THE PRISON BOOK CLUB
Author: Ann Walmsley
Type of Book: Hardcover
Length: 279 pages
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: Viking – A Division of Penguin/Random House Publishing
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
* I received a free ARC (Advance Review Copy) in hardcover of this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program. A review is not a requirement of receiving the book, but it is appreciated.
There are several factors that drew me to this book. Firstly, the author, Ann Walmsley, is Canadian and I love to read books written by my fellow Canadians. Secondly, this book is non-fiction and the subject matter intrigued me.
There is something about prison life that fascinates people. In the past few years a number of new prison-based television series (both fictitious and factual) have been created. Netflix has created a series called “Orange is the New Black” which takes place in a fictional U.S. woman’s prison. New Zealand’s “Wentworth” is similar to “OITNB.” There are also several new documentary/reality shows aired on channels such as A&E including “Behind Bars – Rookie Year” which chronicles the challenges new prison guards face when first beginning their jobs.
Before reading “The Prison Book Club” I was guilty of thinking of book clubs as the milieu of the middle or upper classes. I had never given a thought to the fact that people in prison would want to take part in such a club. Of course I am aware that reading takes place in prison since it is a way for inmates to pass the time. However, I had a hard time picturing inmates of different religions and different races putting aside their prejudices to get together to discuss literature. To me, this idea seemed to be fraught with pitfalls that would ultimately lead to it’s failure.
As I read this book I was surprised to read the responses of the inmates to the various books they read. Some of the reactions were insightful and intelligent.
I understand the goal of the prison book clubs is to foster empathy in the inmates through the reading of literary fiction. I was surprised to find that many of the books that were chosen were books that I had also read and enjoyed. Before reading “The Prison Book Club” I had a hard time picturing hardened criminals sitting together to discuss books in an intelligent and meaningful way. Now that I have finished reading the book, I am able to admit that it was my preconceptions that had skewed my view of what a prison book club would be like. This book has shattered those preconceptions and opened my eyes to the possibility that something as simple as reading and discussing a book can have a profound effect on those who are incarcerated.
I admit that throughout the book I was waiting for something violent to happen to the author, either during the book club meetings or during her one-on-one interviews with the participants. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case.
I think anyone who loves a good read will enjoy and be able to relate to this book. It is also interesting to compare my own experiences while reading with those of the prisoners.
This book will open your eyes to the fact that while there are some people in jail who are probably irredeemable, that is not the case for every inmate. No matter what crime a person has committed or why they did so, these men are still people with valid opinions and who deserve a chance to enrich their lives through reading.
There is one other thing that readers will take from this gripping book: the desire to either join or start a book club of their own.
I rate this book as 5 out of 5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ann Walmsley is a magazine journalist whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s.
She is the recipient of four National Magazine Awards, a Canadian Business Journalism Award and two International Regional Magazine Awards.
Ann founded her first book club at age nine. She lives in Toronto with her family.
“The Prison Book Club” is her first book.
To learn more about her visit http://www.annwalmsley.com or follow her on Twitter @annpwalmsley