Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly group post hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, and this week’s topic was a “freebie,” open to the poster to select. I choose top ten books to read in prison.

A lot of prison reading lists include a good number of books that are either prison memoirs or books about the political and social issues regarding prisons. Personally, I didn’t want my reading to venture anywhere near the subject of prisons in any non-fictional context. I will read those books now, but back then? No, thank you. I wanted my reading to be the part of my day that allowed me to forget where I was — and finding a book that can truly make you forget where you are when you are someplace like prison is pretty tricky. IF the book involved prisons in a fictional context, I wanted something cathartic — like the awesomeness of The Count of Monte Cristo. I think my prison reads can be lumped into four basic types: long books, inspirational, escapist/humor, and prison-related. Without further ado, though, here are my picks:

1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. This is great prison reading for a few reasons, one being its length. If you are in prison, it’s an excellent time to get to all the super-long books you’ve been meaning to get to — because you’ll never again have so much time on your hands. It is also great because there’s a section around page 200 that very poignantly details things you will learn if you spend time in a half-way house, and many of the things on that list happen to be things that apply to prison as well. Plus, the book is laugh-out-loud funny in places.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This is on the list because it’s a great escape. Morgenstern creates a whole other world, in which it is blissfully easy to become immersed.

3. The Keep by Jennifer Egan. This would fall into the category of prison-related literature and it also engages in some serious examination of forgiveness, sins from the past, and the way in which our pasts shape us — all themes which speak to prisoners.

4. Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. This book is simply hilarious. It’s about a family in which the parents are performance artists — and they use their kids as props in hilarious, inappropriate, and galling performances.

5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The Time Traveler’s Wife is another book that is on this list for its escapist value.

6. No Horizon is So Far by Cheryl Dahle, Liv Arnesen, and Ann Bancroft. I’ve written before about how inspirational the opening section of this book is. Many of the lessons about surviving a voyage seem particularly relevant in prison.

7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. No explanation needed. Of course this is a perfect prison read.

8. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is the first book that I read after my arrest that I got so completely immersed in that I truly forgot where I was. I was reading and when I stopped for a minute, I briefly wondered why I was wearing orange pants. It was very disappointing, of course, when I remembered — bu I was thrilled to realize that I had forgotten, even briefly.

9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Into the Wild is another book that would fall into the inspirational category on this list.

10. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. A rather hefty tome, Life After Life is also great for its escapist value. I think the fact that the fact plays with questions of how a person’s life might turn out if one tiny little thing were different is a concept that can seem especially fascinating in prison.

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17 thoughts on “Top Ten Books to Read in Prison

    1. Thanks! Yes, the The Night Circus is totally awesome. It was definitely my favorite book that I read that year, and I read well over 100 books that year.

  1. I’ve been debating whether to read Never Let Me Go and if it can make you forget where you were, then it’s definitely a must read for me. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. I’ve read Family Fang and really enjoyed it. I think you do have to have a rather particular sense of humor to like that book–not sure what that says about me . . . 🙂

    1. Thanks! I guess after being in prison, it easy to relate everything to prison … it’s kind of one of those things that clouds the rest of your life …

  3. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of the books on your list yet. But I have a copy of Life After Life and The Night Circus.

  4. Great idea for a list! A lot of these books are amazing and area great for getting out of your own head as well as exercising it a bit. I especially love Never Let Me Go – I wonder if it would be as absorbing with a re-read?

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