Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Report: Orange Is The New Black

A few months ago while visiting my parents, my mom and I decided to browse in Barnes and Noble. She had a gift card, so she said I could get a book. I talked her into two. :) My second pick was "Orange Is The New Black" by Piper Kerman. When I showed the book to my mom, she asked me if I was planning on going to jail.

No, Mom.

So I had this book, and it was sitting on my nightstand, and then the "Orange Is The New Black" TV show came out and it was fantastic and everyone was raving about it, so I figured the book had to be good, right? I mean, books are always better than their movie counterparts, so I figured the same had to be true about TV shows.

Except that it wasn't. All the things I loved about the TV show — the drama, the fights, the unlikely friendships and relationships, the wit — none of them were in the book. Book Piper did her time and kept it pretty drama-free. There was no time spent in solitary confinement. No one hated her or wanted to get revenge on her. No one tried to hook up with her or kill her. There was nothing particularly exciting or terrible about it. For all the "hardships" she had to endure, she basically had a pretty cushy life for prison; people constantly sent her mail and books, she had more than enough commissary money for anything she could ever want to buy, she requested a job change so she could work outside by a pretty lake. It was kind of annoying to listen to her complain about it and then admit that she had it much better than most of the other inmates.

But I think my biggest problem with the book was that Kerman was just not a very descriptive writer. I got a lot of the characters mixed up because there weren't enough details or information about any of them to distinguish them from one another, whether they were guards, inmates, counselors or other authority figures. (It didn't help that all of the characters in the book had different names than they did in the TV show, and some of the characters in the show didn't exist in the book. I was all kinds of confused as to who was who the whole time.) Even exciting occurrences — for example, the screwdriver incident from the show — were downplayed and details scarce. I felt no passion from Book Piper about her experience or her desire to make changes for the better, despite knowing that she actually does, in real life, work to improve the prison system. I felt like this book could have been just amazing, but that justice had not been served.

I'd say, if you're going to read the book, do so before you watch the show. Because otherwise it's just disappointing. I'm giving it a C

Are you watching "Orange Is The New Black"?

To see what else I've been reading lately, check out the Recently Read widget in the sidebar!


  1. I've been curious about this book! We just started watching the show. Disappointing that it isn't as good.

  2. I've heard similar things about the book! I'm sad it's not as good as the show...but I definitely still want to read it!

    1. Heh, I would have felt the same way! I'd have been like, oh that sucks it's not good, but I HAVE TO READ IT ANYWAY.

      I have a copy of the book I'd be willing to pass on if anyone wants it.

  3. Good to know, I'll probably just stick with the tv show now :)

  4. I've started watching the show, and since I haven't read the book, I've wondered how big the disconnect is between the two. I like the show and find it funny, but from what I've read about the real Piper, she's working to help reform the prison system. In the show, Piper is sort of flaky and hard to pin down, which, I guess, is how she got in trouble in the first place. She gets on my nerves sometimes. I also find the more gratuitous sex scenes hard to watch because of how women are portrayed in them, and there's such a fine line between what is acceptable and what isn't. I know the show is supposed to show the realities of prison life and what these women endure, but Piper seems like a weak character to me. I wonder what the real Piper thinks of it.

    1. You know, I hadn't thought about it, but you're right, I am curious to know what Real Piper thinks of the show. I wonder if she's happy with how she is portrayed, and how closely Show Piper resembles Real Piper.

      I'm not sure how I feel about the amount of sex in the show either. I was definitely uncomfortable/embarrassed to be watching during a few of the episodes, and I'm sure some of the scenes were for purely shock value, but I understand the need to show that abuse is common in the system too. I don't know. Torn between being a good little Christian girl and feeling like a prude. :-\

    2. I totally feel like a prude, lol! In the episodes about the cell phone and pictures, there's actually a disclaimer at the end of the credits listing the companies that provided the pictures, which are adult entertainment companies and the subjects of the photos were consenting adults over 18. I just think it's interesting what they are allowed to show and what they can't. The scenes with women are more graphic, and the scenes with men are only alluded to as the camera pans away. Kind of unfair. It's something that bugs me each time I watch, and yet I can't stop watching because the show is so good.

      That episode completely shocked me. In fact, I wasn't aware that they could actually use imagery like that in a non-pornographic setting, even if it's a subscription-based service. I could have done without that. Very interesting that they had a disclaimer! I wasn't watching the credits very closely, so I didn't notice.

      But you're totally right about the scenes with men. The one sex scene in which the characters were in love was completely alluded to, but once the inmate got pregnant and had to cover up who the father was, suddenly alluding to relations wasn't enough, since the scene with Mendes was pretty explicit. Almost as if they were only interested in portraying the brutality of sex in a prison setting.

    4. I haven't finished the season yet (the last episode I watched was when everyone was sick, and Polly and the pregnant inmate had their babies), so I haven't seen it all. I just noticed it from the very first scene of the pilot, where Piper gives her "I love baths" monologue in a sort-of sexy voice. I mean, that got your attention right away. I have found the interactions between Daya and the cute guard to be very sweet, as well as some of the scenes between the inmates. You could really tell when they loved each other.

      I guess what perplexes me most is the way the show tries to be feminist and very pro-women, even from the opening with all of their faces, but the sex is really for shock value, I think. Like it's trying to hard to appeal to both men and women. I need to finish the season soon.

    5. I hadn't thought about the demographics of the show. I mean, I primarily have talked to women who have watched it, and haven't heard any opinions from men. I wonder who their official target market was, and if the way the sex was portrayed would have been different if it was a primarily female vs. primarily male audience.

      I can't decide if I think the show was intended to be feminist or not. I never got "feminism" from the intro, but it definitely has a slew of strong female characters who make their own decisions (and ultimately pay for them). But you never forget that they've landed themselves in an institution where ultimately the men/"The Man" has all the power. (I say "The Man" because even though the second-in-command is a woman, she's definitely more willing to break rules and oppress the women than risk her staff. More about that in a future episode.)

  5. *to=too in my previous comment :P

    I need to finish the show before I really decide, and I think my idea of feminism came from an article I read (I think in the New York Times?) about the real Piper and her book. I got the impression that she is a feminist, and you could argue that the show is feminist since it is focused on women and their struggles.

    And even though most of the characters are women, the sexual tension and the arguments often take on a very traditional male/female dynamic, even among two women. Like the many sex scenes between Nicky and Lorna, and Lorna eventually breaks off their relationship to be faithful to her fiance, but also so her private parts can go back to normal, as she explains it. She's portrayed as weaker and more submissive (and also not very smart), and Nicky is the more dominant one who gives her a basic anatomy lesson. There's the fight that didn't happen with the screwdriver, over the young woman who left, and the older inmate was jealous of the new, younger love interest. And even Piper seems to submit to Alex and get almost googley-eyed at times.

    But then Piper's relationship with Larry is off-kilter, and he begs her to talk with the people at Barney's so he can pay rent. His first article pitch is about "edging" and he is portrayed as desperately missing sex, rather than missing Piper. I guess these are just humorous ways to show the realities of prison life for everyone, even the people on the outside.

    Many of the women have stories showing how they were hurt or betrayed by men, and their decisions in those moments led to a prison sentence.

    I haven't seen the episode with the warden's assistant, but I can tell from the way she's portrayed that she can't be trusted.

    This is a great conversation, and I should finish the series this week, hopefully!

    1. All very good points. I don't think I'd ever looked at it from a feminist perspective; maybe just more like a human perspective. This may be just the way society has conditioned us, but it seems like in any relationship there are dominant and submissive roles, even among two people who ultimately consider themselves equals. For example, I prefer to be in control of running our household (groceries, shopping, dealing with finances, etc.) while Matt is content to let me do those things. Likewise, he ultimately wants to be in control of repairs to our home, and I don't mind letting him be in charge of that. But we can still be equals even though we each take on different roles in different situations. Maybe it's just the situation of prison that heightens those dynamics, especially because it's implied that you have to prove that you can't just be pushed around. Great thoughts!