Let's Take the Long Way Home memorializes the friendship of Gail Caldwell, book critic for the Boston Globe, and Caroline Knapp, the author of Drinking: A Love Story. Both women accomplished much, much else in their literary endeavors, but among their major feats in life was finding each other and developing an adult friendship of great depth, humor, and insight.
I could not recommend this book more highly. As a woman who has met many of her female friends as adults, a woman in the field of writing and publishing, and a woman who has lost a best friend to death—albeit at an earlier age—I found Let's Take the Long Way Home achingly accurate and fiercely funny, even life-affirming despite its end.
And I had to smile a bit at the first word of the title. When I first started writing this grammar blog, my posts always began with "Let's," the contraction of "Let us," a gentle reminder of a shared purpose. "Let us," not "You should"—we are all in this project of communicating, more or less grammatically, together.
Contractions cause grammar dustups all the time. Basically, the apostrophe in contractions stands for a missing letter or letters. Can't and don't have missing Os; rock 'n' roll is missing letters a and d, it's has a missing i. But of course apostrophes also indicate possession, or the genitive case: think of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves with its greengrocers' apostrophe, used so errantly by grocers to indicate plurals such as "cherry's" for "cherries."
And look at that word "its": a possessive without an apostrophe, and with one, a contraction. Not many things can appear more confusing when looked at from the view of inflexible rules: "A possessive is indicated in English by an apostrophe, but NOT in the case of its, however." Yet the simple expedient of remembering that an apostrophe stands in for a letter makes it quite easy to check and fix.
I can't imagine either Gail or Caroline having much trouble with apostrophes. Both wrote elegantly accomplished prose. But Caroline's stopped and Gail continues on, a source of shared sorrow and joy. Gail's book belongs with the great literary elegies and tributes of one writer for another, and a particularly affecting one at that.
What other elegies of one writer for another have you found particularly moving?
Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and is currently teaching English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.