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.

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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.

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1:08pm

Wed May 15, 2013
Book Reviews

Coming To 'Americanah': Two Tales Of Immigrant Experience

Originally published on Wed May 15, 2013 2:34 pm

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2:30pm

Wed March 6, 2013
Books

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

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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.

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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.

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1:13pm

Thu February 21, 2013
Book Reviews

Karen Russell's 'Vampires' Deserve The Raves

Originally published on Thu February 21, 2013 2:39 pm

I don't have a good track record when it comes to raving about Karen Russell. Last year, along with my two fellow judges, I nominated Russell's novel, Swamplandia!, as well as two other finalists, for the Pulitzer Prize. Result? The Pulitzer Board made headlines by deciding not to give out the award in Fiction. Nevertheless, I rave on: this time about Russell's new short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

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1:38pm

Tue February 12, 2013
Book Reviews

A Soured Student-Teacher Friendship Threatens 'Everything'

Originally published on Tue February 12, 2013 2:55 pm

Matjaz Boncina iStockphoto

Over the past week or so, I've mentioned James Lasdun's new book, Give Me Everything You Have to a bunch of colleagues; they've all heard about it already and they're all dying to read it. What Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was to parenting a couple of years ago, Lasdun's Give Me Everything You Have may well be to teaching: a controversial personal reflection on the professor-student relationship — except Lasdun, unlike Chua, really has no advice to offer; no certitude, nor help for pain.

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1:54pm

Mon January 28, 2013
Book Reviews

Jane Austen's 'Pride And Prejudice' At 200

Originally published on Mon January 28, 2013 6:38 pm

Harper Collins

My favorite item from the growing mountain of Pride and Prejudice bicentennial trivia comes courtesy of an article in something called Regency World Magazine, which is going gaga over the anniversary. The article, "Albert Goes Ape for Austen," describes how a 200-pound orangutan named Albert, living in the Gdansk Zoo in Poland, insists on having 50 pages a night of Pride and Prejudice read to him at bedtime by his keeper or else he refuses to go to sleep.

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1:05pm

Thu January 17, 2013
Book Reviews

How A 'Madwoman' Upended A Literary Boys Club

This week, the National Book Critics Circle announced that two feminist literary scholars, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, would be the recipients of its 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award.

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1:15pm

Tue January 15, 2013
Book Reviews

George Saunders Lives Up To The Hype

George Saunders' previous books include In Persuasion Nation and The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip. He won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006.
Basso Cannarsa Courtesy Random House

I was baffled by the cover of The New York Times Magazine two Sundays ago. You may remember that the headline of the cover story was: "George Saunders Has Written The Best Book You'll Read This Year." I was baffled because the only George Saunders I could think of was that old movie star who was always playing cads in films like Rebecca and All About Eve.

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12:26pm

Fri January 4, 2013
Book Reviews

'A Grain Of Truth' About Memory And Modern Poland

My mother is Polish, which meant that during the holidays when I was a kid, we broke out the polka records and kielbasa for special occasion meals from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Certainly, nostalgia for those belch-y festivities of yore led me to A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski, a Polish mystery novel that unexpectedly turns out to be as hard-boiled as the skin around a circlet of that ubiquitous holiday kielbasa.

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1:06pm

Thu December 13, 2012
Best Books Of 2012

10 Books To Help You Recover From A Tense 2012

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 2:48 pm

Nishant Choksi

2012 has been a very jittery year — what with the presidential election, extreme weather events and the looming "fiscal cliff." In response to these tense times, some readers seek out escape; others look to literature that directly confronts the atmospheric uncertainty of the age. I guess I'm in the latter camp, because many of my favorite books this year told stories, imagined and real, about ordinary people who felt like they didn't have a clue what hit 'em.

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1:35pm

Fri December 7, 2012
Book Reviews

At Home With Dickens And Louisa May Alcott

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 12:49 pm

Free Press

Famous writers and their families: that's the subject of two recent biographical studies that read like novels — one a Gothic nightmare; the other, a romance.

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3:00pm

Tue November 20, 2012
Book Reviews

Hungry Hearts And Family Matters In 'Middlesteins'

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At first glance, a novel in which the main character eats herself to death may not seem like the most felicitous pick for Thanksgiving week; but The Middlesteins turns out to be a tough but affecting story about family members putting up with each other, even in their most unlovely, chewing-with-their-mouths-open life moments. If you have a Thanksgiving family reunion looming before you that doesn't exactly promise to be a Norman Rockwell painting, The Middlesteins may just be the perfect literary corrective to overindulgence in high-calorie holiday expectations.

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2:28pm

Wed November 14, 2012
Book Reviews

Ian McEwan's 'Sweet Tooth' Leaves A Sour Taste

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 4:49 pm

iStockphoto.com

Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth is that oddest of literary achievements: an ingenious novel that I compulsively read, intellectually admired and increasingly hated. By the time I got to McEwan's last sneer of a plot twist, I felt that reading Sweet Tooth is the closest I ever want to come to the experience of watching a snuff film. Think that's harsh? Open up Sweet Tooth and find out what McEwan thinks of you, Dear Reader, particularly if you're a woman, as most readers of fiction are.

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3:11pm

Mon November 5, 2012
Book Reviews

Caring For Mom, Dreaming Of 'Elsewhere'

Richard Russo was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Empire Falls. His other novels include Mohawk and The Risk Pool.
Elena Seibert Courtesy of Knopf

Something must have been in the tap water in Gloversville, N.Y., during the 1950s when Richard Russo was growing up there — something, that is, besides the formaldehyde, chlorine, lime, lead, sulfuric acid and other toxic byproducts that the town's tanneries leaked out daily.

But one day, a droplet of mead must have fallen into the local reservoir and Russo gulped it down, because, boy, does he have the poet's gift. In a paragraph or even a phrase, Russo can summon up a whole world, and the world he writes most poignantly about is that of the industrial white working class.

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2:51pm

Thu October 18, 2012
Book Reviews

'Master' Jefferson: Defender Of Liberty, Then Slavery

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 2:59 pm

Hulton Archive Getty Images

His public words have inspired millions, but for scholars, his private words and deeds generate confusion, discomfort, apologetic excuses. When the young Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," there's compelling evidence to indicate that he indeed meant all men, not just white guys.

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1:50pm

Thu October 11, 2012
Book Reviews

'May We Be Forgiven': A Story Of Second Chances

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 4:58 pm

Viking Adult

A.M. Homes is a writer I'll pretty much follow anywhere because she's indeed so smart, it's scary; yet she's not without heart. It's been a while since her last book, the 2007 memoir The Mistress's Daughter, which is certainly the sharpest and most emotionally complex account of growing up adopted that I've ever read.

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11:55am

Thu October 4, 2012
Book Reviews

Roving Eyes, Wandering Hands In 'How You Lose Her'

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 3:58 pm

Riverhead Books

Ay-yi-yi, what is it with these Dominican men? Their hands — and eyes — never stop roving, even as they're slipping engagement rings on their true loves' fingers.

If that sounds like negative stereotyping, don't complain to me: I'm just passing along the collective cultural verdict of the women and men, most of them themselves Dominican, who hustle through Junot Diaz's latest short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her. A good man is hard to find in these stories, and when you do find him, he's always in bed with someone else.

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1:04pm

Tue September 25, 2012
Book Reviews

A Lifetime Of Love In 'My Husband And My Wives'

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 1:58 pm

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Given the glut of autobiographies, a provocative subject alone isn't enough to snag a reader's attention, although, admittedly, the title of Charles Rowan Beye's new memoir, My Husband and My Wives, is certainly arresting. It's Beye's charming raconteur's voice, however, and his refusal to bend anecdotes into the expected "lessons" that really make this memoir such a knockout.

Beye won me over in his "Introduction" when he admitted that, looking back at the long span of his life — he's now over 80 — the big question he still asks himself is, "What was that all about?"

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1:35pm

Wed September 19, 2012
Book Reviews

'Life Of Objects' Tells A Cautionary WWII Fairy Tale

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 11:25 am

Knopf

Susanna Moore's latest novel, The Life of Objects, is a slim World War II saga that reads like a cautionary fairy tale: It's packed with descriptions of ornate furniture and paintings, lavish banquets, demons and diamonds. At the center of the story is a young girl bewitched by her own desire to live a larger life, a wish that's granted with grim exactitude.

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2:02pm

Wed September 12, 2012
Book Reviews

'The Scientists': A Father's Lie And A Family's Legacy

Originally published on Wed September 12, 2012 3:20 pm

Every New York story ever written or filmed falls into one of two categories. The first — like Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or the musical On the Town — regards New York as the representative American city, a jam-packed distillation of the country's dreams and nightmares. The second group views New York as a foreign place — a city off the coast of the U.S. mainland that somehow drifted away from Paris or Mars. Think every Manhattan movie ever made by Woody Allen.

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3:37pm

Wed September 5, 2012
Book Reviews

Was Zadie Smith's Novel 'NW' Worth The Wait?

British author Zadie Smith in 2005.
Sergio Dionisio AP

Zadie Smith wrote her last novel On Beauty seven years ago — a long time in the anxious world of publishing. Her new novel NW was released in the U.S. on Monday. Critic Maureen Corrigan asks: Was it worth the wait?

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

12:28pm

Mon August 27, 2012
Book Reviews

In 'The Brontes,' New Details Of Family's 'Strange World'

Originally published on Mon August 27, 2012 3:13 pm

In the new, updated edition of her landmark biography The Brontes, Juliet Barker tells a sad story about Branwell, the infamous brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

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2:01pm

Tue August 7, 2012
Book Reviews

'Dreamland': Open Your Eyes To The Science Of Sleep

Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 2:06 pm

iStockphoto.com

Step, if you will, into my bedroom at night. (Don't worry, this is a PG-rated invitation.) At first, all is tranquil: My husband and I, exhausted by our day's labors, slumber, comatose, in our double bed. But, somewhere around 2 a.m., things begin to go bump in the night. My husband's body starts twitching, like Frankenstein's monster receiving his first animating shocks of electricity. Thrashing about, he'll kick me and steal the covers. In his dreams, he's always fighting or being chased; one night he said he dreamt Dick Cheney was gaining on him.

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