Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading – Maureen Corrigan

Maureen Corrigan is a book reviewer for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air program, and as such, reads scads of books. In her nonfiction memoir “Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading,” she shares her insights into literature and the many ways in which books have touched her life and indeed all of our lives.

Because of the very literary and educated tone of her writing, I expected Maureen to say that she prefers to read highbrow literature, but I was surprised to hear her say that her favorite books are hard-boiled detective novels. She does read and review a variety, however, and her comments are applicable to nearly every reader.

We begin with her comments about women’s extreme-adventure stories, which tend to vary greatly from a man’s adventure story. Whereas a man will go out and battle the elements and climb mountains and kill bears with his hands, a woman’s extreme-adventure will consist of the ravages of emotion, love felt and lost, and the sacrifices that are made to either hang on to that love, tooth and nail, or to go on bravely after sending that love away. She cites the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen frequently in this passage, then moves on to discuss John Ruskin and Sam Spade’s views on working for a living.

She then goes on to share her feelings about the “traditional mating, dating, and procreating plot,” throwing in stories of her own wedding and marriage along the way. She tells of her experiences adopting a daughter from China, and how books played into her preparation for that event.

One of her remarks struck me as particularly insightful: “What I did come to understand as I sat through classes at Penn is that reading good books doesn’t necessarily make one a good person—or a smarter, funnier, or more cultivated person, either. This was a major epiphany for me—one I still struggle to come to terms with, since, as a teacher, I also have to believe that reading good books has some kind of influence on my students. We just can’t be sure that it might be. Books are powerful.”

This memoir is somewhat rambling, not sticking to closely to a structure or an outline, and I did find that the author has a somewhat stubborn habit of finding sexual symbolism where, to my mind, there really isn’t any. However, I greatly enjoyed her thoughts and experiences with books, authors, reading, and losing herself in the world of books.

(This book was published in 2005 by Random House.)

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