Monday, November 21, 2011

The three books you get in prison? [My Answer]

About a week ago I asked folks a question: Supposing you had six months in prison with no guarantee of interaction with others, what are the three books you would want in prison. I wanted to take a minute and talk about responses I got from the folks at the Books to Prisoners project I volunteer with said and some of the reason folks gave for why their particular choices as well as to give my own answer.

I've been working with Books to Prisoners for going on two years now and so I've had a while to think about this one.

Another of the volunteers there easily had one of the best answers:
"I'd like to learn a new language and with 6 months, I got nothing but time. I'd get the biggest of those all-in-one language learning books that I could find."
Good call. As I've mentioned in the past I'm in a Spanish class and have been doing badly at Spanish for about 6 months now. With nothing but time I'll go with something that looks like it would be a bit of a struggle (because it's got to last me 6 months). Hopefully include some workbook materials, vocab, etc. that's a lot for any one book, this was the best I could find but it isn't a dictionary and that's going to create a struggle.

We all decided we needed a novel of some kind. There was also some agreement that it needed to be something that was insanely large and re-readable. The big contenders seemed to be Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Someone pointed out in this scenario they wanted a book that was written not to compete with TV and film but one where the author never had to worry about competing with the plug-in-drug.

So for me I'm choosing to take Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. I recently ran across a lecture series in iTunes entitled Democracy: A Users Manual which included the first two lectures on this novel. While the lectures made it pretty clear to me that Dostoevsky and I probably wouldn't see eye to eye on politics, but I find it really intriguing that he was Dorothy Day's favorite novelists and that Sigmund Freud apparently refused to read his stuff because it felt to much like working with his patients.

Lastly, and this one sounds like a bit of a cop-out but I want a really big Bible. Ideally I'd love one that includes 1st Enoch and Shepherd of Hermas (both early contenders for inclusion into the cannon) but since those don't usually make it all into one volume (or a Study Bible made by the folks at Orbis Books...Please Orbis, make a Study Bible), one in a decent translation is all I ask (because I can only read so much in the King James). The prospect of having 6 months to read my Bible cover to cover without much in the way of distractions is actually a really exciting prospect. The last time I read the whole thing was ten years ago and the ways that I've grown to understand the Bible differently and the world fairly differently and I think things like "Blessed are the merciful" (Matthew 5:7) and ideas like forgiving a person who has wronged you not seven times but "Seventy times seven" (Matthew 8:22) would take on a significantly different flavor inside of prison.

So thats my list:
Giant Spanish Workbook
The Brothers Karamazov

What do you think? Good picks? Is there something I should be re-shelving?


  1. List looks good to me. I would have the Bible and The Brothers (the Bible because I like to read it and Brothers because I have always wanted to read it, but lacked the discipline to do so).

    I think for book three I might need more of a break. Some unapologetically sporty (Book of Basketball, 7 Seconds or Less, Breaks of the Game) or something with pretty pictures (Watchman, Dark Knight Returns).

  2. @ Jeremiah, I'm not a sports fan so I'm not going to bother and even touch that one. I have questions about the comic books/graphic novels though. Why comics? I mean I love The Watchmen...but I could read it in an afternoon. If I'm going to be there for 6 months each book has got to have long-time use value and I'm not sure it can manage that. I can understand the need for something fun...wouldn't The Complete Hitchicker's Guide to the Galaxy make more sense? I know it doesn't have the pretty pictures but...?