Herstory Memoir Monday Recommendations

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

An obvious choice that took me far too long to come to for Read Harder this year. Orange is the New Black was a great pick for a book written in prison.

I only ever watched the pilot of the television show this memoir inspired but it did peak my interest. Funny enough, my main turn off from watching the show was also a part of what made the book particularly enjoyable. Even though I’ve spent my entire adult life working in male dominated places, I’ve also lived in large group of women. The women Piper encounters in the pilot episode were enough like the women I dealt with on a daily basis that it wasn’t interesting. It was a little too close to home and felt like I was spending my free time watching an entertainment version of what I dealt with every day.

The book itself mentions this and some interesting interactions that also play out similarly to the way they have in my life, but includes other things as well. It gives a window into not just living with this many women who are on the more aggressive side of the norm, but also into the penal system itself. It worked out as a perfect selection for the Read Harder task 20, a book written in prison. I did search for some other options before hitting on this one but two things brought me here. The vast majority of books written in prison are written by men and the only other two that I could find by women were problematic. First of all, I’m not actually a romance fan and one was a romance. I can occasionally find romances that are tolerable and sometimes even enjoyable, but I prefer a romantic subplot than it being the main plot. I was reading the other one at first and then just couldn’t finish it. It was written in prison and a memoir of being in the prison system, but it was also a rather horrible experience. It’s still valid but I didn’t have the stomach for it after almost a hundred pages.

Which brings me back to Orange is the New Black. I completely understand why this was chosen to become a television series and why it was so popular. I know from even the first episode that they took some artistic license with Kerman’s story and also her character. I have a whole new appreciation for some of the casting that I’ve heard about over the years, particularly Laverne Cox and Kate Mulgrew. Without the extra drama, though, it’s still an interesting story. It toes the line between learning about life in a women’s prison and some of the more grotesque accounts of things. I get that the more graphic stories like that of the first book I tried are still true and even worse because of their truth, but that doesn’t mean I can stomach it or that I’m going to force myself to just for this reading challenge. This one is not only easier to stomach but aware that there are worse things out there.

As a memoir itself, Kerman has a great writing style and tells an interesting story. She includes how she ended up in prison from the crime itself to the process of being caught and detained and through the legal system. From there she adjusts to prison life and all of it’s intricacies, that the system is different for different people. She doesn’t shy away from her white privilege but acknowledges the ways it benefited her and a little about some of what her fellow inmates go through without it. She also remembers that life in prison and at home are effected differently by differing sentence lengths.

It’s a good starter book when looking at the prison system itself and a great choice for Read Harder task 20. Save it here to your TBR on Goodreads or buy it now on Amazon.

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