Earlier this month I wrote a short article as I was starting to read Maureen Corrigan's Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading : Finding and Losing Myself in Books. Ms. Corrigan is a book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, and is a lifelong "obsessive reader". I finished the book on my way home to San Jose from Boston (the one bright spot of a long and delay-filled trip). Some chapters resonated more with me than others, but overall I enjoyed the book a lot, and found it very well-written. Here are a few specific thoughts.
My favorite chapter of the book is Chapter 2, in which Ms. Corrigan describes her discovery of the hard-boiled detective novel. When she started reading detective novels, she was particularly pleased to see women emerge as brave and resourceful and taking action. She also liked reading detective novels because they were about work, with capable and self-directed people who solve actual problems. She writes: "Hard-boiled detective fiction, more than almost every other kind of novel that's followed Robinson Crusoe in the Anglo-American tradition, attempts to return us to Defoe's enclosed circle of normalcy where our greatest pleasure, as readers, arises out of watching a pro at work" (emphasis mine).
I'm not sure that I would go back and read Robinson Crusoe again, but I do think that there's is something to this notion of enjoying mysteries because they are about a pro at work, doing something important. My favorite mysteries are about private investigators and police detectives, both of whom certainly qualify as pros. I've never much warmed to the hapless variant of mysteries, in which amateurs stumble upon a solution. Perhaps this is why.
One other concept that I liked out of Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading is the idea that "you find the books you need when you need them -- even if they're not the books you start out thinking you need." I have certainly found this to be true, although I think that it stems partially from the fact that if you are really looking to find something, you can find it in many places. For instance, I got a lot recently out of reading Never Eat Alone : And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, and I think that everyone should read it. But I also think that I read it at a time when I was especially receptive to what it had to say (see my review of Never Eat Alone). But perhaps that's exactly Ms. Corrigan's point. In her case, finding the right books at the right time led her to "a career in which I could make a living talking about all kinds of books to a wide range of people." In my own case, the books that I'm reading right now are leading me to refine my own mission, to make the world a better place by helping children to grow up with the opportunity to love books. Happy Reading -- Jen
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