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18 January 2011

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I really didn't care for this book. Privileged educated white girl with totally supportive family gets sent to prison for a whole year. Cry me a river.

She had books to read, books and books and more books, her personal copies, not the thumbed-over, pages-missing bestseller dreck that's available to prisoners at certain other correctional facilities I'm aware of. She had a job. She had an education. She had a job to go to when she got out, and housing, and financial security. She had a devoted fiance who came to visit with her. They could spend whole hours at a time together. They could touch one another. That's far more than most inmates get. Or-- oh, how about, let's see, spouses of active military? Do you think they get multi-hour weekly sessions with their lovers? Maybe Piper could stop to think about that scenario before she starts wailing about how hard it was to be separated from her fiance.

My ex-boyfriend, who fully deserves to be in jail, just got a ten-year sentence. I am not allowed to bring him books. I haven't had physical contact with him since March, because he's on one side of the thick plastic and I'm on the other. I get a thirty-minute visit once per week, wherein we try to communicate through the little window in the plastic-- but it's hard, because the acoustics of the visiting room are echoing with the reverberations of the other visits going on in the same room. Some evenings it's nearly impossible to have a conversation.

So Piper Kerman can, and forgive my swearing but she really annoys the bejeesus out of me, she can shut the fuck up. It's arrogant of her to have written a prison memoir, and delusional of all the artsy critics to have lauded it so much. She spends one cushy year locked up and and decides to write a memoir? How dare she. I would rather read Solzhensityn. I would even rather read street lit writers like ex-con Vickie Stringer.

Lesbrarian,
How do you really feel?
You know I had to say it.
Thanks, and I do mean that, for the alternative view. I take it you read the whole thing? I did not so I can't really say how it ended up. I think all of your points are valid ones, and I'm so glad you made them.
That said, I still do think she did a decent job of describing her crime and accepting even minimum-security jail time for it. Let's not forget all the real criminals out there working in the financial services, many of whom got bonuses last year, and how they're not serving any time for anything. Ditto with educated white people like George W. Bush, who has now sent thousands of people to their deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, and no one's putting him in jail either.
I'll agree that this is not the most "street" prison memoir you'll read, but I think it's at least as valid as many other memoirs out there that get critically lauded. She's also pretty up front about how things were made easier for her because of her blond hair and blue eyes, which I found interesting simply because my brother has a theory that brown-eyed people are massively discriminated against when compared to their blue-eyed counterparts.
You can always swear here. And really--thank you for the impassioned review.
p.s. a good job, health, and a loving family is more than a lot of people get, and I'm not just talking prison inmates. At least Kerman seems a bit aware of her luck--she references how lucky she is to have good health, when she sees the lackluster health care available in the prison.

Also: I'm an educated white girl with a family who's too good to me, and I wouldn't really want to go to even minimum-security prison. This crosses my mind sometimes because I do fear that sometimes, even if you try to make good choices, there's times when you don't or when you might be unlucky. Vehicular manslaughter comes to mind--what if I fell asleep behind the wheel and killed someone or something? So I still do think there's valid information here.

Yeah, I read the whole thing. Surprisingly, the last part of the book was the best. That's when she got transferred to a really awful jail in Chicago.

It's not that I think a prison memoir needs to be street to be legit. The Gulag Archipelago was written by Comrade Solzhenitsyn, not Bro Solzhenitsyn. But Piper's experience was atypical-- and on top of that, she had so many advantages (compared to what most inmates have) and then she had the nerve to actually write a book about it! And earn profit from it!

The strongest parts of the book were where she took a break from bemoaning her plight and stopped to think, really really really think, about everyone else. Oh, and there was one passage where it finally occurred to her exactly how awful her crime was. It sucks that she committed it while she was just a stupid flighty kid, but the fact remains that heroin destroys lives. She finally put two and two together when she was behind bars: drug smuggling might have seemed fun and sexy when she was a kid, but those drugs she smuggled went on to hurt people.

Of course if I went to prison for a year I'd be writing my memoir, too, and I'm sure I'd spend the whole damn time feeling sorry for myself. I'm such an antisocial introvert that I'd probably be just fine if I could read books for a year in a cell somewhere. The other inmates would be the only problem.

And yeah-- especially in this past year-- I've spent some time thinking about what it would be like if I went to prison. When I visit the jail each week, I think "There but for the grace of God go I." I too have a great family and an education and health, but all it would take would be a couple of missteps and I would be behind those bars, too, or living on the streets, or what have you.

I hate to draw an important lesson from a thriller novel, but something Josh Bazell said in his book Beat the Reaper stayed with me. The narrator, a mafia hitman-cum-doctor, pointed out that none of us is really safe. You can be white and have a job and pay your taxes and wear your seatbelt, but sometimes all it takes is one crime of passion or of accident, and hey presto, you're in the slammer.

Wow! After this discussion, I HAVE to read this book! I'm a "for the grace of God" thinker, too, and interestingly, my fear is also vehicular manslaughter. I have no doubt that there is often little justice in the criminal justice system. CR, you make good points about the wall street thugs. When I was in college, I had two friends arrested for drunk driving. Before her trial, one graduated college and found a job in Manhattan. She dressed up for her trial, told the judge how sorry she was and she would never drink and drive again (which she really didn't do. she refused to drive after the arrest and lost a bunch of weight.) My other friend was a working stiff, probably didn't own a suit, wasn't well educated and didn't come off well at trial. He got jail time. I'm not a big fan of determinate sentencing either.

Since I change my hair color so often, I can speak to the blond hair. For years I was a red head but last fall I went blond, and there has been a notable difference. After an appointment, my dentist spent fifteen minutes gabbing with me. He never did that before. At 50 I didn't think it would matter anymore.

Thanks for a great conversation, you two!

Venta-- same deal here, with the blond hair! Anytime I go blond I get warmer reactions from men, never mind that, objectively, I look sexier with black hair. There's just something about the light hair color that overrides rationale thought and goes straight to their amygdala or hippocampus or whichever brain part it is that makes men drool.

Interestingly, women don't react to the blond the way men do. Don't know if it's because they've advanced beyond primal thinking or if it's because they realize that blond is not the most flattering color for me.

Lesbrarian,
Well, after our conversation I had to go finish the book, although I skimmed parts. Actually, I think the beginning part was the strongest--it seemed she got a lot more self-pitying as time went on. I suppose as she got more sick of the prison stay. Still: not a bad memoir.
Oh-and speaking of crimes that will land you in prison, I found it interesting she did meet women who were there for political protesting. Talk about a stupid reason to get thrown in prison.

And thank you, Venta and Lesbrarian both, for the FASCINATING blonde discussion. I never really thought about it before, as I primarily find dark eyes and dark hair attractive. It really means that much to men, huh? Wild. The few times I colored my hair I went red/purple or darker, because I was too lazy to bleach it blonde. Who knew I could have been a guy magnet had I taken the extra effort? (Although, also, being too lazy to make the extra effort on any of my appearance might also have contributed to my not being a guy magnet.)

Lesbrarian, you're sexy no matter what your hair color. Ditto goes for you, Venta, no matter what your age.

My friend Kaite Stover, a librarian in Missouri, mailed me a book about sex today. Accidentally left it at work and I can't recall the title (it was "Sex writing!" or something really un-subtle like that) so I can't show a link to the cover art, but it has a picture of an innocent pink coin purse on the cover, only if you look at it twice the picture doesn't look nearly so innocent. Kaite's sticky note on the front said "This made me think of you."

It's rather a stretch to say that this has any bearing at all on the comments here, but for some reason they're related in my mind.

Anyway, Venta, I expect a full report in the comments after you've read the book. CR, would you be so kind as to email me when that happens?

Lesbrarian,
Saw the Granta cover at your site--perfect.
I'll let you know what Venta says about this one.

This is only tangentially related but I just looked up Running the Books in our library's catalog -- we have LibraryThing for Libraries and the suggested similar reads were, in this order: 1) Packing for Mars by Mary Roach 2) The Shallows by Nicholas Carr 3) Orange is the New Black 4) Wide Awake by Patricia Morrisroe and 5) The Magician's Book by Laura Miller. I don't *think* LT uses the "people who checked out this also checked out that" algorithm to create these lists. But now I'm kind of curious about what criteria they do use ...

Nan,
Holy cow, that's interesting. Thanks for sharing. I too would like to know what criteria LTforL is using, because I don't picture "Packing for Mars" OR "The Shallows" as good read-alikes for Running the Books. (OisTNB is okay; I don't know what numbers 4 and 5 are, I'll have to look them up.) I would think more coming-of-age/self-discovery memoirs would make for good read-alikes for Running the Books--at times it seemed less about prison than about the author trying to figure himself out.
What do you think about those LTforL readalikes? Do you usually find that product good for RA suggestions? (She asks, as she works for Reader's Advisor Online, a competitor of LibraryThing...)

Just a thought: Maybe they use books that show up in the same "libraries" that people own. I can see that; I own/read a lot of disparate books. But that doesn't necessarily make them good read-alikes or related reads for that specific title...
Very interesting.

Good question. Maybe I'll try emailing tim at LT and see if he responds. It only draws from books in our catalog for obvious reasons. Wide Awake is an insomnia memoir (about which, when shelving, I always think WHY WOULD YOU READ THAT?????? What if it's catching?????)and The Magician's Book is Laura Miller's book about C.S. Lewis and the Narnia series, a great read which was recently of great service to me in a Very Bad Time over the holidays.

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