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:

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.

Most everyone's spirits are a bit deflated after the holidays. So, as a literary antidote, I recommend a just-published anthology called New York Diaries: 1609 – 2009. Editor Teresa Carpenter has collected four centuries worth of diary excerpts written by people, great and small, who've lived in or just passed through one of the greatest cities in the world.

This was a terrific year for fiction and a particularly strong year for first-time novelists. Some of the literary debutantes who glide through this "10 best" list are so young, their wisdom teeth probably haven't had time to become impacted yet. Majestically bringing up the rear of the procession are some much-decorated veterans whose sustained achievements in fiction should ensure that the young 'uns don't rest too comfortably on their laurels.

I'll admit, it's kind of hokey to be talking about a novel called The Pilgrim right before Thanksgiving. What's even more quaint is the fact that The Pilgrim is one of those straightforward works of historical fiction the likes of which we don't see so much anymore.

Ben Lerner's debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station is one of the most compelling books about nothing I've ever read.

Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of this kind of spinning-one's-wheels-in-the-sand fiction. Austen and Dickens and Hammett got to me early and spoiled me: I like plot. But Lerner's offbeat little novel manages to convey what everyday life feels like before we impose the structure of plot on our experience.

To quote the immortal title of her 1965 collection of movie reviews, Pauline Kael may have "lost it at the movies," but she infinitely renewed her wide-eyed wonder as a moviegoer in her essays for The New Yorker magazine. Kael was no virgin as a critic when she started writing for The New Yorker in 1967 — but when she loved a movie, she always wrote like she was being touched for the very first time.

Sometimes the stories that stay with us aren't the classics or even all that polished. They're what some critics call "good-bad" stories: the writing may be workmanlike and the characters barely developed, but something about them is so potent that they're unforgettable, so unforgettable they can attain the status of myth.

This review was originally broadcast on September 9, 2010. Freedom is now available in paperback.

You've got to hand it to Russell Banks: He's certainly not writing with an eye to please readers or to be taken up by book clubs across the land. Lost Memory of Skin is not aiming to be a "crossover" literary stealth hit. If you're going to read it, you're the one who will have to "cross over" to Banks' world, and it ain't very pretty on his side of the social divide.

The latest distress signal being sounded on the chat sites I share with my bookish friends is that IKEA is about to introduce an updated version of its classic BILLY bookcase — some 10 of which totter to overflowing in my own basement. Anticipating "the death of the book," IKEA has redesigned the good old BILLY with deeper shelves and glass doors, thus transforming it from a bookcase into a tchotchke cabinet.

The Submission is a gorgeously written novel of ideas about America in the wake of September 11th. It tackles subjects like identity politics, undocumented immigrants and the stress fractures of democracy. Maybe the most audacious question that's posed by Amy Waldman's debut novel, however, is the implicit one that lingers long after a reader finishes it: Namely, could it be that a decade after the attacks, America finally has the 9/11 novel — one that does justice, artistically and historically, to the aftershocks of that day?

I've been on a roll this summer reading and reviewing good novels about family crises — Rachel DeWoskin's Big Girl Small, Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia, Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang.

There's a temperature at which water boils and there's a temperature at which the brain melts and we've reached it. It's August, and almost everywhere in the country, it's hot. The will to think has oozed out in millions of droplets of forehead sweat. That's why it's such a minty fresh delight to open up Kevin Wilson's debut novel, The Family Fang, and feel the revitalizing blast of original thought; robust invention; screwball giddiness.