Yorker for so long, over thirty years, that she probably deserves an honorary MD in plastic surgery. She could definitely tell you, for example, whether "boob-job" requires a hyphen, or is correct as two separate words, and would definitely know the proper usage of nip and tuck. Between You & Me is both a memoir of her career in the copy department of that illustrious magazine and a look at some of the history, vagaries, and proper usage of ...more
If commas are open to interpretation, hyphens are downright Delphic.

now that i see i was not the only one to be mysteriously gifted with a copy of this book in the mail and that even people like melki, who exhibits flawless grammar despite having to type with giant clumsy bear paws, were similarly singled out, i feel less self-conscious about my casual butchery of my mother tongue.

this is one of those books equal parts instructive and fun. it's closer to a memoir than a primer, but the anecdotes
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, wordplay
I was completely surprised when this book arrived in the mail. I'm guessing that someone at W.W.Norton has read my reviews and decided I needed a primer. Thank you. I learned quite a bit.

In her thirty-five years as a copy editor at The New Yorker, Mary Norris has read, and corrected, quite a a few pages of writing, and she's developed some strong opinions on the subject. Her chapters cover a wide variety of subjects, from gender to profanity. In addition to pondering all forms of punctuation, sh
Jun 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I once casually asked a friend how her grandson’s graduation ceremony had gone, and she responded that she and her husband, both schoolteachers, had been quite distracted by the number of errors in the program. “That’s the kind of thing that drives Lou and I crazy,” she explained. I was tempted to say, “That drives I crazy too.”

Well, if you don’t quite get that -- or could care less -- then “Between You & Me” is not going to be your kind of book. In fact, Mary Norris’ combination memoir and gram
Responsible to a Higher Power

The train driver, the shelf-stacker in the supermarket, the telephone engineer working on the overhead cables. These people are not just anonymous, they are also effectively invisible. We all are aware, at least vaguely, that there are any number of people who mediate our world continuously but go largely unnoticed. In fact the better they do their work, the less notice we take of their existence.

Among these invisibles are the copy editors of commercial publishing.
What a delightful book! It's as if someone took my favorite genre (memoir) and made it about my favorite topic (grammar). Could a book be any more tailor made for me? Luckily, it held up to my expectations.

Mary Norris didn't always intend to be an editor. In fact, after college she worked at a costume rental store, as a milkman, and as a cheese packer. Then she decided to move to New York, and through a family friend, she found a job at The New Yorker. Never could there have been a more perfect
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not really for me. I was expecting something along the lines of Eats, Shoots and Leaves especially as the blurb said it was laugh aloud funny. It really was not. Sometimes I think the author found herself funny but it was not on my entertainment radar at all.
There were some good bits, some mildly amusing anecdotes and some informative sections although these usually got too bogged down to finish them. I persevered and completed the book but I could not say I enjoyed it or even actually learned a
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Mary Norris’ conversational, confessional manner first made me think that the person always behind the scenes at The New Yorker, America’s prestigious literary magazine, wanted her day in the sun. “ME!” I imagined her pointing, two thumbs to her chest, “I’m HERE!” The more I read, though, the more chummy she seemed. “I want to read what you guys are saying on the web, in reviews, articles, and blogs,” she seemed to be saying, “but don’t bug me with bad punctuation. It’s not easy, what I do, but ...more
Feb 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
*I won a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.*

A self-proclaimed grammar nerd, I cringe while reading published works that confuse "lie" and "lay" or subjective and objective pronouns. I could hardly wait to receive and begin reading Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, as I expected the book to be a funny collection of grammatical tragedies. How very disappointed I was - not due to poor quality but because of false advertising. First, I bel
Apr 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“What is a semicolon, anyway?” Is it half a colon? Is it a period on top of a comma? Or an apostrophe that has been knocked down and pinned by a period?”

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is the first book by Mary Norris, who has been on the staff of The New Yorker for some 35 years, and a Page OK’er for twenty of those. She has been referred to by some as a prose goddess, or a comma queen, and indeed, a whole chapter of this book is devoted to comma usage, and cleverly titled “Comma
May 30, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book. I'm constantly fascinated by the nature of English, and I'm also a bit pedantic about correct spelling, grammar and usage. I was ready for an entertaining look at the evolution of our current version of English, and how the role of copy editor can have far-reaching influences. However, I found it rather difficult to engage with the author's dry writing style, and her somewhat haphazard tour around aspects of the language. In the end, I realised I was thoroughly ...more
100% delightful.

If you're the kind of person who laughs at funny anecdotes concerning apostrophes, read this book.
If you're the kind of person who finds personification of punctuation marks hilarious, read this book.
If you're the kind of person who thinks a whole chapter devoted to pencils is rather charming, read this book.

I do enjoy a good grammar-themed book, and it was interesting to read stories of the author's experience as a copy editor for the New Yorker. Highly recommended for word nerd
Mar 11, 2015 marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-read-soon
Oh come on, how am I only hearing about this now? A book by a copyeditor that is part memoir, part cultural grammatical history of the world, part style guide—I have got to be like the #1 person in the target demographic for this. I feel like the universe owes me a copy just because both I and this book exist on the same terrestrial plane. Don't you think?

Also, here's from Julia Holmes' review in the New Republic:

In the face of an etymological mystery, Norris is “ecstatic.” She retraces the evol
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars.

I had actually started this audiobook on my flight back from Dallas a while ago, but got bored and switched gears. Which didn't bode well for the rest of the book, but I persevered... Yay?

This was just... kind of a slog. For a certain type of audience, one with patience and grace and all sorts of virtues I possess not, this will be a delightful punctuation text-slash-memoir. But for me... It wasn't. It just wasn't. I could not wait for her to get to the point of so many sidebars.

Text Publishing
Featured in Amazon's "Best Books of the Year So Far 2015: Nonfiction"

Pedantry made fashionable. That's no mean feat, but you'd expect nothing less from Mary Norris of New Yorker fame. Gather all your misplaced commas and wait for further instruction. In an age where the exclamation mark has lost all character, it's just good to know some people still care.

Here's a few people who agree:
‘Very funny, lucid, and lively…[Norris’] love of language transcends all, reconnecting the alienated pieces of t
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Five star probably only to those who follow and revere New Yorker magazine. Written by one of its copy editors, the book is rife with anecdotes about fellow staff members, the magazine's strict copy style, and conundrums about grammar and punctuation. (I did skim some of the grammar parts.) Norris is witty and turns what could be a ho-hum topic into many chuckles and a great read. She includes stories from her own personal life, as well, including a hilarious party for pencil fanciers in NYC whe ...more
L.A. Starks
Dec 31, 2015 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The New Yorker’s readers demand the highest standards of copy, and Mary Norris has been of of those editors for the past three decades giving the readers what they demand. Having sharpened all her pencils, she now brings us her take on the newspaper business and the (American) English language. Working her way through the most common language issues, such as spelling, commas, when to swear, and when not to. She investigates the less common punctuation, extols the use of the hyphen – excessively ...more
Angie Reisetter
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: firstreads
Mary Norris has a very chatty tone when she's telling you about the spelling and grammar mistakes she's corrected in her career at the New Yorker, and it's easy to forget how remarkable her information is. She's talking about a certain language rule, and to illustrate, she tells you about a particular sentence she corrected years ago and the iterations it went through. But every once in while I had to stop to ponder: is her memory just that incredible? or was the sentence that memorable? or did ...more
Susan Swiderski
Word nerds and grammar groupies, unite! With Comma Queen Mary Norris as our fearless leader, perhaps we can change the world, one dangling participle and misplaced modifier at a time.

We can only hope, right?

Okay, so maybe we can't change the world, but if you're in love with language, this is the book for you. You'll learn the basis for some of the editing standards used at "The New Yorker," and find out if copy editor Norris is bugged by the same common errors that drive YOU crazy. See what th
Stephanie  H
I won this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

First let me say that you will only appreciate this book if you're one of those people who silently corrects your friends' grammar in your head. I am one one of those people, so I enjoyed this book.

I found it informative, and it did teach me things that I had either wondered about or that had never occurred to me, things I found very useful as a self proclaimed grammar cop. I liked the writer's voice and I found her humorous and entertaini
I received this book for free from a Goodreads giveaway.

Let me start by saying, bless, Mary Norris. I believe she is a talented writer and when it comes to grammar, punctuation, and general conventions of the English language, she certainly knows her stuff. I believe she did the best job she could with this book.

I should have been in the target audience for this book. I have taught English, my grandmother taught English, and I was raised with a mother who was often referred to as a "grammar nazi
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, writing, both, memoir
A comma shaker is the perfect desk accessory for a New Yorker copy editor. That it was inherited from another legendary editor speaks to the genealogy of New Yorker wordsmithing.
I would also like to try a Palomino Blackwing pencil.
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For all of us who love a grammar nerd, (and who does not???) this book is a perfect read. Quick, funny and enlightening on some things about our wonderful language that I have wondered about.
Jaclyn Bauer
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is copy editor Mary Norris’ autobiographical style manual of sorts detailing her own voyage to The New Yorker’s copy desk and her encounters with the god- awful grammar she’s had to face at her job and in her everyday life. Not in any way diminutive or overbearing, Norris’ stern but open-minded perspective offers rules more as suggestions based on context rather than mandates required by grammatical law. Constantly throwing out expletives (not to me ...more
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
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 r
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
An audience for Between You and Me, a New York Times bestseller, is somewhere out there -- obviously. I'm just having difficulty figuring out who's in that vast audience. The subtitle of the work (Confessions of a Comma Queen) encouraged me to think that I would be among those delighted by Mary Norris's book. I'll admit that I harbor some of the feelings about grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors that Norris owns. But while editors, proofreaders, composition teachers, et al. may sympathize ...more
May 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I spent a hot summer before my sophomore year in college studying my Grammar for Journalists book. I was preparing for the dreaded test that the University of Wisconsin Journalism School gave prospective students as part of the admissions process, and was told that more than 60 percent failed. I was one of the fortunate who passed, and thus began my obsession with grammar.

Sometimes this obsession can drive me bonkers. I catch grammatical mistakes on billboards, television screens, web sites and
Primrose Jess
I now question every sentence I write. In all seriousness, this is a great book for a reader to dive into. I won't lie, parts were a bit dry for my tastes. I could only force myself to pay attention to pronouns and apostrophe usage for so long. The real gems for me are Norris's anecdotes as a copy editor and experiences that enrich the points she is making. When she is describing sentence structure and the uses of semicolons or commas, I found myself wishing my brain worked liked hers. So eager ...more
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: Michael Kindness posting
Mary Norris and I must be kin, well, at least grammar sisters. This book was a delightful, humorous read, which was preaching to this choir member. Not a small part of my delight, is that we are natives of the same state, so when she wrote of Kelleys Island (apostrophe dropped) and Hocking Hills (apostrophe unnecessary) I knew whence she spake.
I strongly recommend this book for anyone who cringes when confronted by hearing or reading the words, "between you and I."
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Mary Norris began working at The New Yorker in 1978. Originally from Cleveland, she now lives in New York.

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