“Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” -Piper Kerman (2010)
I’ve read a handful of reviews complaining about this book—about how it is mediocre, boring, and nothing like the television show. And true, the show and the book align and intersect at points, but aren’t all that closely related. So if someone has seen the show first, a show which is actually surprisingly complex and interesting, and then reads the book expecting something similar, I can imagine how that might be disappointing. But the truth is that one is the truth (the book) and one is an elaborate makeover of the truth.
For that reason, I did like this book, even though the show mirrors it only in the beginning, before going off on a totally different and not-so-discernible tangent. I liked that Kerman was honest about things (namely who she was and what she did) without attempts to glamorize her experience. And while white privilege plays a role in how she was treated and processed things, I think she does a good job of being semi-aware of that in her writing.
On that same note, however, it’s clear how she “others” people in the book, grouping her own lived experiences aside as one chapter of her life, whereas she acknowledges that many of the women she lived with will probably be caught up in the system for years. There are parts where she doesn’t specifically talk down about or to characters, but it’s clear that she feels her situation is superior, and the “feeling sorry” for everyone reads a lot like lip service—especially considering that she hints at how the whole system needs some sort of reform, but now that she is out and in a place of power, little is being done on her part to influence that change. Frustrating.
As for the writing style, yes, it did drag on at moments. And the book did kind of jump all over the place, shifting ideas or themes entirely midway through a chapter. So that made it difficult to follow. But there were also times when the stories were interesting (admittedly perhaps not the writing itself). Overall, though, Kerman is not a writer. She wrote a book, but her background and training are not in creative writing. As a result, the fact that this book is not as engaging as some people expected is not surprising.
For those who are interested in a look at the prison system, or who like to read books that have been turned into movies or shows, or for people who like memoirs, I would recommend this book as something in the “interesting but not necessary or life-changing” camp. I was entertained for the course of the book, and if you read it for what it is (and not what it could be) it’s quite alright.
Began: 16 January 2014
Ended: 26 January 2014