On Sundays, Gothamist runs opinion pieces on issues relevant to life in New York. The views expressed below belong entirely to the author.

Sunday’s Opinionist columns are meant to be snippets and ideas about New York life, but you’ll permit me a slight diversion from topic to discuss something also fundamental to New York life – reading. Get on any subway or bus at any time of day and you’ll find about twenty people with their noses in books. I’d be willing to bet my meager earnings that there are more people that count reading as a daily activity in this city than other major cities in America, and most of that on public transportation. So, as I start my work here at Gothamist as the literature contributor, bringing New Yorkers all the news they can read about reading, I thought I’d start by reviewing a book about, well, reading.

Maureen Corrigan may be a familiar voice to a lot of you – she’s the book critic for the popular NPR broadcast, Fresh Air. She’s also a literature professor at Georgetown University, a reviewer with articles published everywhere from the Village Voice the Nation, a mystery columnist for the Washington Post, an Irish-Polish Catholic from Sunnyside, Queens, and a mother. Most importantly for Corrigan, though, is that she’s a reader. And in her new book, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, Corrigan can even think of the one-word pithy response to her title (and book) from other critics: “gladly”. Such is the wry candor in her memoir on the reading life, on the critic’s life, and on the effects – both positive and negative – that literature has on life.

It’s tempting to read the book as a seamless homage to the art of reading, which on a certain level, it is. Corrigan starts the introduction with, “it’s not that I don’t like people. It’s 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.” As she weaves her life with the books she was reading at the time, often books that enlightened and enlivened her, it’s obvious that she doesn’t see this compulsion as a fault. But underneath the adulation of books, Corrigan unearths some of the inherent dangers of losing yourself in a book. Readers like her, she warns, are always looking for the neat happy ending and well-stitched moral when life is a lot messier than that. And the effects that powerful books have on you, she cautions, ripple far outwards.

Corrigan paints a compelling personal narrative out of her life as a reader, from her identification with everyone from Jane Austen to Raymond Chandler, to her search for connection with heroines and her frustrations with the gender biases inherent in a hero’s tale. Her journey takes her readers from growing up Catholic in the mid-twentieth century and the tales of secular-saints and spiritual adventures, to finding the true work homage in detective novels like Chandler’s The Big Sleep, to wrestling with the clichés of independence versus matrimony in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. A self-described generalized reader instead of a specialized scholar, Corrigan offers up to her readers the benefit of her own far-flung explorations into various genres. (As a sidebar, sometimes I wished Corrigan had given me the reading list a month in advance, but we can't all have read everything, and she's more than capable of walking her readers through many of the books she discusses. And thankfully, she includes an annotated and personal reading list at the back.)

But what will most draw fellow bookworms in and delight them about Corrigan’s book is her appreciation of how books can be like people – affecting you in ways you were not expecting, pushing you when you need the push, and forcing you to look at your own life differently. When Corrigan was writing her dissertation, surrounded by musty tomes and vaunted authors of the nineteenth century, something compelled her to pick up Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, a hard-boiled detective novel in the great American tradition, often ignored or ridiculed by the ivory tower of Literature. Corrigan was hooked. “It’s probably the sturdy influence of the Catholic belief in the Big Plan,” she quips in the book, “that accounts for my own enduring faith that you find the books you need when you need them.” It’s the strongest lesson she offers in her own book; simply put, books can change your life, so be ready.

I know, as many other readers will, exactly what Corrigan means. All my reading life, I’ve been a snob about what’s often referred to as “genre” writing – much preferring anything that could feasibly be called Literature with capital letters. If it had its own section at Barnes and Noble, I didn’t read it. My father is a brilliant man and a consummate devourer of the spy novel genre and it was a trait we did not share. That is, until curiosity (and respect for his taste) compelled me, and I read John Le Carre’s Smiley’s People, then worked my way through the rest of his canon. My friends Chris and Shana are avid fans of science-fiction and, you guessed it, long suffering in my snobbery. Until they both forced me to read Connie Willis’ masterpiece set, The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of The Dog. The humble pie I’ve been eating for the past year thanks to these two authors, thank you for asking, is delicious. My sense of plot and timing and subtlety has increased tenfold, and my patience for pretension has taken a nose-dive. Even my own writing has changed because of those two authors and their mastery of the genres they represent. Corrigan, I suspect, would be thrilled to hear it.

Readers who give Corrigan the time to take them on her rambling, heart-felt journey through life and literature and its transects will see exactly what I’ve seen. Corrigan’s homage is both an encouragement and a warning that books are powerful, capable of changing your life and throwing you off-balance. But Corrigan’s telling you, it’s not a journey you’ll regret.