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The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison
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HarperCollins 2016
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Description

A riveting account of the two years literary scholar Mikita Brottman spent reading literature with criminals in a maximum-security men's prison outside Baltimore, and what she learned from them—Orange Is the New Black meets Reading Lolita in Tehran.

On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman starts a book club with a group of convicts from the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. She assigns them ten dark, challenging classics—including Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Macbeth, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe's story "The Black Cat," and Nabokov's Lolita—books that don't flinch from evoking the isolation of the human struggle, the pain of conflict, and the cost of transgression. Although Brottman is already familiar with these works, the convicts open them up in completely new ways. Their discussions may "only" be about literature, but for the prisoners, everything is at stake.

Gradually, the inmates open up about their lives and families, their disastrous choices, their guilt and loss. Brottman also discovers that life in prison, while monotonous, is never without incident. The book club members struggle with their assigned reading through solitary confinement; on lockdown; in between factory shifts; in the hospital; and in the middle of the chaos of blasting televisions, incessant chatter, and the constant banging of metal doors.

Though The Maximum Security Book Club never loses sight of the moral issues raised in the selected reading, it refuses to back away from the unexpected insights offered by the company of these complex, difficult men. It is a compelling, thoughtful analysis of literature—and prison life—like nothing you've ever read before.

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Format:
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Street Date:
06/07/2016
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780062384355
ASIN:
B015CY8DIE
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Citations
APA Citation (style guide)

Mikita Brottman. (2016). The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison. HarperCollins.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Mikita Brottman. 2016. The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison. HarperCollins.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Mikita Brottman, The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison. HarperCollins, 2016.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Mikita Brottman. The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison. HarperCollins, 2016. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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        Mikita Brottman, PhD, is an Oxford-educated scholar, author, and psychoanalyst. She has written seven previous books, including The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical, and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals, and is a professor of humanities at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and continues with her weekly reading group at Jessup Correctional Institution.

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shortDescription

A riveting account of the two years literary scholar Mikita Brottman spent reading literature with criminals in a maximum-security men's prison outside Baltimore, and what she learned from them—Orange Is the New Black meets Reading Lolita in Tehran.

On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman starts a book club with a group of convicts from the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. She assigns them ten dark, challenging classics—including Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Macbeth, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe's story "The Black Cat," and Nabokov's Lolita—books that don't flinch from evoking the isolation of the human struggle, the pain of conflict, and the cost of transgression. Although Brottman is already familiar with these works, the convicts open them up in completely new ways. Their discussions may "only" be about literature, but for the...

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title
The Maximum Security Book Club
fullDescription

A riveting account of the two years literary scholar Mikita Brottman spent reading literature with criminals in a maximum-security men's prison outside Baltimore, and what she learned from them—Orange Is the New Black meets Reading Lolita in Tehran.

On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman starts a book club with a group of convicts from the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. She assigns them ten dark, challenging classics—including Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Macbeth, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe's story "The Black Cat," and Nabokov's Lolita—books that don't flinch from evoking the isolation of the human struggle, the pain of conflict, and the cost of transgression. Although Brottman is already familiar with these works, the convicts open them up in completely new ways. Their discussions may "only" be about literature, but for the prisoners, everything is at stake.

Gradually, the inmates open up about their lives and families, their disastrous choices, their guilt and loss. Brottman also discovers that life in prison, while monotonous, is never without incident. The book club members struggle with their assigned reading through solitary confinement; on lockdown; in between factory shifts; in the hospital; and in the middle of the chaos of blasting televisions, incessant chatter, and the constant banging of metal doors.

Though The Maximum Security Book Club never loses sight of the moral issues raised in the selected reading, it refuses to back away from the unexpected insights offered by the company of these complex, difficult men. It is a compelling, thoughtful analysis of literature—and prison life—like nothing you've ever read before.

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reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Baltimore Sun
      • content: "Idiosyncratic...poignant... When Brottman writes, she's a virtuoso: poised and sure-footed, confident and graceful, witty and relaxed."
      • premium: False
      • source: Boston Globe
      • content: "Charming...In the end, the club shows how reading literature can be a moral project, a workshop open to all."
      • premium: False
      • source: Booklist
      • content: "Readers see more than how criminals respond to literary masterpieces. They also see how the author realigns her own college professor thinking about books she sees anew through the eyes of her tough-minded students. Great literature reassessed in a gritty world far removed from academe's ivory towers."
      • premium: False
      • source: Los Angeles Times, "4 new nonfiction books not to be missed"
      • content: "This memoir's energy emanates from Brottman's sharp understanding of group dynamics and her determination to avoid clichés. She delves into the personal stories of the men she met behind bars, and is clear-eyed both about literature's powers and its limitations."
      • premium: False
      • source: Wally Lamb, New York Times bestselling author of WE ARE WATER
      • content: "Take nine convicted felons...Add a well-meaning literary scholar armed only with cheap reprints of challenging books...The resulting dynamic is the subject of Mikita Brottman's fascinating and unvarnished book about criminals as rough-hewn literary critics. I tore through THE MAXIMUM SECURITY BOOK CLUB."
      • premium: False
      • source: Sheila Heti
      • content: "Swiftly and sensitively written...we should all strive to build book clubs with people whose days and life histories are quite different from our own, rather than discussing books mainly with our friends. Until then, there's Mikita Brottman's wonderfully witty and deeply honest report from just that sort of space."
      • premium: False
      • source: William Deresiewicz, author of EXCELLENT SHEEP: THE MISEDUCATION OF THE AMERICAN ELITE and THE WAY TO A MEANINGFUL LIFE
      • content: "...Steers clear of facile sentimentality. There is no transformation or redemption in Brottmann's story, only honest moments of encounter...made possible by the act of reading literature. Brottman gives us a candid, unillusioned account of her work behind bars. A brave and admirable book about a brave and admirable project."
      • premium: False
      • source: Phillip Lopate
      • content: "One of the best books about teaching I've ever read, it is not only lively and engaging from the first page to the last, but dazzles by virtue of its honesty, sympathy and humanity."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kim Wozencraft, author of RUSH and THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE
      • content: "The prisoners are real. The fiction classics they read and discuss are real. Honest, engaging, surprising, and often unsettling, THE MAXIMUM SECURITY BOOK CLUB beautifully captures the banal insanity of prison life in America while exploring the power of literature to transform, reform, and illuminate."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        March 7, 2016
        For the past three years, Brottman (The Great Grisby), a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, has maintained a book club in which the nine other participants are inmates at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Institution. In this introspective piece, she recounts a two-year period during which her group (which necessarily has fluctuating membership) covered 10 books, including Heart of Darkness, Lolita, and Macbeth. A self-described “quiet, private, law-abiding type with no criminal record,” she assures readers that “I can’t help but feel a powerful allegiance to those whose lives haven’t worked out so well.” Unfortunately, her position comes across as one of naïveté and privilege; she challenges the men with books she finds dark and fascinating, and is surprised when they are bored or confused. She makes assumptions about prison inmates, only to have her expectations upended time and again. By the end, she confronts reality: “I was not turning them into readers. They were just men who attended the prison book club.” While Brottman has delivered an interesting look at the intersection of prison life and literature, her inability to perceive the flaws in her own perspective weakens the result. Agent: Betsy Lerner, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        January 1, 2016

        Ranging from William Shakespeare's Macbeth to William Burroughs's Junkie, the ten morally arresting classics on the syllabus devised by literary scholar Brottman would fire the mind of any intellectually inclined undergraduate. But she read them with members of a book club she started with convicts at the Jessup Correctional Institute, a maximum security prison in Maryland.

        Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        May 1, 2016
        Compassionate account of running a literary reading group among convicts at Maryland's Jessup maximum security prison.Psychoanalyst and author Brottman (Humanistic Studies/Maryland Institute Coll. of Art; The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical, and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals, 2014, etc.) hypothesizes that her own hardscrabble British childhood left her able to relate to criminal outcasts. "I've long been preoccupied with the lives of people generally considered unworthy of sympathy," she writes. Beginning as a volunteer during her sabbatical, she's kept the reading group going for over three years, despite her concerns that "the compulsion that draws me to these men is less an allegiance than...a form of survivor's guilt." Brottman argues that even dark literary works can salve the desperation of a long prison sentence, and she captures the camaraderie created within the group. Each chapter focuses on the group's reactions to a particular work, while she develops the inmates' personal stories in the context of prison's rigors. Her perspective on her subjects becomes disarming, although several have committed murder and others struggle with mental illness. Brottman's literary selections tend to be bleak and difficult: she began with Heart of Darkness and "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and then moved on to transgressive work by Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs. "To them," she writes, "as to [Bukowski stand-in] Henry Chinaski, brutality was a fact of nature." The book group remains a sought-after activity. The author claims that almost "no one dropped out unless they were released or transferred," even as funding for such programs has diminished. Brottman's own literary discussion is thoughtful, but the main appeal is the developing bond with her allegedly unsalvageable students, whose warmth and perceptiveness constantly surprise her. As one observes regarding Poe's "The Black Cat," "they bury us alive without thinking twice about it." Will not appeal to hard-core law-and-order types, but others will find this a brave and empathetic story of how literature brings light into shadows.

        COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

subtitle
Reading Literature in a Men's Prison
popularity
162
publisher
HarperCollins
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