Last fall, when my computer was broken for about a month, I ended up watching a lot of Netflix on PS3. Something I finally gave a look was Orange Is the New Black.
And I loved it. ❤
I loved the variety of characters, I loved the drama, I loved the humor, I loved how each episode focused on someone’s past (a lot like Lost, another TV show I fell in love with about six years ago just as it was ending), and I loved just how into it I got. I don’t find myself really diving into much these days and fully getting lost in the magic, so I was very happy to find myself watching episode upon episode for hours and hours without losing interest. Seriously, I must have finished the three available seasons in about a week. That’s how much I liked it.
So naturally I noticed the little “based on the book” or however it was phrased during the intro credits. Naturally, I wanted to check it out. But then I found out it was a memoir and my interest faded. I still wanted to check it out at some point, just to see what it’s like compared to the show, but seeing as I’m not a big fan of nonfiction, biographies, and memoirs I was okay if I couldn’t get to it for a while.
I’d check to see if it was in my library whenever I went and a couple of visits ago, it was. I wasn’t really in the mood for a memoir and I wasn’t sure I was going to have time to read it before finishing the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children books, but seeing as this was the first time I even saw it in during the several months of checking I didn’t want the opportunity to go to waste.
As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of this genre of literature. I’m going to have a bias. But as I said in my Dirty Daddy review, I’m trying to branch out into new types of books I wouldn’t normally try. I’m more or less trying to update my opinion of nonficiton, seeing as I’ve avoided it for so long. So I gave Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison a shot, hoping I would at least have my love of the show to keep me interested.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the book too much. Which is a shame because as far as biographies go, this one was probably the best written of the ones I’ve read. It wasn’t amazing or anything like that, but I could tell this was a step above the standard celebrity autobiographies with large print and rushed sentences.
The thing that actually bothered me about this book was… well, the narrator, Piper Kerman. And I don’t necessarily intend for that to sound meanspirited, but seeing as the majority of other reviews I’ve read also held this opinion, I’ve got to say it:
For someone that spent a year in prison, a lot of nice things happen to Piper. And it doesn’t make for a very interesting read.
If you’ve seen the show, then real life Piper is very similar. She comes from a family of wealth and privilege, she spent time traveling with real life Alex and got busted for an incident in Alex’s drug business, she’s living a happy life with her fiance Larry — things are more or less peachy until she finds out she needs to go to prison for her offense almost ten years ago.
And I’ll say right now, for both real life Piper and TV show Piper — I don’t think she should have been sent to prison. What happened was so long ago and small in the grand scheme of things that it felt irrelevant. Prolonging the actual case felt even more unnecessary and felt like it just rubbed salt in the wound.
But here’s where the show and book start to differ. In the show, Piper’s family wasn’t particularly supportive of her. The only really supportive people were Larry and their friend Paulie, and they both stopped being supportive pretty quickly. I may not be the biggest fan of Piper in the show, but at least there’s some interesting drama and a struggle we can see herself fighting against.
The book though… well, Piper’s got a ton of friends and family that remain super supportive of her throughout the entire book. And she lets you know that, and how grateful she is. A lot. Which is great and all for real life Piper, but… it doesn’t exactly make for an interesting story.
It also doesn’t help that most of the inmates she mentions in the book are also surprisingly supportive of her. With the exception of a couple of people, everyone sort of just… gets along. Yeah, even when Piper says she’s doing a year and someone else says she’s doing ten, there’s surprisingly no animosity or spite involved between these women. Which again, is great and all for real life Piper, but… it doesn’t exactly make for an interesting story.
Most chapters are basically little stories of things that happened during her stay. I think the book progresses in a fairly linear fashion, although sometimes I felt like the timeline jumped around a little. They’re all feel good stories, usually ending with Piper feeling blessed and grateful for the people in her life.
Which again, is great and all for real life Piper, but… it doesn’t exactly make for an interesting story.
Admittedly, this is one of my issues with memoirs. Everyone wants to tell their story, but sometimes those stories unfortunately don’t make for interesting reads. This is the kind of story that’s probably more interesting to hear in person at a gathering or something, not one you’d want to read 300 pages of.
But maybe you would. Like I said, I’m not really interested in this genre of literature.
I suppose the point of the book was to show what prison life was like, particularly for other inmates. I guess we were supposed to learn how these women try to manage themselves and their relationships while incarcerated. But… eh. I guess that’s there, too. But the focus is on Piper and how grateful she is that her prison experience wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
One thing I could recommend reading the book for is seeing where many of the characters and events from the TV show came from. With the exception of a few people, everyone’s name has been changed, but you can tell who’s who. If you’re a huge fan of the show and are curious enough to see how everything started, you might be able to get enough out of the book to warrant reading it. I mean, I didn’t. But you might.
I’m really disappointed I didn’t like this book more. I knew I wasn’t going to love it, and I knew it wasn’t going to be like the TV show, but it’s still unfortunate I ended up flat out disliking it. I don’t want to say this because as a memoir, it feels like an attack, but Piper didn’t present herself as a particularly sympathetic character. Going to prison must have been awful and terrifying, but when she constantly brings up the love, support, letters, and gifts her family, friends, and inmates give her, I can’t exactly feel bad for her. She didn’t make prison seem awful. The year she spent there seemed to be more of an inconvenience than punishment. And I can’t say she learned anything from the experience; I mean, she already knew what she did was wrong all those years ago and appreciated all the support from her family and friends before being sent to prison, so… sigh.
There was an interview with Piper at the end of my copy, but seeing as I rushed through this book in a few days so I could get it back to the library in time, as well as the fact that I just didn’t like it, I gave it a pass. There might be something worth reading in there that would give me a different outlook. But if the first 300 pages didn’t do much for me, I don’t think the last handful would have changed my mind.
I just feel bad for the unsuspecting person that finds this in the bookstore and buys it hoping it’s the novelization of the show or something. Especially since there are now copies with the cast of the show on the cover. I always hate when books do this; making copies of the cover with the actors from the movie or TV show adaptation in an attempt to make the book more appealing to potential customers. I mean, I get why they do it. But I still hate it.
It doesn’t help that the copy I read had everyone on the cover represented at some point during the book except for my favorite character, Nikki (at least I’m pretty confident she wasn’t; I feel like I would have identified her if she had been). I wasn’t expecting even half these characters to originate from the book in the first place, but seeing that everyone was except my favorite character… I don’t know, man. Just one last selfish thing that annoyed me about the book. :p
… Bring back Nikki in season 4, please. ❤
Info for my edition of Orange Is the New Black:
- Published 2013 by Little, Brown Book Group
- Paperback, 344 pages
- ISBN 9780349139869