Portrait of the martyr as a young girl


Beany Malone would have relished the harvest-and-Halloween menu dished up by the Divinity School Wednesday Lunch cooking crew this week: pear and goat cheese salad, stuffed squash with hazelnuts and cranberries, and miniature cupcakes topped with bright-orange icing and Halloween candies.

Beany (née Catherine), the youngest of the four motherless Malones of Denver, is the heroine of Lenora Mattingly Weber’s series for teenage girls, and she spends much of the series (the first book appeared in 1943, the last in 1969) worrying about what to cook for dinner and if her family will like it.

Beany is also—argued Maureen Corrigan, longtime book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air and author of the new literary memoir Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading—a secular martyr, placed with the nuns’ seal of approval on Corrigan’s grammar-school reading list. Which is why Beany turned up in a discussion titled What Catholic Martyr Stories Taught Me about Getting to Heaven—and Getting Even.

As Corrigan, who teaches literature at Georgetown University, told the Swift Commons diners, “The beauty of series literature is that you can see certain themes developing over the course of the years.” Beany’s life trajectory—including the moment when the handsome young man from whom she’s expecting a marriage proposal announces his decision to become a priest—is fueled by “the tension between self-fulfillment and offering it up” at the altar of self-sacrifice.

The Beany Malone books also make it into Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading, a project for which Corrigan “decided to give myself permission to just talk about books that had stayed with me.” And, yes, she said during the Q&A, the books’ messages stayed with her, to “mixed” effect: “They toughened me to endure stuff that I would have otherwise more wisely gotten out of much sooner.”


Beany Malone (top) may offer messages of self-denial but, says Maureen Corrigan, author of Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading (bottom), "Reading itself is essentially an antisocial act."

October 27, 2005