Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

Daphne and Laurel are twins obsessed with words. Just a few years older than me, they grew up in the 1970s in Westchester and as soon as they're old enough, they move to Manhattan. A lifelong relationship with an unabridged dictionary, torturing their therapist uncle, and of course their own very personal relationship with each other and with being twins, suffuses every pore of this novel.

I found it fascinating that my sympathies actually shifted throughout the book. Initially, I liked Daphne more. Laurel seemed smug and competitive and almost like she expected Daphne to fail at everything. But when Laurel has a baby and doesn't go back to work, and instead Daphne begins to thrive at her job at an independent newspaper, eventually leading to a column, a book deal, and then a column in The New York Times, my loyalties changed. Laurel seemed more sympathetic, less sure of herself, and Daphne seemed judgmental and--quell horror!--dogmatic in her grammar dictates at the expense of accuracy. (FYI, yes you CAN end a sentence with a preposition and also split an infinitive. Not only are neither wrong, those "rules" were made up just a scant hundred years ago by pedants who wishes English was a Latinate language. It's Germanic. If those are hills you want to die on, you need to know your hills were built on sand.)

This book covers close to 50 years in their lives, as they grow from babies who speak in a language all their own, to adult who don't speak to each other at all, with all the stops along the way. For anyone into language, grammar, literature, and words, this book will amuse immensely. If not, just come along for the relationship between two sisters who couldn't be more alike--and more different.

This book is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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