The Books I Read in Prison

The Books I Read in Prison

In this prison there are not many books. There are a few Bibles and a copy of Ben Hur in my cell block. But that’s it. I’ve seen a library when entering the prison, but I never see people there, or with new books. No one seems to know or care. This is a bit of a painful situation for me. I love to read and I’m always surrounded by books. As my friends can testify, I almost always carry a book with me, in case I have some dead minutes, waiting for a red light or things like that. The first 3 days I was detained, I almost went crazy. The inside of my own head was not a nice place to be. Luckily, my lawyer managed to fix this situation. My assumption is that the Director knows I’m innocent and that there are no charges, so he’s OK with this relaxation discipline. Since my books are apparently an important component in the prosecution's “case” against me, I thought I would simplify their lives a little, and write a few notes about the books I’ve read here, so they don have to raid my prison cell and confiscate these books (like they did with my other ones). These books were not chosen by me. Most of them, were lovingly selected by my friends, one or two, are a random inclusion.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA - Gabriel García Márquez I’ve never liked romance novels. Period dramas are about as far from my taste as you can get. So, I was not presupposed to like this book. But, to my surprise, Márquez’ fantastic visual language and deeply detailed and compelling personal portraits, made this a joy to read. I guess there’s a reason why the Nobel committee chose him.

RESILIENCE – Harvard Business Review A small white book. 120 pages containing 6 or 7 articles about how people deal with adversity and come back from tragedy, failure or other adverse situations. I read it twice. First time regularly and then a second time, as a palliative when I had finished my other books. I also hoped the lessons would sink in deeper and maybe be more useful. It was certainly interesting, but whether it actually helps, I won’t know until my current ordeal is over and I’ve recovered from it. Or not.

GALAPAGOS – Kurt Vonnegut A very funny, dry, satirical science-fiction-ish story about the almost end of mankind. Utterly entertaining and with a tone that suited my gallows humor perfectly. Would recommend to anyone in prison.

THE BLOOD NEVER DIED – John Newsinger There’s nothing quite like a history of the ugly side of the British empire to put your own troubles in proper perspective. This is a book filled with misery perpetrated by the British. From the slave holdings in Jamaica in the late 1700s, all the way to Blair's and Brown's subservient participation in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a fascinating book, in a horrible way. I couldn’t put it down. It documents scenes of history, that are too often forgotten or swept under the rug.

REBOOT – Amy Tintera And then comes - to cleanse the palate – a simple popcorn young adult dystopian future novel. A mix between zombies, robots and revolutionaries provides for some slight entertainment, but the plot leaves your brain in seconds after putting the book down.

DIRTY WARS – Jeremy Scahill In case I had forgotten how problematic empires can be, and particularly what a horrible presence the US can be in the world, this book comes along as a reminder. Over 500 pages of tightly printed text, filled with dates, quotes, facts and horrible stories. It’s like a car crash you can’t look away. It’s an important book, but I know it will give me new nightmares in the years to come.

THE LAND OF NAKED PEOPLE - Madhusree Mukerjee A mix of travelogue history book and anthropological study, this little book chronicles the author’s encounters and experiences with for indigenous tribes living in the Andaman islands in the Indian Ocean. These people might be the oldest separated group of humans left in existence. The book chronicles some of their history and talks about their current degeneration, exploitation and ultimately decline and maybe destruction. It’s an interesting, but sad story.

THE DISPOSSESSED – Ursula K. Le Guin The title has always seemed so clever to me, carrying the normal interpretation while also hiding in plain sight the deeper meaning. This has been one of my favorite books ever since I first read it, maybe 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve re-read it many times. Now latest, finishing it earlier today. It describes an example of an anarchist society and how human feelings, interactions, wants and beliefs could work in such an environment and what happens when change comes, both internal and external. It’s a book about humans looking at the world from a revolutionary perspective, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding. I love it.

What next? I’ve just started THE SUGAR BARONS by Matthew Parker, a history of sugar cane farming in the Caribbean ad what the impact and implications were from this “white gold”. After that, who knows? If I’m lucky, my time in prison might end on Thursday (may 2nd). Either way, I’ll continue reading. /Ola