Monday, August 5, 2013

Orange is the New Black Books

I finished the first season of Orange is the New Black yesterday. What else have I been doing? And by "doing" I mean reading/watching because reading/watching is basically my life. I started a journal entry about this the other day—August 3, 2013: "Starting to feel a little scared that I care about what happens in my books more than actual life"—partly prompted by opening Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott at random and seeing "You want to avoid at all costs drawing your characters on those that already exist in other works of fiction. You must learn about people from people, not from what you read. Your reading should confirm what you've observed in the world" and partly because we went to Jenness Beach on Saturday and instead of swimming or bodyboarding or the bouncy frisbee ball thing Dad and Wynn were doing I spent 4 1/2 hours lying on my stomach reading How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti from start to finish. I've been thinking a lot about things like this. Should I approach reading/watching as work, homework, apprenticeship, fun, or all three? How much time per day "should" I spend watching/reading? If I were a published writer, or even writing regularly, would that time feel more legitimate? Why is it that although I'm doing exactly what I fantasized about for months before graduating—namely living at home, working part time, and reading all the time—and even though Lena Dunham lived with her parents til she was 27 and even though if Frances Ha/Greta Gerwig's Fresh Air interview is any guide I have at least 5 years til I have to even start becoming a real person I feel like life's too good, there's too much money in my bank account, I have too few expenses, I'm not suffering enough.

Speaking of like actual suffering? I finished the first season of Orange is the New Black yesterday. And loved how much the inmates read. In a July 11th 2013 interview with the LA Times, the real Piper says that in Danbury Correctional, where she was incarcerated,
[Books] were complete lifelines. They were the only legitimate forms of escape. I actually avoided the TV rooms because they’ll suck you into some weird places. There was no prison library in Danbury. We just had informal book shelves, but it’s very interesting what books are popular. Serial romances and mysteries, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton.  There’s the whole genre of street fiction—“Dutch,” “The Coldest Winter Ever.” Ann Patchett is big. 
“Random Family” [by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc] was hugely popular at Danbury. There were these dog-eared copies that kept getting passed around. There were some women who were reading, and they were like, "This is my life," and there were other women who were from middle-class backgrounds who were like, "This book is explaining where we are."
Books are a recurring presence on the show. Piper reads Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ("My coffee was almost warm, by book was almost good"); her friends send her Pride and Prejudice and Emma. When Healy tells Taystee during their WAC meeting that the Fed's not going to "subsidize erotica" by ordering 50 Shades of Grey for the library, Piper offers to lend out her copy. Red reads Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin and This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. A guard reads Night Shift by Stephen King. Alex reads The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls—and has a copy of The Tao of Poo on her bookshelf!

I was going to say that on this show books are more shown than talked about: Piper walks into Alex's cube and finds her sitting on her bed reading City of Thieves by David Benioff or Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall; Nicky finds her lying on her back on the library floor with Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle. But books are talked about a lot too. When an inmate wants to check out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Taystee says "Wait, shortie, you want a book to read or a step stool? 'Cause I tell you right now, you ain't steppin' on the Goblet of Fire. Don't be fuckin' with Harry Potter. Now, you could step up on Ulysses. Everyone says it's so genius, but I call it bullshit. No one wants to go through all that ramblin'. Ain't nobody got time for that." Piper nerds out over books and poems a lot. Trying to terrify a juvenile out of further delinquency, Piper tells her that, if she's incarcerated, "I'm gonna do to you what spring does to the cherry trees, but in a prison way"; when Tricia sees a box of books she's just received and asks "Anything sexy in there?", Piper replies "Um, I might have some Nicholson Baker"; when Taystee comments "Like Oprah says, 'The road less travelled...'" during a game of Scrabble, she goes on a hilariously eager literary analytical rant:

(Originally here)
(I relate so hard to this scene. Piper's so proud of her idea—which she probably like debuted in a class discussion at Smith and forgot about it til now?—and I love the contrast between her bleak conclusion and the look of triumph on her face.)

OINTB is a show where being well-read is valued. I think my favorite book-related line is when Alex says about Piper, "Larry, my heart is with you. She's hot. She's read everything." And for someone who's having a kind of constant low-level crisis about whether I read too much, that kind of thing is incredibly validating. And not just because I, um, might be gay for Alex. And Nicky. (And Nicky and Alex OTP oh my god.)

There's a list of books seen and referenced in the show over at Piper Kerman's Amazon wish list is here; for more on what her fellow inmates were ~actually reading, there's a list of "Top 10 Books at Danbury Federal" at

(Books of OINTB calls Piper "the new Rory Gilmore"; if this is reminding you of just how validating Gilmore Girls was, the LA Times links to the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. It's OINTB: 24; Gilmore Girls like 250 so far! But Gilmore Girls ~was seven six seasons.)

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