I love this book.
I love this book even though it has complicated my life by adding dozens and dozens of books to the list of books I will never have time to read, dammit.
** Maureen Corrigan is related to Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan.
** She once lived a part-time approximation of Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night.
** Her literary loves include mysteries with hard-boiled detectives ("the ultimate independent contractors").
** As a child, she read many Catholic "martyr stories" that taught a "pedagogical tough-love message. "
** She once told a student that Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is "an elegant goof."
** She once taught a course called "Sleuthing spinsters and dangerous dames."
** She regrets that tomboy characters in children's books have been "gussied up and diminished into girly girls by Disney."
** (My favorite) As a critic, she has been forced to misspend reading time on mysteries narrated by cats.
I love this woman.
Corrigan's narrative is not jumpy, and is not list-like. My notes are, both. When I started reading, my notes focused on her thoughts about reading as a search for personal authenticity, to deepen one's own life. By the end, I was compiling a bibliography.
I am fascinated by her analysis of men's vs. women's literature. Both, she says, can be extreme adventure stories. Men's adventures usually are visible, external struggles with extreme topography or evildoers. Women's, however, may not be as obvious if they are internal struggles with issues as strong as the most fearsome dictator or hurricane: abortion, widowhood, childbirth, psychological or physical abuse, repression. A woman's extreme adventure, she says, is "less Herculean and more Sisyphean in nature."
I am also fascinated by the memoir that is woven through her literary adventures. She left the Catholic childhood behind and pursued a career in writing that included non-tenured professorships and writing for the "Village Voice." Her job at NPR as book critic is her dream job (which anyone reading this blog knows to be true). This trajectory was, at least, logical.
Not so logical or linear was her struggle to have a child. She and her husband endured the extreme adventure, all-too-common, of treatment for infertility. Finally, they decided to adopt a Chinese baby. That trajectory, through Byzantine paperwork and terrifying Chinese roads, careened from despair to optimism to bewilderment - and ended with their daughter, Molly, asleep in their arms.
I came away from this book wishing that I had Maureen in my life as a friend - or, barring that, wishing I had unlimited access to her library.
I don't just recommend this book. I relish it.
(In no particular order, some of the books that I now want to read or reread : Gaudy Night, News from Nowhere, The Girl Sleuth, The Unicorn's Secret, The Godwulf Manuscript, Etchings in an Hourglass, Quartet in Autumn, Villette, Lost Lady, Lucky Jim, Murder in the English Department, stories by Chekhov including "Lady with a Lapdog," Madwoman in the Attic, The Lecturer's Tale, Straight Man, and Charming Billy.)