"You also seem to read with an eye toward the theological questions within a novel."
"Maybe that's the meshing in my life of the Catholic background with the immersion in and love of literature -- that idea that there was a Big Plan, that someone is watching you and paying attention to you.
"As I write in the book, I think, for the most part, all this reading in my life has been glorious and life-expanding activity, but it also reinforces a passivity, an almost mystical passivity that I have. When you read enough stories in which the hero or heroine intervenes at the 11th hour to save someone from a dreadful life, you start to believe that surely must be going to happen to you at some point.
"So, I think one thing that distinguishes my book from some of the other books about reading is that I acknowledge that reading is not a risk-free activity: it changes your life. It's not always a change you welcome. It separates you, in my case, from the people I grew up with. And sometimes it gives you screwy ideas. For me, certainly in my 20s, the ideas about love and romance that I had were shaped by great novels that I read and weren't necessarily helpful. I was still passive and trapped in that 19th-century romantic heroine mode."
We talked about Ms. Corrigan's Fresh Air job. "The great thing about Fresh Air is that I always feel I'm talking to an audience of educated non-specialists who are probably going to be interested in what I say, even if I'm not giving a book a rave. There aren't that many outlets that I can think of, especially these days, where I can talk for four minutes and say, 'It's not the book you want it to be.'"
"What attracted me to your book was the title, Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading."
"That's a variance of all the things I would say to my mother, who's not a reader. She's a wonderful mother, and she always was, but does not get it, why people read. She really would come up to me and feel my head for bumps and claim that I was going to get bumps on my skull from reading too much. Can you imagine these days where all we hear about is how parents should encourage their children and this middle-class worry about kids not reading enough?"
"Books often spoil a reader for people."
"And," laughed Ms. Corrigan, "it can also spoil you for the books' authors. Sometimes I've met authors who I've adored and I think, 'I'd much rather read them than meet them.' Their 'best self' is in the book. And maybe it's also the venue in which I'm meeting them; usually it's some professional thing, and you don't really get to know people that way. But, oftentimes I'd just rather meet them on the page.
"I think of that Holden Caulfield fantasy where he always wants when he reads a good book to call up the author and have a drink with him. I don't really want to do that. I want to stay with the book. I don't particularly want to meet the author, although sometimes there have been lovely experiences with authors. But I kind of do feel like sometimes people pour their best selves into the book, and that's what I want to stay with.
"I don't even like audio books that much. Random House has sold the rights for an audio version of the book, but I don't want somebody else's voice intervening or interpreting for me. I just want that voice in my head, as you say, that 'intimate experience.'"
"Why do you think people love memoirs so much now?"
"One reason is because the memoir, as it's always been, is considered a more accessible form. You don't know what you're getting when you open up a new novel. You don't know if you're going to be able to follow it. Is it going to be one of these postmodern things? What is it going to be?
"Memoir, you can reasonably expect, is going to follow the curve of someone's life. You can get that. I think there's also a contract with a memoir, implicit or explicit, that somebody is going to try to tell the truth. We like that as readers. We want authenticity. And there is that sense, certainly with the best memoirs, that you're sitting down with the author, and they're leaning over and they're saying, 'Let me tell you about this.' If the book is good enough you're just mesmerized.
"I teach a course on women's memoirs at Georgetown. My students are all hip these days, and they're all, like, 'Who cares if it's true or not? We know nothing's true.' And that's how they come into the course. And then we get to Lillian Hellman's Scoundrel Time, which I love.
"We read it, and I give them all this outside criticism, outside sources. I say, 'It seems as though she lied, here, here, and here.' They're devastated. So for all of that hipness, and the theoretical sophistication and postmodern assumption that nobody can tell the truth in memoir, I think we still expect that.
"So we try to play around with all those ideas. We start with Ben Franklin, because it's a course on American women's memoirs. And just kind of considering how he set the template for the American life, rising out of nowhere and becoming somebody. I love Franklin. He is interesting for the students because they're just plodding through his list of accomplishments. Then when you start complicating the book for them, it gets to be fun."
"What do you read in your off hours?"
"American history. I like to read about the American Revolution when I can squeeze it in.
"At the most recent BEA [Book Exposition of America], I was a last-minute substitute at the big luncheon where Michael Cunningham and Doris Kearns Goodwin were. It was such a thrill to meet Doris Kearns Goodwin. I've re-read her Eleanor and Franklin book, No Ordinary Time, at least twice.