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  • Brian Boone 2:00 pm on 2017/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: a thousand acres, ana of california, andi teran, , , , dorian an imitation, going bovine, , , , , , maya lang, , oscar wilde, page to page, , the sixteenth of june, , will self,   

    5 Books You Didn’t Know Were Remakes 

    Many standup comedians have made the amusing joke/observation that us creative humans in the Western world don’t hesitate to remake movies or songs but we never remake books. The most famous variation on the gag—after expressing that sentiment, the comedian mentions that they’re writing a word-for-word remake of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The thing is, authors remake other authors’ material all the time. It’s just that in the world of books they’re called “adaptations” or “re-imaginings.” Here are some books that offer a brand new take on pre-existing works.

    A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley is a remake of Shakespeare’s King Lear
    One of big reasons why Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest author, or playwright, of all time, is because his stories and characters continue to resonate through the centuries. The Bard wrote his stuff 400 years ago, and it’s still solid, because his themes are universal and his characters are relatable. Once in a while, an author will use one of Shakespeare’s plays as a jumping-off point—they just need to update the language. And the settings. And the plots. And into prose from dialogue. Perhaps the best example of Shakespeare 2.0 is Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. Because a king deciding which daughter to bequeath his kingdom to is a little irrelevant to the modern United States, Smiley made it about three daughters up to inherit their aging father’s farm. Smiley won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel.

    Going Bovine by Libba Bray is a remake of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote
    Miguel de Cervantes’ epic comedy Don Quixote is about a man with both mental illness and delusions of grandeur—it’s pretty modern and sophisticated for having been published four centuries ago. But hey, funny is funny, and comedy is eternal. Libba Bray deftly reworked the vast, complicated classic into a digestible modern tale set in high school. A regular guy named Cameron contracts Mad Cow Disease, as one does, and suffers from all kinds of delightful hallucinations.

    The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang is a remake of James Joyce’s Ulysses
    James Joyce’s crowning achievement is Ulysses, an astonishingly detailed, hyper-realistic look at a single day in Dublin, Ireland—June 16, 1904. Commemorations of that day are now known as Bloomsday, after one the book’s many, many characters, Leo Bloom. Almost as real as Joyce’s physical descriptions are the richly rendered characters. “A day in the life” is a repeatable formula, but difficult to do well. Author Maya Lang pulls it off with The Sixteenth of June. It’s a cutting, insightful, emotional look at the good people of Philadelphia on June 16, 2004. A couple of people even throw a Bloomsday party! (Of course, if you want to get technical, Ulysses itself is a remake of the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey.)

    Ana of California by Andi Teran is a remake of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
    You can’t improve on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s moving story of plucky, idiosyncratic red-headed orphan Anne Shirley charming the once crusty townsfolk of Avonlea. You can only re-create it in another time and place. At its core, Anne of Green Gables is a story about how hard it is to a new place, and fit in while maintaining your identity and integrity, and Andi Teran maintains all of Montgomery’s themes in her Anne reimagining, Ana of California. And she does it quite well, telling the tale of a teenage orphan named Ana Cortez who leaves the foster care system and East L.A. for a farm work program in Northern California.

    Dorian by Will Self is a remake of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
    What if Oscar Wilde were Bret Easton Ellis? Then he’d write Dorian. Of course, Will Self already wrote this book in 2002. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray story of a fresh-faced man and his grotesquely aging portrait called out and satirized the superficial. Self logically adapted the novel to take place in the equally hollow and image-conscious world of the 1980s London art scene.

    What are your favorite literary remakes?

    The post 5 Books You Didn’t Know Were Remakes appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2017/10/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , answered prayers, , anthony trollope, , , , , , , , , , j. g. ballard, , joan weigall, , , , oscar wilde, , picnic at hanging rock, , , the adventures of huckleberry finn, the macdermots of ballycloran, , , , , through the looking glass, , why I want to f*ck ronald reagan   

    15 of the Most Infamous Deleted Chapters in History 

    Revision is a vital aspect of creation; all authors delete, re-write, and occasionally burn entire manuscripts with tears streaming down their faces. Most of the time, deleted chapters occur so early in the writing process that they’re not relevant—or interesting. They’re just the cost of doing literary business. Sometimes, though, the story behind excised material is almost as interesting as the finished version of the book it comes from. The fifteen chapters listed here didn’t make it into the published version of the book—but that hasn’t stopped them from being part of the conversation.

    Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
    Heller’s classic 1961 novel, one of the funniest, darkest, and most complex ever written, took about eight years to write—and remains the defining work of Heller’s career. Put simply, if you’re discussing Joseph Heller, you’re discussing Catch-22, and even Heller seemed to accept this towards the end of his life. Much of his late output was directly connected to his first novel, and in 2003 he published the collection Catch as Catch Can which contained two deleted chapters from Catch-22: “Love, Dad” and “Yossarian Survives” (both of which had been previously published). The chapters provide some background on Nately and Yossarian while offering some of Heller’s most savage mockery of the military—and both chapters work perfectly well as standalone stories, making them perhaps the rare examples of chapters deleted from books because they were too good.

    Dracula, by Bram Stoker
    Stoker’s novel is one of the most influential in all of history, but it originally ended a bit differently from the version you’re familiar with. A deleted chapter detailed Dracula’s castle literally falling apart as he dies. It’s not very long—a grace note, really—and there are several theories as to why Stoker excised it very close to its publication. Some people think he might have been envisioning a sequel and wanted to hedge his bets. Others think he might have worried about being accused of stealing the concept from Edgar Allan Poe. Whatever the reason, reading the chapter does change the tone of the novel just enough to make it significant.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
    Wilde’s only novel originally contained a great deal of homosexual imagery, sexual allusions, and other edgy stuff that made his publisher’s head explode. So his editor forced him to cut a great deal of this “objectionable” material. Even so, the book created a stir upon publication, as it still contained passages that outraged a lot of people, and so Wilde revised the book a second time in an effort to make it acceptable. Wilde’s reward was a novel everyone is still reading and, of course, a few years in jail simply for being a homosexual. In 2011 the uncensored version of the book was finally published with the deleted chapters restored, so you can now read the book in all its dirty glory.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    In the early versions of Dahl’s beloved book there were actually eight kids brought into Wonka’s factory, and they had some different adventures—including the original chapter 5, which brings the children and their parents into the Vanilla Fudge Room, where a literal mountain of fudge is worked on by Wonka’s servants with picks and hammers, sending boulders of fudge down to the floor where they’re grabbed by cranes and sent on wagons into a hole in the wall. Sounds delightful until two of the kids and their parents ignore Wonka’s warnings and ride the wagons to what they think will be fudge heaven. Instead, Wonka reveals that the fudge is tipped out of the wagons into a machine that pounds it thin then chops it up. Dahl’s publisher thought this was a bit too nasty for kids, and so the chapter was deleted and didn’t see the light of day until 2014.

    The Martian, by Andy Weir
    The Martian by Andy Weir went through a lot of revision. The original version posted on Weir’s website—still available online if you know where to look—is very different from the final version. A few years ago Weir went on Reddit for an unannounced, secret “Ask Me Anything” session and revealed the original epilogue of the story, which featured Mark Watney cursing at a child who asks him if he’d return to Mars if they asked him. It’s actually kind of a delightful ending, and one we wish they would have included in the movie.

    Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
    The original ending of Dickens’ famous novel was kind of dark and sad: Pip and Estella meet years after the events of the novel, but instead of a bittersweet moment implying a future for the two, both are simply bitter, and they part on savage terms. Dickens liked this ending because he thought it was unexpected and original, but his Beta Readers disagreed, so he changed the chapter to the version we’re all familiar with. After publication he went back and revised the final line, coming up with the perfect “I saw no shadow of another parting from her.”

    Why I Want to F*ck Ronald Reagan, by J. G. Ballard
    In the late 1960s, Ronald Reagan was something new: one of the first “media politicians” who knew that how you said something was more important than what you said, as well as one of the first “far right” politicians in mainstream politics. Although a decade and a half from the presidency, he made an impact that J.G. Ballard found interesting, and he wrote a short work styled as an academic paper describing bizarre experiments to measure Reagan’s sexual appeal. It was meant to be challenging and confrontational—and it sure was. It was originally included in Ballard’s collection The Atrocity Exhibition, but the American publisher of the book actually destroyed the entire printing rather than let it loose on the country. Let that sink in: the publisher destroyed every copy of the book rather than publish this. If there’s a better reason to read it, we’re unaware.

    A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
    It’s well-known that the last chapter of Burgess’ novel was deleted before it was published in the United States; the publisher thought the “softer” ending in which Alex starts to mature and see that his behavior in the earlier portions of the book was wrong would turn off American readers. Indeed, many still prefer the way the book ended in the truncated version, which is also the beat Stanley Kubrick’s classic film version ends on: Alex dreaming of violence, thinking “I was cured all right.”

    The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
    Wells’ novel about a man who invents a time machine established not just one of the sturdiest sci-fi tropes of all time, but a template for the modern speculative novel. Wells’ publisher insisted he add a section showing mankind’s ultimate evolutionary fate, and Wells obliged under protest, writing a chapter in which the time traveler escapes the Morlocks by traveling into the distant future, where he encounters small mammals which he determines are the descendants of humanity. Wells never liked it and had it removed as soon as he was able, and while the story, which you can read under the standalone title “The Grey Man,” is interesting, the book is much better without it.

    Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
    Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland is more Alice than Alice in many ways. The illustrator working on the book sent Carroll a note saying he wasn’t inspired by the “wasp chapter”, and suggested none-too-subtly that if Carroll were looking to cut the book down a bit, the Wasp part would be the place to start. No one knew what he was referring to, however—until 1976 when the missing “Wasp in a Wig” chapter was put up for auction. One problem, however: no one has ever been able to verify that this was actually written by Carroll. Reading it, the reason people have doubts is pretty clear: it’s awful. Either Carroll cut the one example of bad writing he ever managed…or he didn’t write it.

    Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Weigall
    Weigall’s 1967 novel was a sensation at the time, despite the fact that it literally had no ending. The story of college students who disappear while visiting Hanging Rock in Australia was originally ended with a pretty crazy explanation of everything that happened, but Weigall’s publisher suggested the book might do better without the, um, crazy part and so the final chapter was deleted (you can read it here if you want), meaning that the story just stops, and no explanation is offered at all for the mystery. This actually fueled the book’s success, making it into a “must read” at the time. If the Internet had existed in 1967, this book would have broken it.

    The MacDermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope
    Trollope had very low expectations for his first novel, and these were borne out when it didn’t do very well. Although the novel has gained in reputation since its initial lackluster publication, you have to be careful to get the original 1847 version, because Trollope later hacked his book to death in an effort to…improve it, we guess? He deleted three chapters and changed a great deal of what makes the original novel interesting (mainly the Irish dialects, politics, and the character flaws). The revised version isn’t nearly as good, and the three missing chapters are, ironically, some of the best writing in the book.

    Answered Prayers, by Truman Capote
    Capote’s transformation from brilliant writer to alcoholic gadfly took about twenty years, and in that time he continuously accepted advances and signed contracts for Answered Prayers, a novel he never got around to finishing. Four chapters were published in magazines (the first, “La Côte Basque 1965,” was so obviously based on his real-life friends and acquaintances Capote pretty much lost every friend he had) and they’re pretty hefty, amounting to a novel’s worth of text if put together. But several other chapters have been referenced in Capote’s correspondence—and he claimed he’d written the final chapter first so he’d know where he was going—that have yet to turn up anywhere.

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    Twain, never one to be typical, wasn’t satisfied to delete a mere chapter, instead opting to delete 665 manuscript pages, essentially an entire shadow version of his all-time classic novel. Twain paused work on the book for three years, and scholars have long argued over where exactly he broke off and what he changed when he returned to the book. The deleted chapters contain plenty of material not present in the final book, and have proved invaluable in trying to determine Twain’s intentions and process.

    Persuasion, by Jane Austen
    Austen was one of the most meticulous writers of all time, and put a lot of effort into revising her novels. Persuasion is one of the few in which we can compare early drafts to see how the novel developed, and Austen’s deleted chapters show a ruthless approach to improving the pacing of the plot and the creation of her characters. Assembling earlier versions of the novel show what her original inspiration was, how her ideas changed as she worked, and cast some light on the sausage-making underneath the charming and compelling narratives Austen created.

    Did we miss any famous deleted chapters?

    The post 15 of the Most Infamous Deleted Chapters in History appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2016/10/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , oscar wilde, , ,   

    Five Common First Names Invented by Writers 

    Many of the words we use every day were originally invented by writers. Nouns and objects are one thing—you can readily believe that a word like bedazzled was invented by Shakespeare, and then mourn that it now means gluing fake gems to denim jackets—but proper names are something else. Our names are supposed to link us to our families, our clans, our culture. Finding out our name was made up out of whole cloth by a writer under deadline can be a little disconcerting. In fact, it doesn’t happen that often; most of the time when someone tells you a writer invented a name, what they in fact mean is that the writer popularized the name. Here are five given names that were, in fact, invented (or at least used first) by writers.

    Cedric, Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott
    In the modern day, Ivanhoe might get more credit for introducing a version of the character of Robin Hood than anything else, but Scott’s early 19th-century work redefined the adventure novel, bringing several concepts into play that remain standard in novels to this day. Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, one of the few Saxon lords in Norman-dominated England, is a remarkably mediocre guy, actually; not particularly bright, powerful, or rich. We’re not here for Wilfred, though; we’re here for his father, Cedric, whose name was invented by Scott for the book. Cedric as a name peaked in the 1970s in popularity, but has been slipping in obscurity for decades. (Sorry, Cedric Diggory.)

    Jessica, The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
    Sometimes it seems like Shakespeare invented most of the English language, including several names. Etymologists (aka Word Nerds) argue about the possible inspiration for Jessica, with some seeing a link to the Greek Ieskha and Hebrew Yiskah. All we know is that no one in the world was named Jessica until Shakespeare dropped this one in The Merchant of Venice. And, if you’ll recall, between the 1980s and 1990s when every single girl born was named Jessica.

    Vanessa, Cadenus and Vanessa, by Jonathan Swift
    Jonathan Swift was a hella clever guy, someone whose name is still used as shorthand for “satiric,” and whose works are still regularly assigned in school. His 1712 poem Cadenus and Vanessa (not published until 1726) isn’t the most well-known of his works, but it has the distinction of introducing the name Vanessa to us. Swift created the name for his long-time lover and correspondent Esther Vanhomrigh; he took the first letters of her names and reversed their order, allowing him to refer to her discreetly. That means Vanessa is one of the few names that were truly created out of thin air by an author.

    Dorian, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
    Dorian wasn’t unheard of before the 1890 publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray; it’s Greek, and referred originally to one of the main ethnic groups of ancient Greece. But Oscar Wilde was the first to use the word as a given name, and you won’t find a single example of it prior to 1890, which means Wilde gets credit even if he didn’t come up with it all by himself. Dorian, in fact, has become surprisingly common for a name that didn’t get into the gene pool until the early 20th century, especially considering the fate of the titular character of Wilde’s only novel. You’d think people would think twice before naming their kids after that mess.

    Orville, Evelina, by Fanny Burney
    When you think of the name Orville chances are you think of Orville Wright or Orville Redenbacher, depending on where you fall on the snack-vs-science spectrum. Either way, you’re likely not thinking about the 1778 novel by Fanny Burney, who wins our award for best author name, possibly ever. Regarded as a book that heavily influenced later works by Jane Austen and others, the novel also gifted the world the name Orville, although Burney used it as a surname. Lord Orville is the Mr. Darcy of Burney’s story; somehow the name stopped making people think of eligible bachelors and made them think of popcorn instead.

    Contrary to Popular Belief: Not Wendy, Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
    Usually the first example in an article about names invented by writers is Wendy from Peter Pan, but we disqualify it. While it’s true no one was actually named just Wendy prior to the publication of Barrie’s famous book, people were named Gwendolyn, and were routinely referred to by the diminutive Wendy. So while Barrie gets partial credit for popularizing a nickname as a proper name, he didn’t actually invent it. So there.

     

    The post Five Common First Names Invented by Writers appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2016/10/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , oscar wilde, , ,   

    Five Common First Names Invented by Writers 

    Many of the words we use every day were originally invented by writers. Nouns and objects are one thing—you can readily believe that a word like bedazzled was invented by Shakespeare, and then mourn that it now means gluing fake gems to denim jackets—but proper names are something else. Our names are supposed to link us to our families, our clans, our culture. Finding out our name was made up out of whole cloth by a writer under deadline can be a little disconcerting. In fact, it doesn’t happen that often; most of the time when someone tells you a writer invented a name, what they in fact mean is that the writer popularized the name. Here are five given names that were, in fact, invented (or at least used first) by writers.

    Cedric, Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott
    In the modern day, Ivanhoe might get more credit for introducing a version of the character of Robin Hood than anything else, but Scott’s early 19th-century work redefined the adventure novel, bringing several concepts into play that remain standard in novels to this day. Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, one of the few Saxon lords in Norman-dominated England, is a remarkably mediocre guy, actually; not particularly bright, powerful, or rich. We’re not here for Wilfred, though; we’re here for his father, Cedric, whose name was invented by Scott for the book. Cedric as a name peaked in the 1970s in popularity, but has been slipping in obscurity for decades. (Sorry, Cedric Diggory.)

    Jessica, The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
    Sometimes it seems like Shakespeare invented most of the English language, including several names. Etymologists (aka Word Nerds) argue about the possible inspiration for Jessica, with some seeing a link to the Greek Ieskha and Hebrew Yiskah. All we know is that no one in the world was named Jessica until Shakespeare dropped this one in The Merchant of Venice. And, if you’ll recall, between the 1980s and 1990s when every single girl born was named Jessica.

    Vanessa, Cadenus and Vanessa, by Jonathan Swift
    Jonathan Swift was a hella clever guy, someone whose name is still used as shorthand for “satiric,” and whose works are still regularly assigned in school. His 1712 poem Cadenus and Vanessa (not published until 1726) isn’t the most well-known of his works, but it has the distinction of introducing the name Vanessa to us. Swift created the name for his long-time lover and correspondent Esther Vanhomrigh; he took the first letters of her names and reversed their order, allowing him to refer to her discreetly. That means Vanessa is one of the few names that were truly created out of thin air by an author.

    Dorian, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
    Dorian wasn’t unheard of before the 1890 publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray; it’s Greek, and referred originally to one of the main ethnic groups of ancient Greece. But Oscar Wilde was the first to use the word as a given name, and you won’t find a single example of it prior to 1890, which means Wilde gets credit even if he didn’t come up with it all by himself. Dorian, in fact, has become surprisingly common for a name that didn’t get into the gene pool until the early 20th century, especially considering the fate of the titular character of Wilde’s only novel. You’d think people would think twice before naming their kids after that mess.

    Orville, Evelina, by Fanny Burney
    When you think of the name Orville chances are you think of Orville Wright or Orville Redenbacher, depending on where you fall on the snack-vs-science spectrum. Either way, you’re likely not thinking about the 1778 novel by Fanny Burney, who wins our award for best author name, possibly ever. Regarded as a book that heavily influenced later works by Jane Austen and others, the novel also gifted the world the name Orville, although Burney used it as a surname. Lord Orville is the Mr. Darcy of Burney’s story; somehow the name stopped making people think of eligible bachelors and made them think of popcorn instead.

    Contrary to Popular Belief: Not Wendy, Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
    Usually the first example in an article about names invented by writers is Wendy from Peter Pan, but we disqualify it. While it’s true no one was actually named just Wendy prior to the publication of Barrie’s famous book, people were named Gwendolyn, and were routinely referred to by the diminutive Wendy. So while Barrie gets partial credit for popularizing a nickname as a proper name, he didn’t actually invent it. So there.

     

    The post Five Common First Names Invented by Writers appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2016/06/22 Permalink
    Tags: ezra pound, , , oscar wilde, prison   

    10 Books That were Written in Prison 

    Prison is supposed to be “correctional,” in the sense that the people who enter it should emerge with a new and preferably more law-abiding view on life. While no one wants to go to prison, when writers are sentenced to stays in the slammer, they often use the boredom, terror, and truly bad food of the system as grist for their creative mills. Here are 10 books you might be surprised to learn were at least partially composed while their authors were serving time.

    The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo
    So you’re Marco Polo, and you’ve just spent 15 years traveling a world few people have seen. Upon your return to Italy in the late 13th century, you discover that there’s a war on between Venice and Genoa. You’re captured and tossed in jail simply because you’re a prominent Venetian. What do you do? You tell your story to your cellmate, who happens to be a writer, and who jots everything down in French and later publishes it. Debate rages as to how much imagination Polo added to his travels, but his stories remain an invaluable glimpse into a world erased by time.

    At least 14 short stories by O. Henry
    William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the pseudonym O. Henry, is one of the most famous short story writers of all time. Remembered for his surprise endings, O. Henry was a nimble wordsmith whose tales would stand the test of time even without the twists—but Porter’s life had a bit of a twist itself. In 1891, he took a job at the First National Bank of Austin, where he was fired for what was either really, really bad bookkeeping or serious embezzlement. Oddly, no one pressed charges until a Federal audit of the bank revealed the problem; Porter fled to Honduras for a few years before returning home and going to jail—where he wrote 14 of his famous short stories.

    De Profundis, by Oscar Wilde
    One of the longest letters ever written, De Profundis is fascinating and heartbreaking. Imprisoned for “indecency” in a less-enlightened time, Oscar Wilde’s stint in prison was unpleasant, filled with hard labor, isolation, and constant supervision, but he was eventually allowed writing materials when the warden decided it might be therapeutic. The papers were taken away every day, however, and Wilde wasn’t allowed to revise or even re-read what he wrote until he was released shortly before his death. The letter is addressed to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and recounts their relationship and its consequences before segueing into Wilde’s spiritual revelations, which amount to a sort of self-actualization. In a modern age in which people still have to fight for their most basic dignities, De Profundis retains its power.

    Our Lady of the Flowers, by Jean Genet
    Genet, a petty criminal in his youth, wrote this novel while in prison so he would have something to, um, pleasure himself to. The story of his journey through the Parisian underworld, the book is populated by drag queens, criminals, and other undesirables, and the erotic sections are balanced by a pervading sense of dread and the hovering specter of death. Genet wrote a first draft on stolen paper; when the manuscript was discovered, the guards burned it. Genet then wrote it again, so the least you can do is read it.

    Cantos, by Ezra Pound
    Ezra Pound was in Italy during World War II and made several broadcasts on the radio expressing opinions on a wide range of subjects, including his belief that America should stay out of the war. Based on these broadcasts, Pound was indicted for treason, and in 1945, when he captured by Italian partisans, he was imprisoned by the U.S. Army—initially in an open-air cage. Eventually he was able to start writing, although he had only four books to read for inspiration, and the end result were Cantos LXXIV to LXXXIV of his 120-section Cantos poem. These are the most intimate and accessible parts of the work in some ways, as Pound had only his own thoughts and memories to work from, and remain some of the most frequently-quoted.

    Couldn’t Keep it To Myself, by Wally Lamb and inmates at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut
    Wally Lamb is the famous author of She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much is True, and since 1999, he’s run a writing program at York Correctional Institution. Couldn’t Keep it To Myself is a collection of essays written by the prisoners, often detailing the brutal conditions of their early lives, their experiences in prison, and their hopes for the future. The result is 12 powerful and moving stories that capture life in a modern-day women’s prison that isn’t anything at all like the one on Orange is the New Black.

    Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
    Roberts was famously a heroin addict who robbed people in the most polite way possible, always saying “please” and “thank you.” He escaped from prison in 1980 and lived in India for almost ten years, was recaptured in 1990, and claims he escaped again but returned before anyone noticed, as he’d decided to serve his sentence and start over with a clean slate. He began writing Shantaram while serving his second term. It’s a fictionalized version of his own story. Where facts end and imagination takes over remains debatable, but the fact that any of it is true is absolutely amazing.

    Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell
    One of the most restless minds of the modern age, Russell was often at odds with the British Government for his anti-war and anti-imperialist stands, and he spent six months in prison for speaking his views in 1918. As one does, he spent the time thoroughly enjoying a Life of the Mind, writing Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, and reading widely. In fact, he said of his prison experience, “I found prison in many ways quite agreeable. I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work.”

    In the Belly of the Beast, by Jack Henry Abbott
    If you’re writing in prison, it helps to have a famous author championing you on the outside. Such was the case with Abbott, who began a correspondence with Norman Mailer while serving time for forgery, bank robbery, and manslaughter. His letters focused on what he saw as the inherent brutality of the American prison system, and Mailer was impressed enough with his writing to help him get those letters compiled into a book, with Mailer himself writing the introduction. In the Belly of the Beast was published in 1981 and received critical acclaim; Abbott, however, was convicted of murder shortly afterwards and sent back to prison, where he killed himself 20 years later.

    Conversations with Myself, by Nelson Mandela
    There are few prisoners as famous as Mandela, a man who served 27 years in captivity due to his righteous political beliefs, only to go on to serve as president of a much-changed South Africa after his release. This remarkable book is a compilation of writings Mandela composed over the years, many of which were written while he served his legendary sentence. The book serves as an inspiration for anyone seeking to overcome injustice or doubtful of their ability to remain committed to their ideals, and a stark reminder that no matter what your circumstances are, you could be writing a book right now.

     
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