Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Author: Piper Kerman
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: Swearing, references to sex and drug use
I binge watched the first season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix last year, taking in two or three episodes during epic laundry folding sessions. The series was fascinating-- I especially enjoyed how the show's creators zoomed into the lives of individual characters during the various episodes, because it helped me develop empathy for them.
And if I felt a sense of empathy from watching the television show, that feeling was only deepened when I read Kerman's memoir. While the tv show is sensationalized (as all television shows are-- the future in-laws snipe, the fiance is jealous, the relationship with the ex-girlfriend reignites in shower scene after shower scene), the book made me feel like I could have been Piper if we'd made different choices. We look similar, come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds about an hour away from each other, and have similar outlooks on life. And if I had been presented with the same situation that eventually landed Piper in prison, I can't say for sure that I wouldn't have fallen prey to peer pressure like she did.
What Kerman does a magical job with is extending that similarity one step further: if I can see myself in Piper's shoes, and she comes to see herself in the shoes of every other prisoner at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, then I'm really not all that different from those women, either. Kerman does a great job telling the story of her year, and learning lessons both about paying for the crime she committed and about the things she had in common with the people around her, and eventually turns her narrative into a call for certain corrections within the prison system. It's an important and heartfelt book, and, like most books, so much better than the filmed adaptation (although I still plan to binge on season two one of these days).