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Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Booksby Maureen Corrigan
Synopses & Reviews
As book reviewer for NPR's Fresh Air and contributor to many publications, Maureen Corrigan literally reads for a living. For as long as she can remember, books have been at the center of her life, a never-failing source of astonishment, hard truths, new horizons, and welcome companionship. Now Corrigan has added a volume of her own to the shelf of classics, by reading her life of reading with all the attention to complexity, wit, and intelligence that any good book — or life — deserves.
Part memoir, part coming-of-age story, and part reflection on favorite and influential books, Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading views the world through an open book. From her unpretentious girlhood in the working-class neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens, to her bemused years in an Ivy League Ph.D. program, from the whirl of falling in love and marrying (a fellow bookworm, of course), to the ordeal of adopting a baby overseas, Corrigan has always had a book at her side.
We read this life in reverse as Corrigan begins the book as a "professional reader" always conscious of the many people, like her own mother, who don't "get" the power of reading, and we end up as a fly on the wall of this only child in Queens, transported to exciting yet threatening worlds beyond her small apartment, a block from the #7 subway.
Corrigan's references range from Richard Wright to Philip Roth to Chekhov, but certain themes emerge. Corrigan subverts the classic "man conquers mountain or ocean or battlefield" genre by juxtaposing it with what she calls "female extreme adventure novels" — books such as Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith, and Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue, which feature women quietly fighting for their lives.
Hard-boiled detective stories that cloak social criticisms of work and family beneath their protagonist's trench coat — Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, Sara Paretsky's mysteries — are another abiding passion. More surprising, and perhaps more revealing, is her taste for tales of Catholic martyrs and secular saints, a holdover from her days in parochial school that left an indelible impression.
Moving from page to life and back again, Corrigan writes ultimately of fashioning a complicated, sometimes contradictory self out of her class background, her classroom teaching, and her own classics of literature; a list of favorite books is also included. In Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, Maureen Corrigan invites us to accompany her on the journey of a lifetime.
"Corrigan, the book reviewer for NPR's Fresh Air and mystery columnist for the Washington Post, makes her own book debut with an often longwinded and tedious account of how books have shaped her life. It's clear from every page that Corrigan is obsessed with reading books. Her compulsion is a bit far reaching, however: she offers books as the reason why she delayed getting married and why she adopted her daughter in China. She intersperses lengthy descriptions and analysis of her favorite books, like Jane Eyre, Lucky Jim and Karen (Marie Killilea's memoir of her daughter) with stories from her own life. At times, the book reads like a feminist diatribe against the injustices female authors (and graduate students) have endured and the stereotypical portrayal of female characters. In its favor, the book allows readers to reexperience some perennial favorites, such as Pride and Prejudice and The Maltese Falcon. Corrigan does speak to the ability of books to provide escape and solace, and for the creation of characters we can relate to, but these few gems are buried deep in text so thick and analytical that the reader is often left gasping for air. Agent, Stuart Krichevsky. (On sale Sept. 6)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It's always fascinating to read someone on how her life has been changed by reading, especially one of America's most perceptive book critics. You find yourself comparing your reactions to hers and learning about books you want to read. But this reflective and entertaining memoir is about more than just books. It's about being a daughter and an adoptive mother, a student and a teacher, a feminist and a skeptical Catholic — about being Maureen Corrigan. Learning about Maureen's life made me think about how my own life was shaped by books." Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air"
"If you wonder about the secret life of bookworms, this is the book that will open up the rich rewards of going around with your nose stuck in a book. Corrigan's narrative is delightful, absorbing, and engaging, with surprising leaps between the books she reads and the story of her own life." Bobbie Ann Mason, author of An Atomic Romance
"'Leave me alone, I'm reading' is precisely what you will be insisting when you have Maureen Corrigan's splendid memoir in your hands. What a great piece of work! The author not only writes about books in her customary incisive and beguiling manner, but also shows how books can change someone's life. Whether your taste runs to Pride and Prejudice or The Maltese Falcon, you will love Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. It's the book for people who love books." Susan Isaacs, author of Any Place I Hang My Hat
"From the first page of the introduction to Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, I knew I was in the hands of another book luster. I valued her insights into contemporary and classical literature and the connections she made to her own life, but I especially loved her enthusiasm for books and the act of reading." Nancy Pearl, author of More Book Lust: Recommended Readings for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason
One of the country's most popular book lovers wryly recounts the stories and authors that have shaped her life, from the classics of English literature to the hard-boiled detective novel — and every page in between.
About the Author
Maureen Corrigan is book critic for NPR's Fresh Air. Her reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, the Boston Globe, the Village Voice, and other publications. Winner of an Edgar Award for criticism, Corrigan also regularly writes a mystery column for the Washington Post and teaches literature at Georgetown University. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and daughter, both avid readers.
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