Author Mary Stewart, who died in May, 2014, at the venerable age of 97, is known for the popular "Gothic romances" she wrote in the 1950s and '60s. WhAuthor Mary Stewart, who died in May, 2014, at the venerable age of 97, is known for the popular "Gothic romances" she wrote in the 1950s and '60s. What, exactly, is a Gothic romance? Near as I can tell, it's a love story that begins with a mystery, typically featuring a female protagonist who is "strong" by mid-century standards. In the case of The Moonspinners, I would say "Gothic romance" feels rather like Nancy Drew meets Jane Austen... in Greece.
I'll be honest that I only picked the book up because I have been invited to discuss Disney's 1964 movie adaptation in an episode of the Disney Film Project podcast. There are some startling differences between the book and movie, but I'll save talking about those for the podcast. Overall, I found the book an engaging but restrained read, with believable characters who were easy for me to relate to. On one hand, I wish Stewart hadn't told so much of the book's action through the characters' dialogue; however, on the other hand, I appreciated that the romance part of the plot never felt forced and, when it finally happens, happens quite beautifully. I don't think many people write books like this anymore....more
A lot of reviewers have noted the similarities between the first couple Prydain books and The Lord of the Rings. It is with Taran Wanderer, I think, tA lot of reviewers have noted the similarities between the first couple Prydain books and The Lord of the Rings. It is with Taran Wanderer, I think, that author Lloyd Alexander reveals that he has been aiming a bit higher than Tolkien all along, having his protagonist, Taran, repeat some of the wandering that the legendary Arthur undertook after claiming his crown. What is Taran's birthright? In what kind of work can a man find honor? The sadder and more introspective the series grows, the more I love it....more
Each volume of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series brings Taran new adventures and new lessons about growing up to be a responsible adult. The first twoEach volume of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series brings Taran new adventures and new lessons about growing up to be a responsible adult. The first two books are fairly obvious in their lessons about friendship and the folly of seeking personal glory in dangerous situations. But The Castle of Llyr's lesson is more complex. On one hand, it has something to do with opening yourself to new experiences and striving to be the best person you can be. As Dallben explains to Eilonwy, "For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are." On the other hand, the book also seems to argue that we must become "more than we are" through means that are honest and not harmful to other people. It is the characters dabbling in potions and spells and making underhanded deals who ultimately suffer the most.
Objectively, this book is probably the weakest in the series. It locks its one strong female character in a tower while the male characters get to have an adventure rescuing her, and it employs many of the YA genre's favorite cliches, from the amnesia spell to the crumbling castle. But I'm not reading the book objectively, and my rating is more for the series than The Castle of Llyr in particular. It serves its role, bringing Taran awareness of his feelings for Eilonwy and leading the way to the more introspective, philosophical adventures in store in books #4 and #5....more
My parents bought me the Prydain book series as a bundle, at my insistence, from the Scholastic Book Fair. I was in eighth grade and riding high afterMy parents bought me the Prydain book series as a bundle, at my insistence, from the Scholastic Book Fair. I was in eighth grade and riding high after a long-awaited family trip to Disneyland. I was also fairly convinced that I wanted to become an animator and had read about Disney's The Black Cauldron (1985) in Bob Thomas's Art of Animation. Since the movie wasn't available on VHS, I figured reading the books upon which it was based was an acceptable alternative. Of course, I did not expect then to fall in love with Taran, Eilonwy, Gurgi, and the other characters populating Lloyd Alexander's Prydain. I certainly never predicted that I would eventually be able to write -- as I am now writing -- that I have read the series more times (2, going on 3) than I have seen the movie. That although my career dreams have shifted remarkably I remain as attached to the books as I ever was.
In The Black Cauldron, Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran follows his thirst for adventure into a dangerous quest against the evil lord Arawn. The book's plot is similar to that of The Book of Three, the first book in the series, in that Taran quickly gets separated from the group, runs into a handful of delightful companions (some new, some old), is saved a time or two by the "fair folk" who live underground, and has to grow up a little along the way. As I stated in my review of The Book of Three, I think my reading of the series is enhanced by the fact that I have read it before and know where it all is headed. Eilonwy's ring, the brooch Taran inherits, the three sorceresses living in the forest -- all these shall return in the books to follow, bringing texture and deeper significance to the relatively small roles they play here. While the books stand alone as decent stories of adventure, I really do think what makes them special is how they join together as a series.
A final word about the movie: It is called The Black Cauldron, but it blends events from both The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron. Thus the movie poster, which is on the cover of my edition of the book, includes the Horned King, who actually doesn't appear in the second book at all. There are other differences between the book and movie, including Fflewddue Flam's age and general competence and, of course, the manner by which the titular cauldron is ultimately destroyed. The movie probably deserves its reputation as the worst of Disney's animated movies, and unfortunately the lack of critical and commercial acclaim seems to have led Hollywood to think the series as a whole won't transfer into film. This, I believe, is a terrible misconception. I don't know that I want Prydain on the big screen because that would mean sharing something I have loved having mostly to myself for so many years with the rest of the world, but golly. Such a thoughtful and entertaining series deserves better than Disney gave it back in '85....more
Another reviewer takes Lloyd Alexander to task for jumping right into the action in The Book of Three. I think his point is that readers picking up thAnother reviewer takes Lloyd Alexander to task for jumping right into the action in The Book of Three. I think his point is that readers picking up the first in a series of youth fantasy novels want "world-building" (maps, back-stories, etc.), but I actually believe that the book's brisk entry into the land of Prydain is its greatest strength. The first sentence introduces us to Assistant Pig-Keeper, Taran, who pines for a life of adventure that seems impossible for him in quiet Caer Dallben, where he has been raised. Within paragraphs, he takes off after the pig he's supposed to be keeping, beginning the quest that will occupy him for next four books and introducing the series' other characters. It helps that I have read the series a couple of times before (although not since I was a teenager), and that I can see Alexander laying the groundwork for future plot twists and tensions between characters.
How many stars does The Book of Three deserve? I don't know how to answer that question, and I will be the first to admit that I am unable to review the series with even the pretense of objectivity. What I do know is that Alexander's Prydain series is the only set of books that I have returned to voluntarily three times in my life (so far), each time discovering new lessons and other items to admire. I have become an adult, nearly completed a PhD in literature, and read a number of "better" and better-known fantasy and young adult novels and yet, this is the book I can't wait to share with my little boy when he is a few years older. Maybe the book isn't the most original, and maybe the Horned King is a weak villain. Even so, if I had to choose, I would prefer this simple story about a haughty pig-keeper and his eccentric companions over just about every other one of the many books on my shelf.
So, five stars it is. Probably five stars for the whole series. I just can't help myself, and I am so #sorrynotsorry about it....more
An Unnecessary Woman is a book after the student of world literature's heart. It is written by a Lebanese writer, Rabih Alameddine, in sparse and beauAn Unnecessary Woman is a book after the student of world literature's heart. It is written by a Lebanese writer, Rabih Alameddine, in sparse and beautiful (English) prose. Its protagonist is a Beiruti woman who has witnessed a half century of violence, ranging from the personal (divorce, family strife) to the political (civil wars, urban bombings), but finds solace in a world of books. For more than thirty years, she has lived in the company of literature, each year translating one novel into her native Arabic. These translations she keeps in cardboard boxes, stacked one atop the other in the empty, dank maid's quarters of her apartment.
I won't spoil the conclusion for you, but if you're already making guesses about how the book ends, you are probably right. As in Dickens' A Christmas Carol or any number of books about characters who have cut themselves off from society, the joy in reading An Unnecessary Woman comes from watching its protagonist undertake a personal journey that is as treacherous and impossible as it is predictable. Other reviewers have pointed out the book's flaws--for example Alameddine's misrepresentation of Lebanon's publishing industry--but despite such limitations, the book is easy to recommend. Aaliyah is a fascinating character with remarkable taste in reading material....more
First, an admission: I know Mark Longaker, think he is a good writing teacher, and helped him write the curriculum that accompanies the book, so I amFirst, an admission: I know Mark Longaker, think he is a good writing teacher, and helped him write the curriculum that accompanies the book, so I am hardly a neutral reviewer. Still, I do think the book is an excellent tool for the University of Texas's first-year rhetoric course. The content is similar to the Rhetorical Analysis text that he co-authored with Jeffrey Walker a few years ago, but it is delivered in a more condensed and accessible form. I think/hope students will appreciate that this book, the class's assignments, and the curriculum (daily lessons) all took shape around the same time and should flow seamlessly together....more
I prefer reading teen literature before it's ubiquitous. This leads me to sometimes take a gamble with new books, as I did with The Young World, whichI prefer reading teen literature before it's ubiquitous. This leads me to sometimes take a gamble with new books, as I did with The Young World, which I ran across in a display at Barnes and Noble. Since I mostly like the author's film work, particularly About a Boy, I figured what the heck. What the heck, indeed. Although the first few chapters are interesting, if not terribly original, the plot and characters soon settle into archetypes I've already seen in a dozen other books and movies. The story is told in the first person, with chapters alternating between the voices of its lead characters, Jefferson and Donna. The "hip" voice, Donna, makes unlikely references to lots of pop culture from the 1970s and '80s and grows even more intolerable as the author forces her into the mandatory love plot. I give the book two stars because I have definitely read worse. Still, I can't think of anyone, not even a teenager, to whom I would recommend The Young World. If it is to be a trilogy, volumes two and three have a lot of ground to recover....more
I loved this book by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This book. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. If you've read my review of The Marble Faun, which I detested, you'll undI loved this book by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This book. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. If you've read my review of The Marble Faun, which I detested, you'll understand how stunned I am to have just written these words. Yet written them I have.
The House of the Seven Gables was published in 1851, the same year as The Scarlet Letter. As in that more famous book, in Seven Gables Hawthorne explores the legacy of violence upon which white, wealthy United States culture is built. The story begins in the seventeenth century, when the Colonel Pyncheon accuses another man, Matthew Maule, of witchcraft. This is the era of the Salem witch hunts, and Maule is convicted and executed. That Maule is, in fact, something of a sorcerer is curiously unproblematic for Hawthorne. He is more interested in criticizing Pyncheon, who took advantage of the public's fear of witches to rid himself of an enemy. After Maule is hung, Pyncheon builds a spectacular house, a house with seven gables, where Maule's modest house had previously stood. But Pyncheon doesn't occupy the house for long: He is soon found dead, probably murdered, with blood dripping down upon his beard.
All this is just the backstory. The majority of the book is set in what for the author would have been the present day. People are no longer being hung as witches, but American society still offers its most powerful members plenty of ways to oppress their comparatively less powerful peers. In the place of the gallows, there is the workhouse, the prison, and the asylum. The narrative follows Jaffrey Pyncheon, who bears a physical resemblance to Judge Pyncheon that is certainly not coincidental, and his cousins, Hepzibah, Holgrave, and Phoebe, who inhabit the house of seven gables and are struggling to retain their place in New England society. If, for Judge Pyncheon, the bug to be squished beneath his boot was Maule, for Jaffrey Pyncheon, it is these members of his own family--particularly Hepzibah and Holgrave, who don't have the good sense either to die or willfully vacate the house so that the wealthier, greedier Jaffrey may have it to himself.
I picked up the book in Massachusetts, just after I had walked around an actual house of seven gables that Hawthorne had inhabited a few years before writing this book. So, on one hand, I suppose it's fair to argue that I enjoyed it because I could picture the town and the layout of the (admittedly creepy) house so very well. But on the other hand, I think it would be hard to deny that The House of Seven Gables is well-constructed, with some of Hawthorne's better characters, and a pretty wicked sense of humor. The book is something of a ghost story, but like the best works of suspenseful fiction, it leads you to believe it is headed in one direction, only to pull the rug out from under you and head in a completely different one. The fate of the book's antagonist, Jaffrey Pyncheon, is a good case in point.
Hawthorne's vocabulary and sentence structure is sometimes difficult, and readers who like the novels they read to fly before their eyes probably won't enjoy this one very much. Still, I think it is his best, most engaging book--and one that asks questions about atoning for the crimes of our ancestors that remain sadly relevant today. Highly recommended....more
In 2014, universities across the world are celebrating the 200th birthday of the Cuban-Spanish writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. However, EspatoliIn 2014, universities across the world are celebrating the 200th birthday of the Cuban-Spanish writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. However, Espatolino, like most of Avellaneda's novels, remains criminally under-read--a victim of the academy's lack of interest and imagination concerning historical romances written in the vein of Walter Scott. The book turns an old story about a patriotic Italian bandit into a relevant treatise on torture, governmental corruption, and colonial occupation, all themes the author had addressed, but not as thoroughly, in the earlier, more popular novel Sab....more
I say more about this book in the LitWit podcast, episode #9.
Like a lot of other readers, I loved A Thousand Acres for a several reasons but really waI say more about this book in the LitWit podcast, episode #9.
Like a lot of other readers, I loved A Thousand Acres for a several reasons but really want to talk about King Lear. On one hand, the fact that Smiley retells Shakespeare's story in the Ohio plains helps me respect the book as Important Literature. (Would it would have won a Pulitzer if the plot were entirely the author's own invention? We'll never know, but my guess is no.) In particular, I appreciated that she told the story from the perspective of Lear's daughter, Goneril/Ginny, who becomes infinitely more comprehensible/sympathetic, and that she doesn't let Lear off the hook for his bad parenting and self-absorption. I don't want to give away too many details.
But, on the other hand, the Lear plot constrains its characters' actions perhaps too much. They are so richly rendered, but every time they start to come to life, snap! Smiley reminds us they're not their own people; they're doomed to repeat the Lear characters' tragic mistakes. I guess there is something to be said about fate here: By sticking her characters to the preexisting plot Smiley reinforces Shakespeare's point that humans have no say over our destiny, that whether we're kings or peasants we're going to get wet when we're caught out in the storm. Still, I just didn't believe--or didn't want to believe--that these characters I mostly liked would do the things they ultimately do....more
I love but absolutely do not understand Bear Family Records. Since the late 1970s, it has operated from its home base in Germany, issuing rare, old-tiI love but absolutely do not understand Bear Family Records. Since the late 1970s, it has operated from its home base in Germany, issuing rare, old-time music that U.S. companies won't touch in sets so complete, so deluxe, that it cannot possibly be making any money. This Carter Family collection is an excellent case in point. It is comprised of twelve -- twelve! -- discs of music the Carters recorded between their discovery in 1927 and disbanding in the early 1940s, including all their known recordings and even a few alternate takes; an interview with "Mother" Maybelle Carter from the 1960s; and a large, hardcover book. The book, which I would call "liner notes" if it was about 150 pages shorter, includes rare photographs, introductory material by country music historian Charles K. Wolfe and, most helpfully, notes from the set's producers on every recording session. That this is the definitive collection of the Carter Family's recordings there is no doubt. But who will seek it out when the majority of the Carter Family's songs are available, for free, on public domain sites like Archive.org? Who has $275 (the current price on Amazon) to commit to it? Like I said, I am glad Bear Family does what it does; I just don't know where it finds the cash and steadiness of purpose to do it....more
Humboldt county, sparsely-populated, green, surrounded by ancient redwood trees, is, in some ways, the epicenter of marijuana production in the UnitedHumboldt county, sparsely-populated, green, surrounded by ancient redwood trees, is, in some ways, the epicenter of marijuana production in the United States. In the 1960s, hippies fleeing corporate greed and the government's violence and hypocrisy built communities here. Now, the place is inhabited by the families they established and, increasingly, by opportunistic businesspeople who have transformed the cultivation of marijuana from a small-time, family affair into a powerful, community-defining industry. There is perhaps no other place where the ups and downs of the United States' ban on marijuana have been experienced more intensely. The people of Humboldt have built schools and enriched their community in numerous other ways using marijuana profits. They have also been invaded by the U.S. military, raised their children behind suffocating cloaks of secrecy, and lost too many friends and neighbors to the violence that always accompanies underground markets.
I decided to read the book after the University of Texas, where I work, named it its "First-Year Forum" text for the 2014-15 school year. To clarify, this means that all students who enroll in the first-semester composition course--several thousand, in total--will be required to purchase and read the book, and then to research and write about the controversies it raises. The obvious one is whether marijuana should be legalized, for either medical or recreational purposes, at either the state, national, or even international level. However, the stories the author shares raise additional questions, some of them more specific, all of them reminding me that the legalization debate is connected to other pressing social issues. If marijuana is to be legal in some capacity, how is it to be grown? Is the industrial method, which raises thousands of plants in record time under intensely-hot bulbs, sustainable? If marijuana is to be restricted, how should we deal with offenders? Is it right to send as many people to prison as we have for dealing and consuming pot? What do we make of the fact that the majority of these prisoners are black or Latino? If the United States legalizes (or continues to criminalize) the use of marijuana, what will the consequence be for the other countries from which we import so much of the drug? What responsibility do we have to help our neighbors--for example, Mexico--control their marijuana production? These are just a few examples.
The book is "relevant," even "important," now because Colorado, Washington, and the country of Uruguay have legalized marijuana (and other states and nations seem poised to follow). But I think Humboldt is more than just an intervention into a timely political debate. It is the result of a year's worth of time spent among the people of Humboldt and, as the author explains, it is just as much a "snapshot" of northern California living as it is an argument in favor of marijuana legalization. A hundred years from now, when the business about marijuana has been settled, I think readers will be able to look back on the book as a telling cultural document as well as a finely-crafted narrative. Whatever you're more interested in now--politics or plot--I recommend you give this book a chance....more
I talk about this book in the new episode of the LitWit podcast series, so I'll keep this written review short. I've known about this book since aboutI talk about this book in the new episode of the LitWit podcast series, so I'll keep this written review short. I've known about this book since about 2006, when I ran across selections from it in one of the Best American Short Stories anthologies I was rolling through at the time. It is comprised of anecdotes--some real, some made up, but you'll have a hard time telling which is which--relating to the author's life in upstate New York. What impressed me about the selection I read several years ago is the author's ability to not only convey, but also wring poignant human truths from, simple everyday experiences. Maybe my problem with the book is that it is one hundred anecdotes instead of just five or ten. After a while, they start running together and feeling rather more measured than spontaneous--and spontaneity is part of what I think characterizes the anecdote. Technically, the book is well-written, and I would be interested to read one of Lennon's novels....more
Whether Warren has told the "history of honky tonk music" (as her subtitle promises) or her own history through that of honky tonk music is up for debWhether Warren has told the "history of honky tonk music" (as her subtitle promises) or her own history through that of honky tonk music is up for debate. Even so, I enjoyed the book, which I found lively and readable. Most importantly, it keeps the fun in a topic -- music -- that overly scholarly texts tend to drain of its appeal. Recommended....more
I held off reviewing MaddAddam because my friend Carly and I discussed it at length in the second episode of our new podcast series, LitWit. Anyway, sI held off reviewing MaddAddam because my friend Carly and I discussed it at length in the second episode of our new podcast series, LitWit. Anyway, suffice it to say I liked the book less than I liked its predecessors in the series, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. Atwood's prose is always a delight, but I think the characters are finally overwhelmed by the weirdness of the world she has created and the need to tie up loose threads. I'm looking forward to seeing what the author does next....more
A couple of months ago, I had to make a split decision about the textbook I would use for the "Rhetoric of Country Music" course I had just had approvA couple of months ago, I had to make a split decision about the textbook I would use for the "Rhetoric of Country Music" course I had just had approved. I selected Will the Circle Be Unbroken because it seemed comprehensive, because it was positively reviewed, and because it looked inexpensive: I picked up my copy for less than a dollar (sans shipping) on the Amazon Marketplace. Now, I've had the chance to read the book from front to back, and giving it five stars is as much a testament to its quality as it is a sigh of relief. I made the right choice.
As the title indicates, the book is a history of country music. It is big and glossy enough to look like a "coffee table book," but editors Paul Kingsbury and Alanna Nash have put together a tome that's worth far more than simply thumbing through. Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a swift and credible history, taking readers from the technological advances and market interests that gave rise to country music in the 1920s to the country pop that has dominated radio stations since the turn of the twenty-first century. The book's chapters break country music's long history into smaller chunks, utilizing timelines to place developments like honky tonk, the Nashville Sound, and neo-traditionalism within their appropriate historical context, and generously spotlighting the most influential artists and recordings. It's only 350 pages, which means some notable names get left out (sorry Barbara Mandrell), but whether or not your favorite artist gets ink here, you will find plenty to help you understand the larger world she or he inhabited. Really, though, I was stunned how briskly and thoroughly it all progressed.
If I had to say what sets this particular book above other titles in the increasingly long list of country music histories, I would say it is that is takes full advantage of its contributors' areas of expertise. It is hard to tell what, exactly, Kingsbury and Nash wrote themselves because they are credited so infrequently. Instead, most of the book's chapters, sidebars, lists, and inserts are composed by dozens of the most committed country music historians, journalists, and artists who were still living at the time of the book's publication. I don't mean to imply that the book is a kind of fan-penned love letter to country music--in fact, for a book published by the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum it is admirably critical of certain individuals (Ralph Peer) and technological developments (auto-tune)--but, rather, that it is written by people who are absolute experts in their chosen topics. If I have any complaint about the contributions, it's that the historians and journalists write noticeably better and seem more willing to reflect deeply on the stakes and course of country music. By comparison, the playlists by Brenda Lee, Merle Haggard, and Keith Urban seem shallow and, honestly, kind of boring. The exception is Rosanne Cash, who is equally adept at writing paragraphs and wistful song lyrics.
Country music remains alive and (arguably) well today, nearly ten years after Circle's first printing, and it's high time the book were updated and reprinted to capture the field's more recent twists and turns. I guess the real question is whether or not Kingsbury, Nash, and the Country Music Hall of Fame would have any interest in revisiting this project, and there are lots of reasons why they probably wouldn't. Chief among these is the number of other, newer books (like Jocelyn Neal's Country Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History) retelling the story this one had already told so well.
Anyway, I am satisfied with this edition for now. My decision-making abilities are vindicated....more
What stands out to me about this collection is Alanna Nash's skill at conducting interviews. When she spoke with him, George Jones had just completedWhat stands out to me about this collection is Alanna Nash's skill at conducting interviews. When she spoke with him, George Jones had just completed his famous stay in a mental hospital, so of course she asks him about it. When she interviews Tammy Wynette, who had literally just returned home from an extended stay in the hospital for some uncertain surgical procedure or another, she asks how it feels to be considered country music's biggest drama queen. These are only two examples. If, on one hand, Nash is able to write this book because she has built trust and friendship with a number of country music's biggest names, on the other, she proves she isn't starstruck or swept up in the publicity machine by asking tough questions. It is true, as she states in her Introduction, that a number of these interviews are dated; but, like I said in my review of Nicholas Dawidoff's In the Country of Country, I am still glad to have them in print. Far too many of these country music legends are no longer with us, and so it's good to have a book like this keeping their stories alive....more
Although I read this book a few weeks ago, I have held off writing a review because I plan to talk about it in an upcoming podcast with my friend, CarAlthough I read this book a few weeks ago, I have held off writing a review because I plan to talk about it in an upcoming podcast with my friend, Carly, and I haven't quite decided what I want to say about it. On one hand, it is an admirable storyline with two credible lead characters. On the other, the illustrations have a somewhat cheesy quality, and the plot feels a bit, I don't know, restricted for a book that cost me $15. It's kind of like going to the theater to see the new Star Trek movie but being shown, instead, a 50-minute episode from one of the TV series. Unsurprisingly, the author says in the closing matter that he hopes he is able to turn the book into a series....more
To the End of June is a nonfiction piece about the successes and failures of the foster care system, particularly as it is organized in the state of NTo the End of June is a nonfiction piece about the successes and failures of the foster care system, particularly as it is organized in the state of New York. It's not the kind of book I would typically pick up, since it's so far removed from the stuff I'm currently reading for my dissertation, but it's one UT's Department of Rhetoric is considering using with first-year students next year, so I decided to check it out. The author, Cris Beam, strikes an excellent balance, bringing readers into specific foster families, pointing out the many problems with foster care as it plays out in New York, and demonstrating for readers just how badly we, as a society, care for the kids who find themselves "wards of the state" or shipped off to live with people they don't know. At the end of the book, at about the time the heartbreak implied in the title becomes clear, it hit me that if I truly cared about children in the United States I would foster a child. Even better, a teenager. Highly recommended....more
I plunged into this book having already watched and loved the first season of the smash Netflix show. This isn't a fair way to approach any original tI plunged into this book having already watched and loved the first season of the smash Netflix show. This isn't a fair way to approach any original text, I know... And yet...
And yet what is most satisfying about the TV show is that it freely admits Piper's privilege and creates space for a whole lot of less privileged women, most of them women of color, to share their stories of crime and incarceration. There are a number of differences between the book and the show, but the biggest is that the show's most compelling characters -- the Caribbean cleaning lady, the transgendered stylist, etc. -- are either sidelined in the book or missing altogether.
As another reviewer pointed out, the book is a memoir, and Kerman probably did not want to tell any story except her own. The problem, I guess, is that the story she has to tell doesn't carry the heft I was expecting. I do not mean to downplay the surely trying months she spent in Danbury, but really her complaints about things like the lack of hair conditioner and inadequate selection of books make her book sound a bit more like a travel narrative than an indictment of the United States' "chickenshit" system of justice.
This was a conflicting read for me, as I am sure it is for anybody who picked it up expecting it to match the TV show's admittedly exaggerated intensity. Ultimately, I think it will appeal more to readers interested in learning more about the various ways U.S. prisons could be reformed to be more humane and better carry out their purpose to punish and reform....more