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Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan

picture of book cover

From a truth-in-advertisement standpoint, Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books delivers.

The literary memoir opens with Maureen Corrigan writing, “it’s not that I don’t like other people. It’s just that when I’m in the company of others‑even my nearest and dearest—there always comes a moment when I’d rather be reading a book.”  That is a woman after my own heart.

It’s no surprise then that what follows is literary criticism that those of us without a master’s (or doctoral) degree can understand. Corrigan is an engaging writer, and shines when correlating books to tales of her Catholic working-class childhood or adult life. One wonderful chapter delves into her time in graduate school and her discovery that the world of academia may not be for her. She escapes into the world of detective fiction, on which she became an expert. “By day, I shambled listlessly around Penn; by night, I walked down the mean streets of hard-boiled heaven,” she writes.

That said, Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books is a tough sell, even for those of us who love to read. I started and stopped reading this book over several months, and it’s only 200 pages. Many of the chapters narrow in on a very specific book, and if you haven’t read it, you find yourself slogging though. Case in point: I’m sure Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries) is wonderful, but there are several PAGES devoted to the exploration of it as a female adventure tale that anticipated “today’s feminist-inflected detective fiction.” However, I also found myself reading aloud some of Corrigan’s sections on Robert Parker, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to my husband, whose book diet consists almost exclusively of mysteries. It’s almost as if this book was designed to be in audio format, so that you could hear Corrigan giving you insights and recommendations in small doses without getting lost in analysis. In the end, it’s a book that I liked and think is well-written, but I’d only recommend it to certain NPR listeners who want to look erudite on their Metro commute.