Living between the covers

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Living between the covers

A gem with rough edges


Book reviewer Maureen Corrigan receives about 75 books a week at her home and 25 at her office at Georgetown University, where she teaches. What does she do with all of these books? She has a 4,000-title home library, give or take a few books, and the rest she usually donates to a local library.

“It’s the dream job if you’re an obsessive reader,” she said at a reading and talk at the Penn Bookstore Oct. 11.

Which Corrigan is—so much so that she’s written a memoir titled, “Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books.” It’s part autobiography, part love letter to some of the books that have helped shape her life. “It’s the first time I sat down and wrote about books I wanted to write about,” she said.

Corrigan, book reviewer for the NPR show Fresh Air for 17 years and mystery columnist for the Washington Post, received her Ph.D. in English from Penn in 1987—a decidedly mixed experience, which she details in her book. Reading from her chapter, “Tales of Toil,” Corrigan described how coming to Penn from her blue-collar Queens home was a shock, as she landed in the middle of an Ivy-encrusted pond largely still dominated by men. She wrote that she set out looking for a community of fellow readers in graduate school—what she found were isolated bookworms and careerists. But perhaps the highlight of her time in Philadelphia was her discovery of hard-boiled detective fiction by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, as well as the Kingsley Amis novel, “Lucky Jim”— the story of a man from a working class background who lands in the middle of academia. “Those were the guys who stole me away from [John] Ruskin and [William] Morris,” she said.

Since Corrigan tries to review one book per week for Fresh Air, she doesn’t get much time for pleasure reading. When she next gets some downtime, Corrigan said she’s looking forward to reading the newest work by Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith and Joan Didion.

Originally published on October 20, 2005