Orange Is The New Black routinely pays homage to its form, by referencing books throughout the entire Netflix original series. After the first season, the show heavily diverges from the truth of the memoir it was based on, though the show still makes an effort to honor books by including them in the characters lives. Not only do inmates rely on story to get through their incarceration, but their incarceration becomes a story (ie. Orange Is The New Black: A Memoir by Piper Kerman).
OITNB may weave a tall tale, but a tale that is rooted in truth. Although the lives of Chapman and the other inmates depicted on the show are fictitious, they are based on real people in true situations. The show brings to light real issues that exist within the prison system, and educates us while entertaining us.
The show dramatizes and exaggerates the realities of prison riots, and idealizes an outcome that could benefit the entire prison system. By grouping all of the worst-case scenarios in a Murphys-Law sort of way, the show educates people about prison life, laws, and serves as a sort of guide on How-To avoid prison. The first 4 seasons show us the issues, but season 5 addresses them. In season 5, inmates collect grievances, suggest solutions and demand change, holding those truly in charge accountable.
The inmate’s official List of Demands is as follows:
1. Proper Training of the CO”s (This is a real problem in private prisons).
2. Reinstatement of the GED program (lack of programming is a huge problem and very little training gets people ready for life after prison).
3. Better Health Care (Taystee calls for Health Care provided by real doctors, yup this is a huge problem too at private prisons and at women’s prisons – I personally experienced getting treated for MRSA by only nurses).
4. Conjugal visits. We certainly didn’t have them but this was not an issue that I was particularly concerned with (I am sure it is important to married couples).
5. Amnesty for all prisoners providing there are no hostage casualties (this would have been my number one concern personally).
6. Ending Body Cavity Searches (I covered this in Episode 2) and the use of Solitary Confinement as punishment (also a huge problem, in fact, I have seen stats that suggest between 80,000 to 100,000 people are in solitary at any particular time, it is also a huge problem in women’s prisons)
7. More jobs and better pay (As prison populations have skyrocketed it created a jobs crunch, given the massive costs prisoners accumulate being incarcerated this would be a huge help to prisoners and to their families – and let us not forget the high costs of phone calls,commissary, and other fees).
8. Access to the internet – this would certainly have been nice, but aside from fully walled off email providers, I have not heard of prisons providing access to the internet.
9. CO Bayley arrested and tried for murdering Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley).
10. Flaming Hot Cheetos and Takis, Tampons, and more nutritional foods (I have talked before about how bad the food is in prison but the sparse availability of tampons is a huge problem for women’s prisoners as is the cost of tampons).
The negotiation that takes place between inmates and MCC shows how the system should and could compromise for change. Regardless of the idealized dramatization that never happens, in reality, the show stands for and promotes the types of changes that should take place in prisons, nationwide. The demands compiled by the inmates (through a democratic voting system) represents the biggest problems (such as poor healthcare and education initiatives), and then demonstrates ways to improve prisoners lives (such as the “thriving artistic community”, trading, and coffee shop that emerged from the anarchy of the riot).
Audre Lorde writes in the epilogue to her 1988 anthology A Burst of Light, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” It’s one of her most cited quotes, and for good reason. The Good Lorde reminds us that self-care is not a selfish endeavor; it’s about discovering how to exist in a world that doesn’t want you. For women, in particular queer women, trans women, and women of color, developing systems of care is inherently political. It strengthens and protects us against systematic oppressions that would prefer we remain small, forgotten, and left behind. OITNB is best for me when it tells the story of women who preserved their own fragile humanity. Women who were brave enough to find the humanity in one another despite being told that they were monsters.
The community art project memorial for Poussey is not only an ode to her character but to literature entirely. The open-air library that spreads across the prison’s corridors represents the beauty that can emerge from chaos, directly paralleling community engagement and a coming-together of tribes in times of crisis.
Books are stacked on top of one another from the floor to the ceiling like columns. More books hang on yarn and shoelaces, dancing in the air like wind catchers. Even more books are strung like banners. Colorful binding and spines make patterns like rainbows in between the tan pages, bringing color and texture to the industrial walls of Litchfield. Soso christens the space “The Litchfield Community Library.”
We at The Wanderer have worked to compile a list of books from Poussey’s Library. A number are taken directly from Episode 7, though many were referenced or read in scenes outside the library during the season. Read this reddit thread to see a list of books from just the library.
The titles of the library include:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Louis Carroll: POUSSEY’S FAVORITE BOOK. The book itself might symbolize Taystee’s grief over her and that’s why she grips the book so tightly. She doesn’t want anyone else to have it because they don’t understand it as much as she does. She finally lets go of the book in Episode 7, finally realizing that she is not the only one who loved Poussey.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: Alex can be spotted reading the ultimate locked-room mystery in which “ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast” and each is accused of having a guilty secret.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley: A classic children’s story about a boy and a wild horse who first meet on an ill-fated ship and go on to have many adventures together.
Breaking Down the Wall of Silence by Alice Miller: A nonfiction book in which the author uses “psycho-historical analyses of Hitler, Stalin, and Ceausescu to reveal the links between the horrors of their childhoods and the horrors they inflicted on the world.”
Call It Sleep by Henry Roth: The story of a “‘dangerously imaginative’s child coming of age in the slums of New York.” Call It Sleep during the prayer scene is a book about a Jewish family in the ghettos. This helps show all three Abrahamic religions under the same roof trying to practice their religions – a Christian praying, a Muslim praying, and a presumed Jew reading.
The Case of the Counterfeit Eye by Erle Stanley Gardner:A wealthy businessman kills himself, or so it seems at first glance, but to Perry Mason the evidence seems like overkill and he must “piece together the missing parts of this fatal” puzzle.
Cathedral by Raymond Carver: A short story collection that was a finalist for a Pulitzer. The title story is about a man whose wife is old friends with a blind man.
The Conscious of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater: The book that “reignited the American conservative movement” and helped “lay the foundation for the Reagan Revolution in 1980.”
Day of the Guns by Mickey Spillane: One in a series of novels featuring Tiger Mann, a counterspy “who smashes into a Communist conspiracy involving UN delegates, CIA agents, ex-Nazi spies,” and “a bold-bosomed, no-good beauty who’s so kissable and so killable…” You get the picture.
Dear Life by Alice Munro: A Nobel Prize-winning short story collection that pinpoints “the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate.”
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: The much-loved and much-hated memoir about the authors spiritual journey through Italy, India, and Indonesia.
Emma by Jane Austen: The classic tale of a meddlesome young English socialite whose matchmaking hobby grows out of hand.
The Essential Haiku by Robert Hass: Fresh translations by an American poet of the poems of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa–three of Japan’s greatest Haiku masters. The significance behind Skinhead Helen (the Nazi) reading The Essential Haiku may have been purposely selected because it was written in 1944 (during WWII), but the main takeaway is that she’s seen reading it the the person who can’t read afterwards. Despite being a Nazi, she’s helping someone in this memorial.
Find a Victim by Ross MacDonald: In this novel, Lew Archer picks up a bloody hitchhiker and then finds himself “caught up in a mystery where everyone is a suspect and everyone’s victim.”
The Flawless Skin of Ugly People by Doug Crandell: The story of Hobbie, who “has been banished to homely man exile in the North Georgia Mountains” because of his chronic acne, and his obese common-law wife, Kari, who “has gone AWOL at a weight-loss clinic in North Carolina.” The Flawless Skin of Ugly People is held by the woman Nicky makes out with.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown: A book about cultivating a feeling of self-worth in a world that seems to expect perfection.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: The story of a boy who lives in a graveyard and is “raised from infancy by ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens.”
A Handbook to Literature by William Harmon: This handbook “provides an alphabetical listing of more than two thousand important terms and facts in literature, linguistics, rhetoric, criticism, printing, bookselling, and information technology.” Piper is reading is reading when Alex walks into the memorial.
The Handsome Road by Gwen Bristow: The story of a plantation mistress and a poor seamstress in Civil War-era Louisiana. This is the second novel in Bristow’s Plantation Trilogy. The Handsome Road is in view during the shot where So-so is apologizing to Taystee. The book is about two people, a rich white woman and a plantation worker who live two completely different lives during the civil war. However, both their lives get kind of screwed over by the war, similar to how So-so and Taystee are different, but both get screwed over by Poussey’s death. One shot even includes the back cover’s line, “An entire way of life on the brink of ruin!”
It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty and Other Tragedies of Married Life by Judith Viorst: A collection of “wickedly funny poems by Judith Viorst, who was looking forward to orgiastic Village pot parties and fleeting moments of passion, but wound up, instead, in the suburbs with a washer-drier, a car pool, and Gerber’s strained bananas in her hair.” (If you want a beautiful, newly-printed edition of this book, you can buy one from Persephone’s Books.)
Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie by Maya Angelou: At a seance/impromptu memorial service for Poussey in Episode 4, Cindy reads page 70, “Poor Girl,” one of the poems in the collection.
You’ve got another love
and I know it
Someone who adores you
just like me
Hanging on your words
like they were gold
Thinking that she understands
just like me.
You’re breaking another heart
and I know it
And there’s nothing
I can do
If I try to tell her
what I know
and make me go
just like me.
You’re going to leave her too
and I know it
She’ll never know
what made you go
She’ll cry and wonder
what went wrong
Then she’ll begin
to sing this song
just like me.
Karen by Marie Killilea: The true story of a girl with cerebral palsy, written by her mother.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: The beloved story of a white lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape in 1930’s Alabama. Watson reading To Kill a Mockingbird references the flashbacks of her talking about the book in Episode 6. The book has the character Boo Radley who is misunderstood and feared despite never being seen, similar to how Watson has been treated by society.
A Man’s Right to Wealth by James B. Cooke: A guide on “how to master every situation and prosper on a grand scale.” So, is there a Women’s Right to Wealth? Because I think that would be more appropriate for a women’s prison.
The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter: The true story of “a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others” who saved some of the world’s greatest masterpieces from the Nazis during Word War II.
The Name Is Archer by Ross MacDonald: A collection of hardboiled detective stories about an ex-cop private investigator working in southern California.
The Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme: Based on the life of a real nun, this book tells the story of Gabrielle Van der Mal, the daughter of a famous Belgian surgeon, who becomes a nun in the early twentieth century but struggles to become obedient in the way her strict convent requires.
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary: Some of the ladies can be seen referencing this while playing a word game in Frieda’s bunker during the riot.
The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon: The story of “an innocent American girl” who becomes a “pawn in a game of vengeance and betrayal” as she is “caught in a web of four lives intertwined by passion as her handsome husband pursues an incredibly beautiful film star.”
The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, Chosen by Michael Cox & R.A. Gilbert: An anthology of forty-two of the best English ghost stories, written between 1829 and 1968.
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin: The classic 1977 travel memoir about the author’s experiences in Patagonia.
A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays by Bronislaw Malinowski: In this book, Malinowski “analyzes the functional principle that culture is an examination of the fundamentals of anthropology for the purpose of constructing a general system to explain the facts of culture by this principle.”
Self Hypnotism by Leslie M. LeCron: Pretty much what the title says. They really need to bust this one out and have a scene where some of the Litchfield ladies try to hypnotize each other.
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx: A Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy that explores the life of a contemporary family living on the coast of Newfoundland.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris: A classic horror story about an FBI trainee who interviews a former psychiatrist/cannibalistic serial killer in the hopes that he will help her catch another serial killer.
- Arts and The Man: An Introduction to Aesthetics by Irwin Edman
- All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence by Fox Butterfield
- Born Again by Charles W. Coulson
- Conciliação e reforma no Brasil by José Honório Rodrigues
- Guide to Organizing your Life by Diane Harris
- It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty And Other Tragedies of Married Life by Judith Viorst
- Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent
- Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas
- Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
- Murder For The Bride by John D. MacDonald
- Notte Prima Degli Esami by Luca e Azzura
- Psychic Energy: Its source and its tranformation by M. Esther Harding
- Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New York by Marge Piercy
- The Disciplines of Life by Raymond Edman
- The News At Any Cost: How Journalists Compromise their Ethics to Shape the News by Tom Goldstein
- The Stories of Edith Wharton (Volume 2) by Anita Brookner
- Up For Grabs by A.A. Fair
A few books were mentioned throughout season 5 but not seen:
Cooking for One by RbeeqRbeeq (or possibly RheeqRheeq) Chainey: This is Red’s cookbook in the show but for the life of me I cannot find a trace of it anywhere on the Internet. I’m not even sure if it’s a real cookbook or one invented just for the show. If you’ve heard of it, let me know in the comments below!
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: During a discussion among a few Litchfield residents in Caputo’s office during the riot, it is revealed that Piper is a Slytherin according to what looks like a BuzzFeed quiz. I’m not saying I trust BuzzFeed quizzes but I think it’s spot-on in this cast.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō: Piper mentions this book when discussing Alex’s preference for clutter.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare: I can’t give this reference context without spoiling part of the show’s plot, so you’ll just have to watch and see for yourself!