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 served as a juror for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. So We Read On, her forthcoming book on the extraordinary "second act" of The Great Gatsby, will be published by Little, Brown in September 2014.

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 TimesBook Prize.

Pages

4:57pm

Thu April 17, 2014
Book Reviews

'Bintel Brief' And 'Hellfighters': American Stories, Powerfully Illustrated

A Bintel Brief and The Harlem Hellfighters are two New York Stories. That's why I'm combining them in this review; not because — as some purists still think — they're lesser works of literature because they're graphic novels. If Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Art Spiegelman's 1991 classic, Maus, haven't yet convinced the high-art holdouts of the value of stories told in visual sequence, nothing I say now about these two books is likely to.

Read more

2:08pm

Tue April 1, 2014
Book Reviews

This Tightly Choreographed Tale Of Ambition And Ballet Will 'Astonish'

iStockphoto

The title of Maggie Shipstead's second novel is: Astonish Me. She did just that --astonish me -- with her debut novel of 2012, called Seating Arrangements. After reading that novel, I likened the then 20-something-year-old Shipstead to "Edith Wharton with a millennial generation edge." The comparison remains sound.

Read more

2:05pm

Tue March 25, 2014
Book Reviews

'Thief' Delivers An Unfiltered Depiction Of Life In Lagos

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 3:07 pm

Derrick Ceyrac AFP/Getty Images

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. Teju Cole's Every Day Is For The Thief is not much of a novel. Forget plot or character development: This is a piece of writing that's all about setting. If you take what Cole is offering here and value it on its own terms, you'll probably appreciate the curious magic at work in this slim not-quite-a-novel. In chapters that stand as separate, short vignettes, Every Day Is For The Thief describes a young New York doctor's visit back to his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria.

Read more

1:45pm

Tue March 18, 2014
Book Reviews

What U.S. Learned From 'Heathen School' Wasn't Part Of The Lesson Plan

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 9:51 am

Picture this. You're a young girl, living in a remote town in Connecticut in 1825. You've taken refuge in a neighbor's house and, as night falls, you peek out a window to see your friends and family members assembling outdoors around two crude paintings: One is of a young white woman (you); the other painting is of a man, a Native American.

Read more

3:12pm

Wed March 5, 2014
Book Reviews

'Schmuck' Revisits The Golden Age Of Radio, And A Bygone Manhattan

RTimages iStockphoto

Beginning in 1952, and running through 1968, there was a legendary radio show called Klavan And Finch that was on WNEW in New York City. It was a four-hour live program featuring music and antic conversation between handsome, straight man Dee Finch and his live-wire counterpart, Gene Klavan.

Read more

1:50pm

Wed February 26, 2014
Book Reviews

These Stories Consider Solitude, With Echoes Of Emily Dickinson

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 2:20 pm

Courtesy of Knopf

Lorrie Moore isn't quite a household name. This was news to me, because I thought that, given that she's the kind of writer who's published in The New Yorker and profiled in The New York Times, most culture vultures would know who she is. But, over the past couple of weeks when I mentioned her new book, Bark, in conversations, both in the halls of academe and over meals with friends, I mostly got blank stares. (One smarty confused her with that other great literary "Lorrie" — the late Laurie Colwin — whose short stories and novels are also essential reading.)

Read more

11:03am

Mon February 17, 2014
Book Reviews

Don't Know What To Do With Your Life? Neither Did Thoreau

Originally published on Mon February 17, 2014 2:59 pm

The works of Henry David Thoreau have influenced generations of readers, but Thoreau himself wasn't always celebrated. His schoolmates and neighbors found him standoffish and regarded his fascination with plants and Indian relics as downright odd.
AP

Every year, students come into my office and say, "I don't know what I want to do with my life." Of course, plenty of people in the world don't have the luxury of such cluelessness, but my students don't look like they're enjoying their privilege; they look scared and depressed, as though they've already failed some big test of character. They might find some comfort in Michael Sims' new biography of the young Henry David Thoreau called, simply, The Adventures of Henry Thoreau.

Read more

1:31pm

Wed February 5, 2014
Book Reviews

Triumph Of The Bookworms: Two Novels To Cure Your Winter Blues

Originally published on Wed February 5, 2014 5:19 pm

In the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick, Ishmael tells us he takes to sea whenever he feels the onset of "a damp, drizzly November in [his] soul." I know how he feels. Whenever the frigid funk of February settles in, I, too, yearn to get out of town. This year I have, thanks to two exquisite vehicles of escape fiction. Both Rachel Pastan's Alena and Katherine Pancol's The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles are smart entertainments perfect for curling up with on a winter's night.

Read more

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

3:50pm

Thu November 7, 2013
Book Reviews

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

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

2:53pm

Thu October 31, 2013
Book Reviews

Dickensian Ambition And Emotion Make 'Goldfinch' Worth The Wait

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 3:39 pm

"Dickensian" is one of those literary modifiers that's overused. But before I officially retire this ruined adjective (or exile it to Australia, as Dickens himself would have done), I want to give it one final outing, because no other word will do. Here goes: Donna Tartt's grand new novel, The Goldfinch, is Dickensian both in the ambition of its jumbo, coincidence-laced plot, as well as in its symphonic range of emotions.

Read more

1:22pm

Mon October 21, 2013
Book Reviews

If You're Looking To Read 'Lady Things,' Choose Jezebel Over Jones

Originally published on Mon October 21, 2013 5:19 pm

Dizzy dames don't age well. An attractive young thing doing prat falls is disarming; an older woman stumbling around for laughs spells hip replacement. Sad to say, Bridget Jones has hung on to her once-endearing daffiness, self-deprecation, and wine dependency far past their collective expiration date. That's one of the big reasons why her latest outing, called Mad About the Boy, is painful to read.

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

1:16pm

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

Pages