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The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison

3.11  ·  Rating details ·  817 ratings  ·  170 reviews
A riveting account of the two years literary scholar Mikita Brottman spent reading literature with criminals in a maximum-security men’s prison outside Baltimore, and what she learned from them—Orange Is the New Black meets Reading Lolita in Tehran.

On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Harper
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Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016-reads
Oh boy. Before I started reading this I saw the other GR reviews by several readers who were irritated with the author and disappointed with the book. I just assumed that I would have a different reaction: I've read most of the works selected for this prison book club, and I'll understand Brottman's role, and I'm not put off by troubling material. But I too had all the trouble with the author and the book-club project that the rest of you did. Sorry this is not succinct:

Brottman is a white Briti
Jun 17, 2016 rated it liked it
When I began reading The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison by Mikita Brottman, I thought I would be reading a book memoir of sorts, but it turns out that wasn't exactly what I found. This book IS a memoir but it is the story of Mikita Brottman and her experiences moderating a book club at Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI) located outside Baltimore, Maryland. Mikita Brottman, an Oxford educated professor of literature, was on sabbatical from teaching undergradua ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Well I was interested in a prison book club but this is more of a white savior narrative and I just can't stomach it ever but especially right now.

The professor is from the UK but teaching in an American prison, and seems completely perplexed as to why the prisoners can't appreciate her picks like Bartleby the Scrivener and Heart of Darkness. She gets annoyed when they talk, in their book club, about how their lives connect with the book. I'm not sure what she was hoping for, maybe an "Oh Captai
Sep 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Never trust a person who insists Lolita is a love story.
Erin Boyington
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: prison, librarianship
This was a book I was curious to read the moment I heard of it, and at the same time hesitant to get into. Fortunately, getting it through interlibrary loan and having a time limit really helps with my motivation. I work in a prison library, and I make an effort to separate myself from anything work-related in my regular life. (That's why after all these years I still haven't gotten into Orange is the New Black or bothered to watch Shawshank Redemption. Too much prison!)

But I did choose to read
Karen Lausa
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
This was a tough book to get through, because I also facilitate book discussion groups in a maximum security prison. It was potentially intimidating to me that the author, an "Oxford educated scholar and Ph.D." was doing the same thing as me- with an MLS degree, a lifelong love of reading and a whole lot of passion. That's not the only difference between us, though.
I found the book to be flat, forced and written by someone who seems unable to understand prison culture, healthy boundaries and the
Sep 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: lock-up
I don't have the time to give this review what I should, but suffice it to say, this is a book about an English teacher, not a book about a prison book group. While she does struggle through some issues I can identify with (as a prison book group facilitator myself), this book privileges her and her relationship with literature, not her students or their collective experience. She makes some "well-duh" revelations that, had she done her own homework, might have been more obvious to her, but at l ...more
Nov 30, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
I'm not entirely sure why she'd be disappointed when they didn't share her love for some of these, when she, who loves literature, took more than one reading to get into them.
I'm giving this four stars even though I had some problems with it. This is because I love and will read almost anything about prison and people's lives in prison. I think more people should be educated and concerned about how prisons are run, what function they truly serve, and what 'kind' (for lack of a better word) of people are in prison and why. Even if the only reason for this concern is that this is your tax dollars at work. We can start there and maybe hope for some empathy later.

Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
I absolutely loved this book, The Maximum Security Book Club, Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison, by Mikita Brottman, an Oxford educated scholar who teaches humanities at Maryland Institute of the Arts (MICA). With my passion for literature and my background of teaching Literature and Language Arts in high schools with a high at-risk population, I was able to really connect with the author and what she was trying to accomplish. Dr. Mikita Brottman presents a completely candid approach to teach ...more
Feb 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
If you want to know how the author feels about the books she reads with these men, and how they disappointed her by having lives that didn't fully revolve around the books she loved, then read this book. The last paragraph in the afterword made me want to throw this book across the room it was so self absorbed. What a letdown.
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As somebody who's participated in a prison book club, I was really excited to read this book!

I was quite disappointed though, as it seemed to be a lot more about analyzing the books than the prisoners experiences. The author also admits she is annoyed when the prisoners dont like books that she admits took her 10 times to read before she enjoyed them. I did appreciate her honest portrayal of her feelings and she definitely did show growth throughout the story, but not as much as I wanted her to.
Biblio Curious
Leaky pipes & re-arranging the house to prevent water damage paired with "may as well do some spring cleaning" is great for audiobooks. Listening to this insightful author constantly misjudge the inmates is every bit as wonderful as seeing a clean house come together. She's intelligent with a literary background. She begins her narrative with her own experiences teaching college students about the classics. When she decides to volunteer at this prison, her program limits the attendees to only 9 ...more
Oct 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
I was looking forward to reading this book. I had just read a couple of less than great books and I thought this one would be a pretty easy win. Boy was I wrong

I found Mikita Brottman to be incredibly self absorbed and tone deaf to what was happening around her. For a start, she picked all the books based on her favorites not with any thought about them. She seemed to realize after picking each book and having these men to read it that she had made a horrible choice. She talked about Heart of Da
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I will add a quote when the book is published.

I picked this memoir up because it is about a book club. I think discussion groups can be transforming. I am always interested in how books make changes in the people who read them. I assumed that Brottman would be showing her readers the huge impact book clubs can make in a prison.

My supposition was naïve. I should have known better. I have met men in jail and they did not seem positively changed by the books they read. Why did I expect better from
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Mikita Brottman begins a book club at a maximum security prison. Brottman has experience teaching in college. She begins with the book I hated more than any other school-assigned book I read, Heart of Darkness, and the inmates reaction to the book is similar to mine. She moves next to Bartleby the Scrivener by Moby-Dick author Herman Melville, and the inmates don't connect to it either. But she scores a big hit with the next two of the next three books she tries, Ham on Rye and On the Yard. Macb ...more
Apr 11, 2016 rated it liked it
I think I might have liked this book better if I had read any of the books that Brottman's book club read. I found the depiction of the regimented lives of the prisoners incredibly depressing, and I was struck by Brottman's naive belief that the book club would make permanent changes in the lives of the prisoners she worked with. It seemed that participating was a way to escape the boredom of their lives for a brief time each week and nothing more.

The book is a sad commentary on the ills plagui
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
If the author had confined herself to descriptions of the discussions of literature among the men who are incarcerated and her observations about the prison, I would have loved this book. But I found myself disliking the author herself and becoming irritated whenever she wrote about herself, her reactions, her life. Perhaps that's a function of her honesty, but my annoyance with her (and her continual insistence, over a two year period of time, that the men needed to see the works they discussed ...more
Joan Hawkins
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Mikita Brottman is a horror scholar, lit professor and psychoanalyst who used her sabbatical one year to start a bookclub at a men's maximum security prison, near her home in Baltimore. They read everything from Heart of Darkness, to Lolita, to Lear. And the book moves in and out- weaving together Brottman's impressions of the men, her accounts of their responses to the books and her experiences of the prison itself. It's very good and much of it is fascinating. If I have a criticism, it's that ...more
Jul 31, 2016 rated it did not like it
Disappointing. As an educator myself, I was appalled by how much this narrative focused on the narrator's self-importance (and her subsequent disappointment in how her men reacted to the literature.) We can do so much better--as educators, as readers, and as writers.
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mikita Brottman teaches college level courses at a Maximum Security prison. She starts a book club with nine inmates. They tackle heavy topics like Lolita, Heart of Darkness, and Macbeth. She describes the experiences working through the heavy texts, interspersing it with descriptions of the men themselves - both the good and the bad.

I liked this book very much. Mikita does not stray from the realism of the situation or try to sugarcoat anything. She also doesn't try to make things overdramatic.
Paul Manytravels
Outside of America’s political system, the misnamed “Criminal Justice System” is the nation’s most broken institution. In aggregate, states and the federal government spend upwards of $100 billion each year to punish people who have broken laws and call the punishment “rehabilitation” or “correction.” Any institution with an 82% failure rate such as the incarceration system does simply is not working.
Brottman’s book traces her experience inside on of these institutions. She meets with nine convi
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: edelweiss
4.5 stars. This author has spent several years teaching classes inside a maximum security prison outside of Baltimore and also organized a book club for a smaller group of men in order to focus in on particular books. The books she chose to write about include Heart of Darkness, Lolita, Junkie, and other shorter stories. The men in the group range in age and race but are all violent offenders. I thought this book a fascinating mix of book critique and exploration into prison life. The men offere ...more
Sep 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
I haven't quite finished yet, so may renew this review later.

I have a similar educational background to the author - English and Psych degrees - but not as advanced or from Oxford. I have also spent most of my career working with the criminal justice system, so this book was an intriguing idea.

My annoyance has made me start to write this review already. The book seems like an essay by a very earnest 18 year old undergrad trying to prove a theory ("let's discuss some difficult books that speak
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For me, this book had insight on a slice of society that I might never know if not for this book. It really opened my eyes to new people and new experiences. Stories about people who do scary things in spite of them being hard really impress me. I really liked how, as a teacher, she tried to help her students understand the intent behind the words they were reading but because the students came from such disparate backgrounds from her, those words took on different meanings. Two sides of the sam ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Quick read that ended a bit abruptly. I agree with another reviewer who wondered why the author was surprised that the men had trouble getting into books she herself didn't appreciate the first time she read them.
Aug 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed the book. Really liked her descriptions of the prison, the convicts, the guards - and also her comments about the books themselves and most of all her reactions to it all. A very good writer!
Kathleen Nalley
Jan 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-books
I was interested in the descriptions of people and places while unimpressed with author’s choice of books for her book discussions.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
This was written by a British lady who volunteered to do a book club with some prisoners in a Baltimore prison. I found myself shocked at how out of touch she was. Perhaps if she had chosen some different books, it might have generated something more thought-provoking. I did go into this thinking maybe I'd find some further reading recommendations myself, but the first two books she had the prisoners read did not come across as anything remotely appealing, and I enjoy reading. It's no surprise t ...more
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Mikita Brottman (born 30 October 1966) is a British scholar, psychoanalyst, author and cultural critic known for her psychological readings of the dark and pathological elements of contemporary culture. She received a D.Phil in English Language and Literature from Oxford University, was a Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University, and was Chair of the program in Engaged Hu ...more

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