Maureen Corrigan

Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, is a critic-in-residence and lecturer at Georgetown University. She is an associate editor of and contributor to Mystery and Suspense Writers (Scribner) and the winner of the 1999 Edgar Award for Criticism, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Corrigan's literary memoir, Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading! was published in 2005. Corrigan is also a reviewer and columnist for The Washington Post's Book World. In addition to serving on the advisory panel of The American Heritage Dictionary, she has chaired the Mystery and Suspense judges' panel of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Pages

4:08pm

Fri January 31, 2014
Book Reviews

Midwestern Memoir Tracks 'Flyover Lives' Of Author's Forebears

The second best quality Diane Johnson has as a writer is that she's so smart. Her first best quality — and one that's far more rare — is that she credits her audience with being smart, too. Whether she's writing fiction, biography or essays, Johnson lets scenes and conversations speak for themselves, accruing power as they lodge in readers' minds.

Read more

12:48pm

Mon January 27, 2014
Book Reviews

On This Spanish Slave Ship, Nothing Was As It Seemed

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 5:14 pm

Detail from the cover of The Empire of Necessity.
Courtesy of Metropolitan Books

Shortly after sunrise, on the morning of Feb. 20, 1805, sailors on an American ship called the Perseverance, anchored near an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile, spied a weird vessel drifting into view. It flew no flag and its threadbare sails were slack. The captain of the Perseverance, a man named Amasa Delano, decided to come to the aid of the ship, whose name, painted in faded white letters along its bow, was the Tryal.

Read more

1:44pm

Tue January 14, 2014
Book Reviews

Chang-rae Lee Stretches For Dystopic Drama, But Doesn't Quite Reach

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 2:04 pm

ilbusca iStockphoto

Dystopia is all the rage these days, especially in young adult fiction: There's the "Hunger Games" trilogy of course; Veronica Roth's "Divergent" series, in which Chicago has gone to the dogs; Cassandra Clare's "Mortal Instruments" series, inspired by a nightmare vision of Manhattan; and Stephanie Meyer's non-Twilight novel, The Host, where Earth has been colonized by alien parasites.

Read more

2:00pm

Thu January 9, 2014
Book Reviews

Empty Nester In 'The Woods': A Modern Dantean Journey

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 2:27 pm

drbimages iStockphoto

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Allowing for translation, those are the immortal opening lines of Dante's Divine Comedy. Here, some seven centuries later, are some of Lynn Darling's opening lines from her new memoir, Out of the Woods: "The summer my only child left home for college, I moved from an apartment in New York City, to live alone in a small house at the end of a dirt road in the woods of central Vermont."

Read more

2:40pm

Fri January 3, 2014
Book Reviews

A Critic Tours 'Echo Spring,' Home Of Beloved Boozy Writers

Originally published on Fri January 3, 2014 4:19 pm

nito100 iStockphoto

It's the quintessential "dog bites man" story. I'm talking about a new book I just read about a group of famous writers who — get this -- drank too much! I know, right? That's pretty much the equivalent of saying I just read a book about a group of famous writers who used commas in their sentences.

Read more

1:19pm

Wed December 11, 2013
Books

Need A Read? Here Are Maureen Corrigan's Favorite Books Of 2013

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 4:10 pm

Illustration of woman and books.
Nishant Choksi

First, a word about this list: It's honestly just a fluke that my best books rundown for 2013 is so gender-biased. I didn't deliberately set out this year to read so many terrific books by women.

Read more

4:15pm

Tue November 26, 2013
Book Reviews

Thanksgivukkah Stress Getting You Down? Here's A Literary Escape Plan

Originally published on Tue November 26, 2013 7:13 pm

Iryna Denysova iStockphoto

Mark your calendars: According to some scholars, the next time it might happen is the year 79,811. I'm talking, of course, about the hybrid holiday of Thanksgivukkah, a melding of Thanksgiving and the Jewish Festival of Lights. The Borsch Belt-style Pilgrim jokes and mishmash recipes (turkey brined in Manischewitz, anyone?) are flying around the Internet; but since Jews are frequently referred to as "the People of the Book" and Pilgrims pretty much lived by the Book, Thanksgivukkah seems to me like the quintessential (stressful) family holiday to celebrate by escaping into a book.

Read more

2:44pm

Wed November 13, 2013
Book Reviews

A 'Marriage', A Divorce, A Dying Dog And Essays Done Right

iStockphoto.com

Pity the poor essay collection. Unlike its close, more creative neighbor — the short story collection — or its snooty relation, The Novel, the humble essay collection is the wallflower of the literary world. And, when an essay collection is composed — as Ann Patchett's new volume partly is — of pieces previously printed in fashion and pet lovers' magazines, it really might seem like a grab bag of minor material — as, admittedly, a few of the pieces here are.

Read more

3:04pm

Thu November 7, 2013
Book Reviews

'Self-Help Messiah' Dale Carnegie Gets A Second Life In Print

Originally published on Thu November 7, 2013 3:50 pm

Courtesy of Other Press

"Make the other person feel important." "Let the other fellow feel that the idea is his." "Make people like you." Those are some of the peppy commands that have sent generations of Americans out into the world, determined to win friends and influence people — oh, and make big bucks.

Read more

1:13pm

Thu October 10, 2013
Book Reviews

Meet Ben's Sister Jane, History's Forgotten Franklin

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 2:32 pm

Quill pen and ink
iStockphoto.com

"Her days were days of flesh." That's just one of a multitude of striking observations that Jill Lepore makes about Jane Franklin, the baby sister of Ben. What Lepore means by that line of near-poetry is that Jane Franklin's life, beginning at age 17 when she gave birth to the first of her 12 children, was one of nursing, lugging pails of night soil, butchering chickens, cooking and scrubbing.

Read more

1:53pm

Mon October 7, 2013
Book Reviews

Out Of Lahiri's Muddy 'Lowland,' An Ambitious Story Soars

Originally published on Mon October 7, 2013 3:53 pm

iStockphoto.com

Geography is destiny in Jhumpa Lahiri's new novel, The Lowland. Her title refers to a marshy stretch of land between two ponds in a Calcutta neighborhood where two very close brothers grow up. In monsoon season, the marsh floods and the ponds combine; in summer, the floodwater evaporates. You don't need your decoder ring to figure out that the two ponds symbolize the two brothers — at times separate; at other times inseparable. But there's still more meaning lurking in this rich landscape.

Read more

1:38pm

Mon September 16, 2013
Book Reviews

Introducing 'Miss Anne,' The White Women Of A Black Renaissance

Originally published on Fri November 22, 2013 12:16 pm

Ten years ago, literary scholar Carla Kaplan released an acclaimed edition of the letters of Zora Neale Hurston. In the course of researching Hurston's life, Kaplan became curious about the white women who were in Harlem in the same period as Hurston, women who risked family exile and social ostracism to be part of the artistic and political movements of the Harlem Renaissance. Now, Kaplan has published a cultural history of those women called Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance.

Read more

1:30pm

Wed September 4, 2013
Book Reviews

From McDermott, An Extraordinary Story Of An Ordinary 'Someone'

Originally published on Wed September 4, 2013 3:27 pm

The main character of Alice McDermott's Someone grew up in 1920s and '30s New York.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Endurance, going the distance, sucking up the solitude and the brine: I'm not talking about the glorious Diana Nyad and her instantly historic swim from Cuba to Key West, but of the ordinary heroine whose life is the subject of Alice McDermott's latest novel, Someone. "Ordinary" is a word that's used a lot to describe McDermott's characters, mostly Irish and working class, mostly un-heroic in any splashy way.

Read more

1:41pm

Thu August 15, 2013
Book Reviews

A Gossipy, Nostalgic History Of A Publishing 'Hothouse'

Originally published on Thu August 15, 2013 3:28 pm

iStockphoto.com

In the world of book publishing, ravaged though it may be, the name Farrar, Straus & Giroux still bespeaks literary quality. It's a publishing house that boasts a roll call of 25 Nobel Prize winners and heavyweights like Susan Sontag, Carlos Fuentes, Joan Didion, Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen. A lot of writers, past and present, have turned down higher advances for their books from other publishing houses for the honor of being an FSG author.

Read more

11:30am

Tue August 6, 2013
Book Reviews

'Love Affairs' Of A Hip, Young Literary Hound Dog

Originally published on Tue August 6, 2013 12:18 pm

iStockphoto.com

Before I read Adelle Waldman's brilliant debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., I had about as much interest in reading about the hip, young literary types who've colonized Brooklyn as I do in watching Duck Dynasty, that reality show about a family of bearded Luddites who live in the Louisiana swamps. Both clans are ingrown and smug, each, in their own way, disdainful of the American mainstream.

Read more

1:06pm

Tue July 30, 2013
Book Reviews

With 'Arrangements' And 'The Rest,' Two Debut Novelists Arrive

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 3:41 pm

The novel I've been recommending this summer to anyone, female or male, who's looking for the trifecta — a good story that's beautifully written and both hilarious and humane — is Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead's debut novel from last summer. I was about to go all old-school and excitedly add that Seating Arrangements is now out in paperback, except since more and more readers are instantly downloading new books at a discount, paperbacks are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Read more

1:40pm

Thu July 18, 2013
Book Reviews

The Only Surprise In Rowling's 'Cuckoo's Calling' Is The Author

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 3:41 pm

J.K. Rowling recently revealed herself to be the author of the mystery novel The Cuckoo's Calling.
Ben Pruchnie Getty Images

Call it "The Mystery of the Missing Book Sales" — and I don't think we'll be needing to bring Sherlock Holmes in to solve this one. In April, a debut mystery called The Cuckoo's Calling was published. It appeared to be written by an unknown British writer named Robert Galbraith, who was identified on the book jacket as a former military cop now working in private security.

Read more

2:36pm

Tue July 2, 2013
Book Reviews

American Mystery Finds A New Voice On 'The Bohemian Highway'

Originally published on Tue July 2, 2013 3:32 pm

Novelist Sara Gran also writes for the HBO show Southland.
Deborah Lopez Houghton Mifflin

It's been a while since I've heard a distinctive new American voice in mystery fiction: That Girl With the Dragon Tattoo dame seems to have put our homegrown hard-boiled detectives in the deep freeze. The mystery news of the past few years has chiefly come out of the Land of the Midnight Sun, dominated by the late Stieg Larsson and fellow Swedes Camilla Lackberg and Hakan Nesser, as well as Norwegians Anne Holt, Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbo.

Read more

1:42pm

Mon June 17, 2013
Book Reviews

In 'TransAtlantic,' The Flight Is Almost Too Smooth

Originally published on Mon June 17, 2013 3:22 pm

Colum McCann's new book imagines the intersections of three historic flights across the Atlantic Ocean.
iStockphoto.com

Here we go into the wild blue yonder again with Colum McCann. In his 2009 novel, Let the Great World Spin, McCann swooped readers up into the air with the French aerialist Philippe Petit, who staged an illegal high-wire stunt walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Strictly speaking, Let the Great World Spin was not a Sept. 11 novel, and yet almost everyone rightly read it as one, since McCann's tale commemorated the towers at the literal zenith of their history.

Read more

2:30pm

Fri June 7, 2013
Book Reviews

'Beside Ourselves' Explores Human-Animal Connections

Originally published on Fri June 7, 2013 3:47 pm

Note: The audio and text of this review describe a major plot point that is not revealed until partway into the book.

If you know Karen Joy Fowler's writing only from her clever, 2004 best-seller, The Jane Austen Book Club, you're in for a shock. Fowler's new novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, is a different literary creature altogether — still witty but emotionally and intellectually riskier, and more indebted to Fowler's other books that toy with the sci-fi genre.

Read more

11:18am

Mon May 27, 2013
Commentary

After WWII, A Letter Of Appreciation That Still Rings True

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 9:43 am

U.S. Navy sailors form a ceremonial guard at a wreath-laying ceremony to memorialize the victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor and pay tribute to the veterans of World War II in front of the Lone Sailor statue at the Naval Memorial in Washington, D.C., in December 2003.
Brendan Smialowski Getty Images

In the fall of 1945, my father was honorably discharged from the Navy. He was one of the lucky ones. He'd served on a destroyer escort during the war, first in convoys dodging U-boats in the Atlantic and then in the Pacific where his ship, the USS Schmitt, shot down two kamikaze planes. My dad always kept a framed picture of the Schmitt above his dresser, but, like most men of his generation, he didn't talk a lot about his war years.

Read more

2:34pm

Wed May 15, 2013
Book Reviews

Coming To 'Americanah': Two Tales Of Immigrant Experience

JOZZ iStockPhoto.com

First things first: Can we talk about hair? Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color; but, as Adichie has said in interviews, she also knows that black women's hair can speak volumes about racial politics.

Read more

12:56pm

Mon May 6, 2013
Book Reviews

Godwin's 'Flora': A Tale Of Remorse That Creeps Under Your Skin

Originally published on Mon May 6, 2013 3:20 pm

Gail Godwin, whose latest novel is Flora, has been a finalist for the National Book Award and a Guggenheim fellow.
David Hermon Bloomsbury Press

Gail Godwin says one of the inspirations for her new novel, called Flora, is Henry James' ghost story The Turn of the Screw. Both stories take place in isolated old houses, and both revolve around mental contests between a governess character and her young charge. There are ghosts in Flora, too: specters that arise out of what our narrator calls her "remorse." Godwin had me at that word, "remorse": It's such a great, old-fashioned word, and it suggests that there'll be a lot of awful things going on in this novel that will need to be atoned for.

Read more

1:14pm

Wed April 24, 2013
Book Reviews

'Equilaterial': Martians, Oil And A Hole In The Desert

Originally published on Thu April 25, 2013 10:08 am

Johan Swanepoel iStockphoto.com

Equilateral is a weird little novel, but any reader familiar with Ken Kalfus expects his writing to go off-road. Kalfus wrote one of the best and certainly the least sentimental novels about New York City post-9/11. I loved A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, but I stopped assigning it to students in my New York lit class because they were usually turned off by its black humor and lack of uplift. Equilateral doesn't run that same risk of being in bad taste as social commentary because, at first, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with current events.

Read more

3:00pm

Thu April 11, 2013
Book Reviews

Beauty Marks: Patricia Volk's Lessons In Womanhood

Originally published on Thu May 23, 2013 12:12 pm

Patricia Volk is an essayist, novelist and memoirist. She grew up in a restaurant-owning family in New York City.
Random House

I've loved Patricia Volk's writing ever since I read her evocative 2002 memoir, Stuffed, which told the story of her grandfather — who introduced pastrami to America — as well as the rest of her family, who fed New Yorkers for more than 100 years in their various restaurants. Stuffed, like the best food memoirs, served up so much more on its plate than just a bagel and a schmear. So when I picked up Volk's new memoir, Shocked, my appetite was already whetted for the humor of her writing, its emotional complexity and smarts.

Read more

1:16pm

Wed April 3, 2013
Book Reviews

'Burgess Boys' Family Saga Explores The Authenticity Of Imperfection

iStockphoto.com

In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a famous essay called "The Philosophy of Composition," in which he sounds like an interior decorator. I say that because in the essay, Poe insists that all good writing must strive for what he calls "unity of effect." For Poe, it was important that everything in his short stories — characters, setting, narration — add up to one big "color-me-terrified" impact.

Read more

2:09pm

Wed March 27, 2013
Book Reviews

The Apathy In 'A Thousand Pardons' Is Hard To Forgive

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 4:32 pm

iStockPhoto

Jonathan Dee likes to write about rich, good-looking people falling apart — and who among the 99 percent of us can't enjoy that plot? In The Privileges, the dad of the family was a Wall Street trader, tempted by existential boredom into larceny; in A Thousand Pardons, the dad of the family is a partner in a New York law firm, tempted by existential boredom into a disastrous workplace affair.

Read more

2:19pm

Tue March 12, 2013
Book Reviews

'Lean In': Not Much Of A Manifesto, But Still A Win For Women

AP

Sheryl Sandberg tells an anecdote in her new book, Lean In, about sitting down with her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, for her first performance review as chief operating officer at Facebook. Zuckerberg told her that her "desire to be liked by everybody would hold [her] back." I hope she's worked on that problem because over the past few weeks, there sure have been a lot of people hating on Sheryl Sandberg.

Read more

2:30pm

Wed March 6, 2013
Books

A Fiendish Fly Recalls Kafka In 'Jacob's Folly'

iStockphoto.com

Man awakens to find out he has turned into an insect. And the Double Jeopardy question is, "What is Kafka's The Metamorphosis?" Well, what other response could there possibly be? Kafka all but cornered the market on that verminous plot in 1915; although, after nearly 100 years, the exclusivity clause may be about to expire. It takes a gutsy writer to pad in Gregor Samsa's sticky steps, but, by now, Rebecca Miller is clearly used to coping with the anxiety of influence and staying true to her own vision.

Read more

11:52am

Thu February 28, 2013
Book Reviews

Dorothea Lange's 'Migrant Mother' Inspires The Story Of 'Mary Coin'

Originally published on Thu February 28, 2013 1:00 pm

I shied away from Marisa Silver's new novel because of its book jacket: a reproduction of Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression-era photograph called "Migrant Mother." You know it: the woman's strong face is worn and worried; her children lean protectively into her. Lange took the photo at a pea-pickers' camp in California in 1936; the name of the destitute mother of seven, who wasn't identified till the 1970s, is Florence Owens Thompson. The photo on Silver's book jacket is colorized.

Read more

Pages