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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.

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...

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

There's so much to like about the classy Last Interview series, but one of the things I now like best about it is the heavenly trio who was recently added to the line-up: Ernest Hemingway, Philip K. Dick, and Nora Ephron. Can you think of three writers who, on the face of it, would have had less to say to each other at a dinner party? Hemingway would have knocked back the booze and gone all moody and silent; the notoriously paranoid Dick would have been under the table checking for bugging...

This year, most of the best stories I read came in small-ish packages. Many books that were either big in size — like Garth Risk Hallberg's over-900-page opus, City on Fire , and Jonathan Franzen's 500-plus page Purity — ended up being just "OK." The same, in my opinion, went for some books that generated "big buzz," like Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies . Short stories and fragmented, intense memoirs dominate my best books list, along with the incredible true story of a short-haired dog....

Mary Gaitskill writes tough. Her characters are almost always "users" — users of drugs and other people; they're often mean and manipulative and flooded with self-loathing. In short, to quote the title of her debut short story collection, Gaitskill writes about people who are no strangers to "bad behavior." You have to write tough — and brilliantly — to pull off a novel like The Mare . The story opens on a dark-skinned, 11-year-old Dominican girl from Brooklyn named Velveteen Vargas who's...

I hate to make so much of Roger Angell's age, but he started it. Angell is 95, and he's written decades' worth of books and articles (many of them about baseball), humor pieces, profiles, and poems — some of which are gathered in this new collection called, This Old Man. The title comes from an essay he wrote for The New Yorker in February 2014 about what it's like to live into extreme old age. That essay knocked it out of the park the way only a stellar piece of writing can. It opens on a...

Mention Oscar Hijuelos and most people think The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. And why not? It's his gorgeous second novel, the one that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1990. More novels followed, as well as a memoir, but much of that work carried trace elements of the exuberance and melancholy that made Mambo Kings so distinctive. Hijuelos' sudden in death in 2013 was one of those literary deaths that genuinely seemed to sadden a lot of readers — his work was beloved for, among other things,...

Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/ . Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. In this season of witches, a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff re-examines the most famous witches tale of them all. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of "The Witches." MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: It's our national campfire story, the Salem witch hunts, of course. Specifically the nine months in 1692 when the town of Salem and...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Garth Risk Hallberg has been living every aspiring novelist's dream - a reported $2 million book contract with a major publisher for his debut novel. Hallberg's novel, "City On Fire," started generating serious literary buzz well before it was published last week. Here's what our book critic, Maureen Corrigan has to say about it. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Back in the 1980s, I remember...

In Patti Smith's new memoir, the "M Train" figures as a Magical Mystery line. She rides it far off into Memoryland, and her snaking Mental trains of thought carry her into reveries on subjects as wide-ranging as her passionate appetite for detective stories and her surprising membership in an elite scientific society devoted to the subject of continental drift. Smith travels far afield geographically, too, in this memoir, making pilgrimages to the homes and graves of beloved writers and...

Writer Jojo Moyes has a name that lacks gravitas. To be honest, I even feel a bit silly saying her name when I recommend her novels to people — which I do, often and energetically. It's hard to imagine a "Jojo" ever winning the Nobel Prize for Literature; but Moyes has already won a pretty good consolation prize — that is, the kind of staunch, adoring readership that will follow her novels anywhere they go. Moyes writes those kind of big twisting romance-y stories about women, often working...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Lauren Groff is a young writer who's already garnered serious acclaim for her novels, "The Monsters Of Templeton" and "Arcadia." Her third novel, "Fates And Furies," has just been published, and book critic Maureen Corrigan has more words of praise for Groff's writing, with some qualification. Here's her review. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Biographers of Charles Dickens tell us that even...

If you don't know Elena Ferrante — and judging by conversations I've had, many readers still don't know her books — it's partly because Ferrante herself doesn't want to be known. "I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors," Ferrante declared in a letter to her publisher in 1991 when her first novel, Troubling Love, was about to come out. "If [books] have something to say," Ferrante continued, "they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won't." With...

About two-thirds of the way through Jonathan Franzen's big new novel, Purity , we're told about an "ambitious project" conceived by a young artist named Anabel. Anabel finds it strange that people can go through their lives without "having made the most basic acquaintance with [their bodies] ... certainly places on the head and back that [they] can't directly see." So, with "a fine-tipped black marker" Anabel divides her own body into a grid of 500 "57 x 57 millimeter squares" and dedicates...

My grandmother worked all her life cleaning houses and offices, so it's hard for me to resist a short story collection called A Manual for Cleaning Women. Cleaning ladies are rare characters in literary fiction; so, too, are clerical workers, hospital staff and switchboard operators, but they populate Lucia Berlin's stories because Berlin herself held those kinds of jobs. In addition, she was a divorced mother of four and an alcoholic. Unlike cleaning ladies, divorcees and alcoholics are a...

Lots of us are afraid to confront the things lurking in our basements. In mine, it's the spider crickets; in Denise Inge's, it was the bones, piles of human bones that reached almost to the ceiling of the stone cellar beneath her house. When Inge's husband, John, was appointed the bishop of Worcester Cathedral in 2008, she knew the house they'd be moving into with their two young daughters was built over an ossuary, or "charnel house." The bones of Benedictine monks were collected there in...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript DAVE DAVIES, HOST: A just-published literary noir called "Dragonfish" puts a new spin on the old formula. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has fallen hard for this tale of gamblers, dark alleys and dangerous dames. Here's her review. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: In the dead of summer with the sun beating down, what could be more refreshing than a straight shot of literary noir? After all, noir is the stuff of shadowy...

Talk about opening with a bang: at the beginning of Julia Pierpont's debut novel, Among the Ten Thousand Things, an 11-year-old girl named Kay Shanley enters the lobby of her New York City apartment building. We readers have already been clued into the fact that Kay is the kind of awkward, shy, pre-teen other girls ridicule. We just want her to get safely into her family's apartment and back to watching the Harry Potter movies she loves. But, just as the elevator doors are closing, the...

As another Southern writer once said, "You can't go home again." In Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, which takes place in the mid-1950s, a 26-year-old Scout Finch takes the train from New York City home to Maycomb, Ala., and finds the familiar world turned mighty strange. TV and air-conditioning have changed the landscape, and beloved childhood friends like Dill and her brother Jem have vanished. Others, like Calpurnia, look at Scout, here called by her grown-up name of "Jean Louise," as...

I've just spent much of the past two weeks on my couch, reading suspense fiction. The result of all that heavy lifting is this list of recommendations — four thrillers, very different in style and MO, but all deadly accurate in their aim to entertain. Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Summer usually offers a little extra time to relax, but many people enjoy spending some of that time on edge reading thrillers. Our book...

Since it opened in 1911, the building has become a New York City landmark, praised not only for its beauty but also for its functional brilliance. In the words of one contemporary architect, the main branch of The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street is "a perfect machine for reading." The grand Reading Room sits atop seven levels of iron and steel books stacks whose contents could, at one time, be delivered to anybody who requested a book within a matter of minutes via a...

The initial "selling point" of Mia Alvar's debut short story collection, In the Country, is its fresh subject matter: namely, Filipinos living under martial law in the 1970s in their own country and in exile, working as maids, engineers, teachers, health care workers and hired hands in the Middle East and the United States. Beyond literary novelty, however, what will make readers want to remain in the tired and sad company of Alvar's workers and wanderers is her own gorgeous writing style....

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Kate Atkinson's 2013 novel "Life After Life" won critical praise for its achievement of being both a sweeping historical novel and an ingeniously constructed account of one woman's rather bumpy life's journey. Now, Atkinson has written what she calls a companion to "Life After Life." Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of "A God In Ruins," which is also the selection for the ...

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Transcript TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Travel near and far, literary souvenirs and the cruise ship companionship of an animal are the subjects of the novels and works of nonfiction on Maureen Corrigan's list of early summer book recommendations. MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Earlier this week, my teenage daughter and a friend took a bus up to New York. Of course, I had to burden her with anxious advice like hold onto your...

In 1946, reeling from the death of his wife and seeking an escape from the demands of London literary life, Eric Blair, aka "George Orwell," moved to a cottage on the isle of Jura off the west coast of Scotland. What the place lacked in modern conveniences like electricity and running water, it perhaps made up for in misty views of the Atlantic and samplings of the local whiskey. Orwell lived intermittently on Jura in the few years before he died of tuberculosis in 1950; it was in that remote...

When the news of Ruth Rendell's death broke last weekend, I searched for some of her novels on my mystery bookshelves. Rendell, 85, wrote more than 60 novels, so I should've been able to find a few, but no dice. I'm forever giving Rendell's novels away to people who need a good book. What made Rendell extraordinary was her consummate simplicity. As a writer, she was akin to the medieval artist Giotto — or at least to the apocryphal story about Giotto, who, when asked to submit a sample of his...

Columbine; Port Arthur, Australia; The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; Newtown — the list goes on and on. And, by now, the elements of this type of massacre have become ritualized: usually one, but sometimes more than one, deeply disaffected person, almost always male, who is heavily armed with guns and/or explosives, targets the innocent. In the aftermath, which sometimes includes a trial, the crucial question of "Why?" is never really answered. Instead, most of us are left to wonder how any human...

Ross Macdonald had a smart answer to the tedious question of why he devoted his considerable talents to writing "mere" detective stories: Macdonald said that the detective story was "a kind of welder's mask enabling writers to handle dangerously hot material." Like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (the great hard-boiled masters whom he revered), Macdonald set out to excavate the dark depths of American life, but to find his own "dangerously hot material" Macdonald descended into...

Ann Packer's new novel, The Children's Crusade , opens in California, on a scene that's so bedrock American, it's borderline corny. In the fall of 1954, a young Navy doctor newly discharged from service during the Korean War borrows a convertible and goes for a drive in the hills south of San Francisco. He follows a narrow road until he discovers a clearing where a beautiful live oak tree "stands guard." Instead of planting a flag, this modern day explorer, whose name is Bill Blair, puts a...

Clive James' most anthologized poem is commonly known by its first two lines: "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered/And I Am Pleased." Those lines tell the uninitiated almost all they need to know about the pleasures to be found in reading James: chief among them, his wit and his appreciation of the underlying absurdity of so much literary effort — including his own. What those famous lines don't reveal about James is his erudition, lightly worn but very much on display in his latest...

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