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 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Her book So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures was published by Little, Brown in September 2014 (paperback forthcoming May 2015). Corrigan is represented by Trinity Ray at The Tuesday Lecture Agency: trinity@tuesdayagency.com

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.

I hesitate to say it, but the one word that characterizes my best books of 2016 list is "serious." These books aren't grim and they're certainly not dull, but collectively they're serious about tackling big, sometimes difficult subjects — and they're also distinguished by seriously good writing. Here are 10 that you shouldn't miss. Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: This is FRESH AIR. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has her list of the 10-best books...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of the new novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon. It's called "Moonglow," and it's loosely based on his grandfather's life. Chabon's other novels include "The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh," "Wonder Boys" and "The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay." MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: The deathbed scene. Literature provides no greater opportunity for...

There's a tendency to approach a posthumous collection of work by an esteemed "writer's writer" with respectful courtesy, but Stanley Elkin's essays demand a rowdier response from readers. They're weird and spirited, full of literal piss and vinegar. Pieces of Soap is the name of this collection and writer Sam Lipsyte, in his introduction, rightly says that reading Elkin makes you realize "how lazy most writing is." It doesn't matter what the ostensible subject of these essays may be: they...

Last things first. One of the most extraordinary aspects of the third volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook's monumental biography of Eleanor Roosevelt is the way it ends. I don't think I've ever read another biography where the death of the subject is noted in an aside of less than 10 words, on the second to last page of the book. Bear in mind that, with this third and concluding volume, Cook has devoted almost 2,000 pages to Eleanor's life. Yet, she compacts her subject's post-White House years...

I need a moment away from unceasing word drip of debates about the election, about whether Elena Ferrante has the right to privacy , about whether Bob Dylan writes "Literature." I need a moment, more than a moment, in the steady and profound company of Mary Oliver and I think you might need one too. Oliver's latest book is a collection of essays called Upstream . Most of these pieces have been published elsewhere, but reshuffled here they form a kind of sporadic spiritual autobiography. If...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. One of October's most talked about books is a debut novel about a trio of young African-Americans in Southern California who are dealing with their community's expectations and their own mistakes and ambitions. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of "The Mothers" by Brit Bennett. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Brit Bennett first generated major buzz with a provocative 2014 essay she wrote in...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Emma Donoghue is an Irish-Canadian writer who's written many novels plays and works of non-fiction. But she's best known for her 2010 novel "Room," which was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and was made into a film last year starring Brie Larson. Donoghue's new novel is called "The Wonder." And our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, says it's aptly named. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: For Emma Donoghue,...

The 18-year-old Jane Jacobs picked a lousy time to leave her hometown of Scranton, Pa., and move to New York City. It was the fall of 1934 and New York was dragging itself through The Great Depression. During that first year in the city, Jacobs, who'd gone to secretarial school, scrounged for work, riding the subway from the Brooklyn apartment she shared with her older sister, Betty, into Manhattan. By late morning, she'd often be left with nothing to do, so, as her biographer Robert Kanigel...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. The beginning of the school year also brings a new academic novel set in one of this country's most prestigious campuses. The novel is called "Loner," and it's written by New York Times columnist Teddy Wayne. Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, has a review. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Consider the campus novel. Ever since F. Scott Fitzgerald published "This Side Of Paradise" in 1920 and clued the...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. It's been 11 years since Jonathan Safran Foer published his last novel, the award-winning, 9/11-inspired story "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close." This was the week that many of Foer's readers have been waiting for. His third novel "Here I Am" has just been published. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Dazzling and draining, dazzling and draining - that's how my...

What first grabs a reader about Mary Mann Hamilton's memoir, Trials of the Earth, is its backstory. Hamilton was born in Arkansas around 1866; her family ran a boarding house and at 18 she married one of the guests, an older Englishman named Frank Hamilton who claimed to have an aristocratic past. Hamilton moved with her husband deep into what she calls the "gumbo mud" of the Mississippi Delta, where she helped him run logging camps. Up at 4 a.m. every day, Hamilton fed upwards of a hundred...

Copyright 2016 American Public Media. To see more, visit American Public Media . TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has a timely suspense novel to recommend about the serious world of female gymnastics. Here's her review of "You Will Know Me" by Megan Abbott. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: As always, gymnastics is one of the most watched events at this year's Summer Olympics. There's something about the tension between those ripped-yet-childlike bodies of so...

The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla. References to the space program appear in almost every story here; so do mentions...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air .

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air .

In 2004, Susan Faludi stepped off a plane in Budapest, Hungary, to visit her father, a sometimes violent man with whom she'd barely spoken in over 25 years. The reunion was prompted by an email she'd received from her then 76-year-old father announcing that "after years of impersonating a macho man" he, or rather, she, had undergone sex reassignment surgery. Faludi's father, "Steven," was now "Stefanie." Here's how Faludi describes their airport reunion: "She was wearing a red cabled sweater,...

After two half sisters are separated, we follow their family lines over the course of two centuries through a series of short stories. Some of their descendants are in Africa, some are in America; some are free, some are enslaved. In the end, the two separate family sagas merge into one, back in the place where it all began. As plots go, this is one is pretty formulaic, but one of the achievements of Yaa Gyasi's debut novel, Homegoing, is that, although it's patterned on the "same-old, same...

Henry James famously said that "summer afternoon" were the two most beautiful words in the English language. With apologies to The Master, I'd tweak that sentiment to suggest that maybe "summer suspense" are two even more beautiful words. Surely, on a sunny summer day, few pleasures can be greater than reading outside in the shade cast by a first-rate thriller. Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air .

Pamela Erens' new novel, Eleven Hours, is what traditionally would be called a "small story." It's less than 200 pages, features only two main characters and focuses primarily on events that take place over the span of, well, 11 hours. It's also a novel about the ultimate female adventure of childbirth. The book is fierce and vivid in its depiction of the exhaustion of the spirit and the rending of the flesh during childbirth. So much so, that it makes that boy adventure aboard Herman...

"More than most places, Pennsylvania is what lies beneath." That's a line Jennifer Haigh places at the beginning and the end of her latest novel, Heat & Light. Haigh knows a lot about "what lies beneath" in Pennsylvania. She was born in the coal country of Western Pennsylvania and her 2005 best-selling novel, Baker Towers, traced the rise and fall of the fictional coal town, Bakerton, in the years following World War II. Haigh returned to Bakerton a few years ago in her short story collection...

As America's population ages, we're going to be seeing a lot more of these kinds of books: I'm talking about memoirs, written by adult children, about the extreme adventures of caring for and reconnecting with their elderly parents. At the forefront of this emerging genre, of course, are cartoonist Roz Chast 's brilliant graphic memoir, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? and George Hodgman 's deeply affecting and absurdist, Bettyville . Now, Betsy Lerner in The Bridge Ladies ups the...

I'm about to rave about two audacious works of historical suspense fiction: I say "audacious" because you have to have some nerve to tackle the subject of whaling after Melville, or to structure your story around a painting, after so many other novelists — most recently, Tracy Chevalier and Donna Tartt — have kick-started their own tales with the same device. But, not to worry: the only thing tired about these novels will be you, dear reader, because you really will want to stay up all night...

In the "Prologue" to her 2012 autobiography, Country Girl, Edna O'Brien tells readers about being tested for deafness a few years ago at a National Health clinic in London where she lives. O'Brien was told by the technician there that in terms of her hearing, "she's a broken piano." That dismissive phrase haunted O'Brien and, somewhat in defiance, she wrote what turned out to be a spectacular memoir. Perhaps that phrase is still proving a useful spur to writing, for at age 85, O'Brien has...

"[T]here was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well." That fairly familiar line, a mere fleeting perception from The Great Gatsby, is the bedrock wisdom of Charles Bock's beautiful and harrowing new novel, Alice & Oliver . Alice is a new mother in her 20s who, one day, out of the blue, coughs up bloody phlegm, collapses and is diagnosed with leukemia. Oliver is her husband. He's a trouper who hangs onto his job and tends...

Helen Oyeyemi is one of literature's weird sisters. She's kin to the uncanny likes of Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson and Jeanette Winterson, whose names trail down the back covers of her books like a pagan invocation. Her nouveau Gothic stories are "out there": long and winding, set in surreal landscapes, and elaborately peopled with ghosts, goddesses and grinning puppets. They seem deliberately designed to make a reader feel ... lost. But, even the most baffling stories in Oyeyemi's new...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Dana Spiotta's last two novels, "Stone Arabia" and "Eat The Document," cemented her reputation as a novelist of ideas and attitude. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says Spiotta's new novel "Innocents And Others" will only crank up the acclaim. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Dana Spiotta's new novel "Innocents And Others" passes the famous Bechdel test with ease. That's the requirement, as defined...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. In her 2013 book, "The Trip To Echo Spring," Olivia Laing wrote about the complex relationship between drinking and writing in the work of writers like Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver. Her new book, "The Lonely City," explores a more elusive subject, the connection between loneliness and art. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: When...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . Transcript DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Ethan Canin first caught the attention of the literary world with his 1985 short story collection, "Emperor Of The Air," and because for a time after its publication he simultaneously pursued literary and medical careers. Since then he's published acclaimed novels like "For Kings And Planets" and "America America." Our book critic Maureen Corrigan says that three decades later Canin is...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Murder and madcap adventures come together in Paul Goldberg's unconventional debut novel "The Yid," which is set in Stalinist Russia. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Much of what you need to know about Paul Goldberg's singular debut novel is encapsulated in its title, "The Yid." To paraphrase the late comedian Henny Youngman's classic line, take...

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air . Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that Elizabeth McKenzie, whose short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, has the kind of imagination that discovers hidden pockets of weirdness within the conventional marriage plot. Here's her review of McKenzie's new novel, "The Portable Veblen." MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Elizabeth McKenzie's novel "The Portable Veblen" makes me think of some...

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