Category: Book Culture

An incarcerated man reads - as is his right

U.S. Prisons Ban Books Critical of Criminal Justice System

For a country intent on the loosest possible definitions of free speech, one of our most marginalized populations is subject to an insidious degree of censorship.

The United States—the world leader in incarceration, imprisoning 2.2 million at this very moment—is fixated on free speech, but we favor the adjective over the verb. Prisons throughout the country are banning books that disagree with the racial disparity in U.S. prisons, the prison-industrial complex, and other incisive critiques of mass incarceration. And some are banning books altogether: one Georgia jail recently imposed a ban on all books, excluding only religious texts. Louisiana has banned non-Christian religious material, a decision that evidently violates the Constitutional provisions for religious freedom. Even the more liberal state of Washington forbade outsiders to make charitable book donations to prisons. Although the Washington Department of Corrections has rolled back the ban to accept donations from a small, specified list of charities, this compromise hardly changes the fact that WDOC only changed the rule because it couldn’t get away with it.


Books banned in Texas prisons, exceeding 15,000 total | Image Via Washington Post


Recently, the Arizona Department of Corrections has banned Chokehold, a non-fiction work exploring the role of race within the criminal justice system. Written by a former prosecutor, the book dispenses advice for black men and details the rights people can use to protect themselves (for example, during searches). While this may be unjust, it’s not unprecedented: North Carolina and Florida have banned The New Jim Crowanother book dedicated to exposing racism’s inextricable link to mass incarceration.

This past week, the American Civil Liberties Union formally addressed the issue, requesting that Arizona overturn this ban. An excerpt from the letter explains the hypocrisy inherent in the ban:

The very people who experience extreme racial disparity in incarceration cannot be prohibited from reading a book whose purpose is to examine and educate about that disparity. Improving understanding of policing, incarceration, and racial bias is especially critical given Arizona’s stark racial disparities and overall high rates of incarceration.

Advocates have pointed out the practical issues with these bans, those that transcend moral or ethical arguments. There is no budgetary component to book-donation charities, meaning that there are no financial consequences for allowing these charities to stock prison libraries. It’s also likely that incarcerated people will not spend their entire lives in prison. Given that the average prison sentence is three years, state departments of correction should assume that most of these people will return to society. Shouldn’t we want them to be emotionally healthy when they do? Shouldn’t we want them to be educated?

Under the First Amendment, only books which would actively endanger the prison or the people in it are eligible for bans. This clause would, for example, bar a non-fiction work that might detail how to make explosives or weaponry. The intent is purely physical rather than psychological; ostensibly, there is no danger to society in allowing prisoners to understand the judicial system that keeps them confined. But there is a danger to the system that imprisons them.




Featured Image Via Video Blocks.

Bentley's $200k+ release

Why Not Flaunt Your Wealth With Practical 66-Pound, $256k Book?

Culturally, we all recognize the significance of a flashy status symbol—even if we don’t exactly understand the point. These ostentatious displays of wealth are so important to some that they might be willing to get stranded in a Hunger Games battle for damp mattresses and untoasted cheese sandwiches. Others opt for Insta-worthy gold rolling papers (though these, of course, are just as tragically destined to go up in Fyre). There’s a difference between a splurge and a status symbol: an expensive skincare product is usually for self-pampering, not for bragging about. (Let’s take a moment to imagine: “check out my new pore-smoothing cream! Could you STILL hide the Crown Jewels in my pores, or do you think just a mood ring would fit?”) A status symbol is for the world to see—more specifically, for the world to see that you, not-so-humble-you, can afford a $185 paperclip. So, good luck carrying your 66-pound Bentley heritage book.


What $200k+ looks like, apparently

Image Via Forbes


Bentley, the luxury car manufacturer, has entitled its beast of a centenary release 100 Carat, a tasteful allusion to the 100 carats of diamonds that adorn the cover. Technically, the amount of diamonds you get is flexible based upon your price range: the Centenary Edition for $3.8k; the Mulliner Edition for $16k; and, of course, the Rich Bitch Edition for the aforementioned price.

So, what do you actually get when you purchase one of these books, besides the lingering dread that nothing, not even this, will be able to fill the emptiness inside? Besides diamonds. The 100-Carat Edition, of which only seven copies exist, gets you 100 carats of diamonds that you can’t wear as jewelry. The Mulliner Edition gets you fifty-six hand painted watercolors and rubber from the tires of a winning racecar. The Centenary Edition, of course, gets you the privilege of owning a four-thousand-dollar book.

Most people would agree that the purpose of a book, if not to document a historic or artistic period, is to inspire considerable thought and deep emotional responses. In that manner, this book has succeeded where many ambitious literary works have failed. Considering Bentley’s release, we’re left with a number of probing questions: who are these people? What do they do for a living besides (probably) yelling at waitstaff and spending $500 on a Saint Laurent white tee-shirt? And why purchase something too heavy to even properly take up a seat on public transit during rush hour—isn’t that what Louis Vuitton bags are for?




Featured Image Via Cnet.

good omens

Neil Gaiman Fought to Keep This ‘Good Omens’ Scene

The upcoming release of Good Omens will be a bittersweet one, given that co-creator Terry Pratchett is no longer with us. No expense was spared to make his narrative contributions come to life, especially under the watch of co-creator Neil Gaiman.

io9 reports that Gaiman was keen on filming a small, yet expensive scene during the TV series’ production. The scene featured one of Pratchett’s characters, Agnes Nutter, played by Josie Lawrence, getting burned at the stake in front of a village crowd for practicing witchcraft.


good omensImage via io9


Agnes’s character is more important to the backstory and world-building of Crowley and Aziraphale’s journey to stop the apocalypse than the story itself. However, when production raised concerns about the scene’s cost and proposed a budget-friendly solution, Gaiman couldn’t bring himself to exclude Pratchett’s creation. (It would also be a little awkward to remove the Agnes Nutter character from a book called Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.)


It was a huge, complicated and incredibly expensive shoot, with bonfires built and primed to explode as well as huge crowds in costumes. It had to feel just like an English village in the 1640s, and of course everyone asked if there was a cheap way of doing it. One suggestion was that we could tell the story using old-fashioned woodcuts and have the narrator take us through what happened, but I just thought, ‘No’. Because I had brought aspects of the story like Crowley and the baby swap along to the mix, and Terry created Agnes Nutter.

So, if I had cut out Agnes then I wouldn’t be doing right by the person who gave me this job. Terry would’ve rolled over in his grave.


good omens

Image via Amazon


It’s touching to see Gaiman’s consideration and loyalty to his beloved co-writer. A deal originally dictated that an adaptation would only be possible if both creators were attached to the project, until Gaiman received a posthumous from Pratchett himself, requesting that he adapt it.


Good Omens hits Amazon on May 31st.


Featured Image via The Verge