Thursday, August 03, 2006

Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading

Maureen Corrigan believes that books find you when you need them. How appropriate, then, that a copy of her memoir, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading, showed up in my mailbox with a post-it on it. Our upstairs neighbors just read it and passed it along.

At a moment when I’m finding it hard to find the time to read and finding it harder to get into a book, I devoured the opening pages and finished it in a snap. (These days, that means two weeks…) Corrigan is the book critic on NPR’s Fresh Air. I like her voice—both her literal voice and her enthusiastic, warm writing and it is interesting to learn more about her: a feminist, a Catholic from Queens, a Fordham graduate with a Penn Ph.D. who teaches at Georgetown now.

The feminism was the most interesting angle for me because she wears it with such grace. She writes movingly about the complicated feelings of being an unmarried, in her late-twenties, and teaching at Bryn Mawr where an older generation of unmarried women welcomed her into all-female community that was at once wonderful, stimulating, intellectual and a little threatening. I remember those feelings well: you want to fall in love and get married; you see the pain that’s part of the lives of women of a generation whose lives forced them to choose between family and career; you feel the richness of the lives of older unmarried women; you’re still determined to try to find a partner.

Like a lot of these books about being a reader, it’s a lot of fun even if, ultimately, it makes you feel not so much like you’re reading as like you’re talking about intending to read. I grew eager for more analysis, greater depth. The first chapter is the weakest—too bad, as it’s about the process of adopting her daughter. But there, just where you want reading and life to be most integrated, they never fully come together. Even so, she writes in a way that’s both wry and moving about why she was reading a grisly true crime novel in her hotel room in China instead, say, of soft-focus books about motherhood.

There are lots of really good ideas—the difference between male extreme adventure (Shackleton nearly freezing to death) and female extreme adventure (the Brontes spending decades and decades in complete cultural isolation), the popularity of Catholic martyr stories (a genre represented by Marie Killilea’s Karen books, which I’m sure I read as a girl)--in this book, but they’re not really developed. It’s too journalistic for my taste—I don’t wish for a scholarly treatment, but I’d like things to be developed beyond, well, a clever blog entry…

1 comment:

Jessica said...

I should get my hands on this one, then.

From your discussion of the older generation of feminists, I can't help but be reminded of Linda Hirshman. She makes me feel so terribly insecure - is my taking a few years off to stay home with baby really causing feminism to fail? I think of myself as a feminist, but Hirshman's feminism is my idea of misery. What I've failed to do, though, is look at the generational angle. Maybe that's just what it is -a generation gap?