Bookish Side of Life: August

Welcome to the third and final installment of the Bookish Side of Life, a summer reading challenge organized by Kelsey at The Blonder Side of Life. The goal of the challenge is to put books before technology and spend some quality time reading! (Check out my posts from June and July.)

I’m chuffed that I was able to meet (and beat!) my goal of 10 books this summer – wahoo!

Bookish Side of LifeBooks Started in August:
-Catch Me If You Can, by Frank W. Abagnale
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving

Books Finished in August:
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris
-Catch Me If You Can, by Frank W. Abagnale
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving

Goal Complete So Far:
12 / 10

Thoughts on Books Read: (italicized book blurbs from Goodreads)

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris
2015, 228 pages

commaMary 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 the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage—comma faults, danglers, “who” vs. “whom,” “that” vs. “which,” compound words, gender-neutral language—and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster’s groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world’s only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders.

Readers—and writers—will find in Norris neither a scold nor a softie but a wise and witty new friend in love with language and alive to the glories of its use in America, even in the age of autocorrect and spell-check. As Norris writes, “The dictionary is a wonderful thing, but you can’t let it push you around.”

I’m a nerd. A proud nerd, but a nerd nonetheless. I love books that deal with grammar. Eats, Shoots and Leaves is one of my all-time favorite books. When I heard about Between You & Me I put a hold on it immediately and was super excited to read it. Alas, it wasn’t as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. Despite what the Goodreads description says, I did not laugh out loud at any point, and Norris isn’t entirely “always open-minded.”

That said, parts were interesting. The book is part memoir, part semi-serious guide to usage, which I appreciated. I worked for 2 years as a copy editor and no one ever explained the difference between en-dashes and em-dashes, but Norris did. So that’s cool. The author seems like a cool enough lady, but if we ever meet we may have to have a chat about her attitude toward the Oxford comma.


Catch Me If You Can, by Frank W. Abagnale
2003, 293 pages

cmiycFrank W. Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters, and escape artists in history. In his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and copiloted a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks, all before he was twenty-one. Known by the police of twenty-six foreign countries and all fifty states as “The Skywayman,” Abagnale lived a sumptuous life on the lam-until the law caught up with him. Now recognized as the nation’s leading authority on financial foul play, Abagnale is a charming rogue whose hilarious, stranger-than-fiction international escapades, and ingenious escapes-including one from an airplane-make Catch Me If You Can an irresistible tale of deceit.

Catch Me If You Can was the Shammies’ book club book chosen for our August meeting. I had never seen the movie, and was intrigued by the story… until I read it. Intriguing though it was, it ticked me off to read about a guy who traveled the world lying and committing fraud to get ahead and thinking it was a perfectly fine thing to do.

That said, it was fascinating to read about how he pulled off all his stunts, and, though I may not approve of his reasons for doing such research, I was pleased to hear how often he visited libraries to learn about the various professions he was faking his way through. I have to say it was also pretty impressive that he pulled it all off before his 21st birthday. Kind of crazy.


Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving
2014, 273 pages

wuwFor twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn’t understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one “aha!” moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan. In Waking Up White, Irving tells her often cringe-worthy story with such openness that readers will turn every page rooting for her-and ultimately for all of us.

After the church shooting in Charleston, SC back in June, my “big” boss (boss’s boss’s boss) sent out an email to everyone with some suggestions in case people wanted to do something – places to make donations, resources about anti-racism, etc. One of her suggestions was this book. My work library had one copy that I knew would be changing hands among staff for months to come, so I put a hold on it at my public library. Even then, it took weeks for me to finally get my hands on a copy, and then almost a whole month for me to digest it.

It was eye-opening for sure. Irving wrote about discovering things that I, too, had never known about, like how so many WW2 vets were denied perks of the GI bill just because of their skin color, and how real estate agents forced segregation in neighborhoods through blockbusting. Each chapter of Irving’s personal stories ended with a short exercise to help the reader look at her own perceptions. The book definitely made me think, and reexamine the way I look at things, and I’m glad I read it.


What did you read in August?

Ever read a book that made you totally reexamine how you look at the world?

What’s your favorite book you’ve read so far this year?


4 thoughts on “Bookish Side of Life: August

  1. I’m totally signing up to read Between You & Me. I have a hankering for good grammar books–Lord knows I need all the help I can get. Thanks for the highlights of these books!

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