Maureen Corrigan

American journalist and writer

Maureen Corrigan (born July 30, 1955) is an American author, scholar, and literary critic.


All page numbers from the hardcover first edition published by Random House ISBN 0-375-50425-7
  • In our daily lives, where we’re bombarded by the fake and the trivial, reading serves as a way to stop, shut out the noise of the world, and try to grab hold of something real, no matter how small.
    • Introduction (p. xvii)
  • I think, consciously or not, what we readers do each time we open a book is to set off on a search for authenticity. We want to get closer to the heart of things, and sometimes even a few good sentences contained in an otherwise unexceptional book can crystallize vague feelings, fleeting physical sensations, or, sometimes, profound epiphanies.[1]
    • Introduction
  • Jane has learned that there is a fate more terrible than solitude: it’s solitude in the company of a husband who essentially misunderstands you.
    • Chapter 1, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (p. 29)
  • We read literature for a lot of reasons, but two of the most compelling ones are to get out of ourselves and our own life stories and—equally important—to find ourselves by understanding our own life stories more clearly in the context of others’.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 34)
  • As someone from our adoption agency said to us before we left, “You may have been waiting for your daughter for a long time, but she has not been waiting for you.”
    • Chapter 1 (p. 48)
  • The best Dorothy Parker-like riposte to nosy questions about adoption was uttered by a friend of a friend of mine on a New York City bus. This white mother and her Chinese baby daughter were riding up Madison Avenue when an older woman got on, sat down across from them, and barked out: “Is her father Chinese?” “I don’t know,” the mother replied. “It was dark.”
    • Chapter 1 (p. 50)
  • Books just don’t register with this crowd. They think I lack common sense; I think they lack a part of their souls.
    • Interlude, “Books, What a Jolly Company They Are” (p. 57)
  • The thing that mattered most in this elite new world of mine was brainpower—or, at least, the projection of brainpower. Being a decent, truthful, charitable person—none of those traditional Judeo-Christian virtues counted. Wit, verbal adroitness, a substantive intellectual background (or at least the illusion of one), and condescension toward one’s mental inferiors were the marks of distinction here. Theory, with its bizarre vocabulary of literary encryption, was just beginning to take root at Penn and other top graduate schools across the land.
    • Chapter 2, “Tales of Toil” (p. 63)
  • I don’t believe in identity politics in literature—or in life much, either. Indeed the current scholarly enchantment with identity politics strikes me as a more intellectual version of the warning oft heard around Sunnyside when I was growing up: “Stick with your own kind.” Family and cultural origins are crucial to self-definition, but they’re not the end of the story. I certainly don’t think that we readers only or even chiefly enjoy or understand books whose main characters mirror us. In fact, the opportunity to become who we are decidedly not—whether it’s Amis’s Dixon or Philip Roth’s Portnoy or Ellison’s Invisible Man or Kafka’s beetle—is one of the greatest gifts reading offers. Women readers get to serve on that floating boy’s club, the Pequod; male readers get to step into Elizabeth Bennet’s shoes and teach Mr. Darcy the dance of humility; readers of either gender who are not African American get to crawl toward freedom alongside Toni Morrison’s Sethe. One of the most magical and liberating things about literature is that it can transport us readers into worlds totally unlike our own.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 70)
  • As Richard Rodriguez points out in his beautiful and incisive memoir Hunger of Memory, when academics now talk on about race, class, and gender, what they’re usually talking about is race and gender.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 74)
  • It’s weird to make oneself one’s “field,” but lots of academics these days are doing it—industriously promoting their own race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and/or religion as their intellectual specialty. Once of the many drawbacks of this “I teach what I am” approach is that it stifles classroom discussion. Any disagreement with the professor’s expertise comes off as an ad hominem attack.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 74)
  • The answer to the whodunit of why work was dumped as the novel’s main subject had to do with centuries of theorizing about the function of art intersecting with the dawning of modern capitalism. From Plato onward, philosophers and poets insisted that art should enlighten and elevate. Art has always belonged to the realm of freedom, while work, particularly at the close of the eighteenth century, moved further and further into the realm of necessity. Industrial capitalism made work an even less appealing focus for art because it changed the very nature of work by divorcing the head from the hand. The development of the novel paralleled this split by delving deeper into the head and caring less about what the hand was doing. The public and private spheres also became more rigidly separated under industrial capitalism: the mill was where people had to go for a certain number of hours every day in order to make a living; but that by-product of work—a living—was consumed at home. Storytellers, always on the lookout for a good time, found the private sphere much more diverting that they did the cramped and coerced public sphere of work.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 87)
  • Now, given the consumer-pleasing politics of today’s universities, I have, in effect, seventy new bosses each semester; they’re sitting at the desks in front of me. If a teacher is not entertaining or lenient enough and her teaching evaluations plummet, she could lose the job.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 91)
  • “Mr. Wonderful isn’t just going to knock on the door,” a girlfriend once said, chiding me. “Why not?” I thought. That’s the way people often meet in books—effortlessly, without guile or strategizing.
    • Chapter 3, “They’re Writing Songs of Love, But Not for Me” (p. 95)
  • As I reread these Catholic autobiographies and novels, their odd pridefulness became clearer to me. Much of the Catholic juvenilia I so dearly remembered preached a cover story of self-denial along with a covert sermon about the spiritual and worldly superiority that would result from this self-denial. Writhe and shine.
    • Chapter 4, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (p. 139)
  • Angels in the house always die in the books they preside over because early ascension into heaven is their reward—and because their goodness makes them boring.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 141)
  • Such is the power of words, of writing, of books. Words you loved and will always yearn for. They can inspire you with possibilities you otherwise would have never imagined; they can fill your head with misleading fantasies. They can give you back your seemingly seamless past and place it right alongside your chaotic present.
    “But that only happens in books,” my mother, pretty much immune to the power of the written word, would say.
    Exactly. That’s why I can’t stop reading them.
    • Epilogue, “My New York: September 8, 2001” (p. 184; closing words)
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