A riveting account of the two years literary scholar Mikita Brottman spent reading literature with criminals in a maximum-security men s prison outside Baltimore, and what she learned from them Orange Is the New Black meets Reading Lolita in Tehran.Read more...
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A riveting account of the two years literary scholar Mikita Brottman spent reading literature with criminals in a maximum-security men s prison outside Baltimore, and what she learned from them Orange Is the New Black meets Reading Lolita in Tehran.
On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman starts a book club with a group of convicts from the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. She assigns them ten dark, challenging classics including Conrad s Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare s Macbeth, Stevenson s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe s story The Black Cat, and Nabokov s Lolita books that don t flinch from evoking the isolation of the human struggle, the pain of conflict, and the cost of transgression. Although Brottman is already familiar with these works, the convicts open them up in completely new ways. Their discussions may only be about literature, but for the prisoners, everything is at stake.
Gradually, the inmates open up about their lives and families, their disastrous choices, their guilt and loss. Brottman also discovers that life in prison, while monotonous, is never without incident. The book club members struggle with their assigned reading through solitary confinement; on lockdown; in between factory shifts; in the hospital; and in the middle of the chaos of blasting televisions, incessant chatter, and the constant banging of metal doors.
Though The Maximum Security Book Club never loses sight of the moral issues raised in the selected reading, it refuses to back away from the unexpected insights offered by the company of these complex, difficult men. It is a compelling, thoughtful analysis of literature and prison life like nothing you ve ever read before."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-03-07
- Reviewer: Staff
For the past three years, Brottman (The Great Grisby), a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, has maintained a book club in which the nine other participants are inmates at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Institution. In this introspective piece, she recounts a two-year period during which her group (which necessarily has fluctuating membership) covered 10 books, including Heart of Darkness, Lolita, and Macbeth. A self-described “quiet, private, law-abiding type with no criminal record,” she assures readers that “I can’t help but feel a powerful allegiance to those whose lives haven’t worked out so well.” Unfortunately, her position comes across as one of naïveté and privilege; she challenges the men with books she finds dark and fascinating, and is surprised when they are bored or confused. She makes assumptions about prison inmates, only to have her expectations upended time and again. By the end, she confronts reality: “I was not turning them into readers. They were just men who attended the prison book club.” While Brottman has delivered an interesting look at the intersection of prison life and literature, her inability to perceive the flaws in her own perspective weakens the result. Agent: Betsy Lerner, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (June)