Friday 6 December 2013

Devouring Books: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

"According to the CDC, cigarettes kill over 435,000 people a year in the United States. Most of us in Danbury were locked away for trading in illegal drugs. The annual death toll of illegal drug addicts, according to the same government study? Seventeen thousand."

So, some of you guys might have heard of this little TV show on Netflix called Orange is the New Black that I might have already watched twice this year even though I've NEVER done that with anything before. I say 'might have' because I know that I haven't reviewed the TV show, but how do you sum up THE BEST THING EVER in one blog post? You don't even try, that's how. Ah well, maybe on the next viewing (or maybe you just watch it and we discuss it and everything's awesome? Yeah, that one).

So anyway. Said best thing ever started its life as a book, and I had the good fortune of having Hanna as my ninja book swapper a couple of months ago and SOMEHOW she knew that I wanted this book reaaaaaally badly*, and just like that, it was mine. Somehow I managed to hold off reading it for even this long (probably a tiny bit of apprehension involved there), but as with all books, its time came and, you know, I read it.

So, the deal: Piper Kerman is an upstanding member of society with a slightly dodgy past, where she carried drug money for her girlfriend-at-the-time, but also enjoyed the high life of having a lot of (drug) money. Obviously, Kerman got found out about 10 years later, took a plea bargain and spent a year of her life in prison, where she found out things about herself and life that she would never have otherwise had the opportunity to learn. Not that, you know, prison is a good thing or anything. Apart from for self-discovery, I guess.

I'm not going to go on and on about the differences between this and the TV show because those things have been documented elsewhere (I would give you links, but... you can google as well as I can! I.e. Lazy.) but the main difference to my eyes is that the book is a lot less dramatic. And I don't mean that in a bad way, either towards the show or the book. It's just that, in real life things are often less dramatic than they are on TV, but in this one case, this doesn't detract from either version of events- the things that happen on the show are perfect for the show, and the things that actually happened are interesting or informative or eye-opening in their own way. What this really means is, so so many of the day-to-day details have been clearly transferred from the book to the show, and a lot of basic characters have been preserved, but events were definitely a lot less DRAMATIC on a daily basis in reality.
Like, as far as I know, no chicken

But this book, I like it a lot. Overly dramatic it may not be, but an excellent chronicle of a woman pulled out of her normal life and plunked into one where she gets no say over anything she does, but also where she comes to admit that yeah, what she did was wrong and why shouldn't she be punished for it? I definitely got a sense of Kerman overcoming her own idea of herself to understand that, actually, she wasn't untouchable and that she had earned her place in prison just as much as any of the other women in there. And I liked that.

I also liked Kerman's critique of the prison system. I know that she's a big supporter of prison reform, and that's really clear in her book, and she argues for it so effectively that you don't even really realise that's what she's doing. In fact, she's not- just by saying what she sees, and pointing things out about are kind of self-evident in their badness, it sort of makes you go 'hmm... Prison's not that great then?'** Added to which, stats like the one I quoted above are used sparingly and so effectively, that you start to go 'wow, maybe imprisoning people who are basically non-violent because their offence has anything whatsoever to do with drugs IS kind of insane...' But, then again, I already believed this so it was kind of an easy sell for me...

So basically. As long as you don't come to this book expecting it to be exactly like the TV programme, then you won't leave it disappointed that it's not exactly like the TV programme. Instead, you'll get a really interesting, really informative and just generally really real account of one woman's experience of prison, and won't even feel the tiniest bit cheated that the majority of the ladydrama didn't actually happen. And then, to celebrate reading this, you should probably watch the show again about 3 more times. Just because.

*As a testament to her excellent choosing skills, I have read both the books she sent me already AND eaten all the chocolate. She's the best.
**Because obviously I thought it was before... NOPE.


  1. RIGHT, that's another one boosted up onto Le Christmas Wishlist. I haven't seen the series (I KNOW I KNOW NETFLIX) but I HAVE seen this book around a few times and wondered whether to buy it. NEXT TIME I WILL KNOW. Hanna is awesome at picking bookish gifts which is WHY one of ambitions for the workless winter to come is to finally read 11/22/63 and also the biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock, one a Christmas present, one a birthday present. I've been so looking forward to both but they're big books and I don't want to sully them by reading them here where I keep getting interrupted. THIS IS THEIR TIME.


      Ahem... Allow me to explain. My theory is that, if you've seen the TV show and then you read the book, you'll appreciate the book even though it's less dramatic and whatnot. BUT my other theory is that if you read the book first, when you watch the show you'll be like *GASP* but that never happened! LIES and be mad at the show. I am interested to know whether this holds up at all.

      ALSO I have that Roald Dahl biography toooooo! It's definitely too big to crack without being mentally prepared for it lol


    Will totes read this. Because ugh OITNB you're so great. So great.

    1. I can't even cope with how much I love Red. I mean honestly, if I think about how much I love EVERYONE too much, I will be watching it on a constant loop. SO GOOD.

  3. I'm a little disappointed there's no chicken in the book. Like, man, wouldn't it be fun if that was actually true. But alas

    I WILL READ THIS. Because OITNB. How can I not?

    1. I love how your and Alice's comments are basically the same. Because HOW COULD YOU NOT READ THIS?! So amazing.

      The chicken thing MIGHT be true... It's just not in the book. Let's pretend it happened. "I just wanted to eat the chicken that's smarter than all the other chickens and absorb its powers. And maybe make a nice kiev." :D

  4. My middle daughter loves this show and I'm always looking for a book that will interest her. I'm ordering this right now!

  5. Yeah, I knew I made the right decision in choosing this book as my BoutofBooks door-prize prize!

    I had a quick flick through your copy when it arrived (I didn't read it properly, obviously - it was YOUR book) and from the few paragraphs I skimmed, I knew I wanted it! It might end up being the first book of the New Year, as there are a few books I want to finish before Christmas, but it WILL be soon!

    Nice review, by the way :)

  6. I watched the show and loved it and now the book is high on my TBR. Glad to know what to expect!