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. 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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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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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