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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Turn the Motherfuckin Music Up

 

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Some years ago, I received a query from a writer who had written a book about dead girls. I knew we were made for each other. Even though I couldn’t find a publisher for the book, Mikita Brottman continued to write and write and write.  It’s not that rejection doesn’t bother her, but nothing stops her. She has to write. Sometimes I think the world exists so that she can write about it.

Now, she has produced a book I am so excited about: The Maximum Security Book Club. It’s about her experience running a book group in a men’s prison. It’s not about life lessons or how literature will save your life. Instead, Mikita brings us inside the prison and lets us get to know these men as individuals; they struggle with most of the books (Macbeth, Lolita, and Heart of Darkness to name a few); that struggle animates the chapters and illuminates their lives. You cannot help but look at each book anew and that is a bit of a miracle.

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Here is a brief interview with Mikita:

Can you tell us how you chose the books for the club?

I didn’t sit down and plan carefully in advance. I just chose some of my favorite books – the ones I most wanted to think about and talk about. I didn’t think about whether they were suitable, or accessible, or appropriate. I didn’t want to pander or patronize.

Do you think literature has the power to change lives in 25 words or less?

Yes, but not in ways that are obvious, immediate, discernible, or even necessarily for the better.

What is your favorite prison movie?

I Want to Live!

You never seem frightened or threatened in the book club; can you say something about that?

The men were always calm, polite, and respectful. Most of them hadn’t committed an act of violence for 20 or 30 years. And the book club was the highlight of their week. None of them would have risked losing it, or the other volunteer programs, which are their only contact with the outside world.

Is the killer inside you?

Only in faculty meetings.

Dear Readers: what book would you teach in a prison??

 

 

11 Responses

  1. Moby-Dick. Not that I could “teach” it. But I’d love to hear what imprisoned men would say about it.

  2. I love this! And congratulations to Mikita Brottman. I still say she was brave – although looking at that pic, if that’s a prisoner next to her, he looks like a doctor. He committed a violent crime? I guess the 20-30 years on the inside softens some. Or it’s the food.

    The book I’d want to teach…I think I’d like to dissect Stephen King’s THE STAND.

  3. Without Apology by Leah Hager Cohen

  4. A Wrinkle in Time or Coelho’s The Alchemist.

  5. The Alchemist, for sure. And I tip my hat to her for going inside.

  6. Thank you for this introduction to Mikita Brottman and The Maximum Security Book Club. Incarceration is terrible but it doesn’t mean you no longer have a soul and intellect.
    .What a great question! Les Miserables is too obvious. 100 Years of Solitude? Ah, no. I’m thinking of The Siren by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa because of the different world it could open up, the life of an aristocrat far removed from the confines of a cell.

  7. It took a little thought this morning on the walk to the train station, but as I walked, so I thought.

    For male inmates, the following (for female inmates, I don’t know, and would likely require two or three walks to have a decent idea):

    “In Our Time”;
    “All Quiet on the Western Front”; and
    “Ecclesiastes” (KJV).

    I consider these works to be places from which to begin.

  8. Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. An escaped slaves decides, when the Civil War ends, to walk from Philadelphia to Mississippi to find the wife he has not seen in decades… He has something to tell her…

  9. “Why we took the car”, by German author Wolfgang Herrndorf. Serious fun.

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