The Books Of Orange Is The New Black

Orange Is The New BlackFictionalised women’s prison series Orange is the New Black (OTNB) has become a firm favourite for many of us. The first season was a breakout success, with the second, recently released season topping the first and cementing the show as one that simply must be binge-watched on the day of its Netflix release. Which means the anticipation and then long wait for the next release is nigh on interminable.

Thankfully, BuzzFeed is keeping my appetite slightly sated by having collated one of OTNB’s subtleties of which I was vaguely aware: the books the inmates are reading and their related references to the show.

At least five things are immediately apparent from scanning BuzzFeed’s list, including that:

  • there is a bunch of subtle and rich information contained within the show that both enhances it but could easily be missed (methinks this warrants a second viewing)
  • as much as I read, there are always going to be books I never get to (I noted and appreciated a lot of the references, but there were some that went, and continue to go, over my head)
  • even when you’re watching television, books can and do make an important appearance
  • OTNB is a brilliantly, brilliantly, sophisticatedly well-written show
  • BuzzFeed is the master at such lists (how good are the GIFs?!).

Gone GirlThe list is organised by character and accompanied by some related, explanatory static images or GIFs. Lead character Piper, for instance, is reading Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller thriller Gone Girl on her bed, the book no doubt acting as a timely reference to a dysfunctional couple and difficulties they encounter with each other, their families, and the law.

Tastee, Piper, and more refer to Fifty Shades of Grey, a book banned by the prison library, but that seems to be doing decent contraband trade. Meanwhile Black Cindy makes the obligatory ‘expand your horizons’ joke about 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, a book that would both likely simultaneously be inspiring and depressing for inmates.

It’s perhaps the Robert Frost ‘road less taken’ meaning rectification and some of the Shakespeare and Pablo Neruda references that demonstrate the show’s literary references and writing sophistication (even if I have to admit they kind of go over my head—if you’d like to explain any of them to me, I’m all ears).

My favourite, though, would have to be Tastee’s Harry Potter and Ulysses switch, where she asks a fellow inmate checking out tome-sized The Goblet of Fire: ‘Wait, shortie, you want a book to read, or a step stool? ‘Cause I tell you right now, you ain’t steppin’ on The Goblet of Fire…’

I’m looking forward to the books that make cameos in the forever-away third season. By then, I might have just about worked out the high-end literary references. In the interim, I’ve got some reading material to be catching up on, including the books the inmates are reading that I’ve not yet read as well as the Piper Kerman book that originally inspired the OTNB series itself.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.