The Prison Book Club
By Ann Walmsley
Read your favourite books as you’ve never read them before – over the
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The Prison Book club - Ann Walmsley
It was agreed that this book was fairly easy to read and enjoyable. In parts it did cover the same ground over again and this became rather tedious.
Several members commented on the relationship between Ann and Carol -It seems that Ann rather hero worshipped Carol. We would have been interested in their families and home life but we heard little of this.
Another lady commented that Ann and Carol worked long and hard for these book clubs, however, it was thought that there were more worthy charities to which time could be given. Many others agreed with this. Ann’s work was mainly an attempt to get over the trauma of getting mugged, and this seemed to work. It was agreed that many of the prisoners had been abused themselves and the book club could possibly help them to stop their offending. We were surprised at the lack of security Ann found when walking through the prison.
It was thought that if it had been a novel we would have found it rather unbelievable, as the prisoners were so articulate. We did not have a favourite prisoner as they all seemed so similar. We were aware that their names had been changed, but wondered if anything else had been changed about them. We also questioned the popularity of a book club in a halfway house.
Our members enjoyed the book reviews and found the book lists useful – some members have already purchased or re-read books from this list.
In all, most of us enjoyed the book and it scored 5.5 out of 10
From Mandi D:
I have just finished reading The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley and wanted to share my first impressions of it. I am pleased that it is a true story and that people like Carol exist. She sets a precendent when her team’s efforts establish a successful and popular reading group in a maximum security prison. Carol nutures her project and new groups in many other prisons build on the lessons learnt and skills implemented on the original project. I was impressed at the speed with which some of the Prison Group members read and yet absorbed the smallest details. The different and sometimes damning perspectives stem perhaps from the privileged backgrounds of Ann and Carol’s home-owning group of lady readers compared to the grim realities of the childhood of men. Amongst them were those who might remain locked behind bars until they died. It was an absorbing read that was designed to share a love of the written or typed word with all walks of life.
From Carolyn W:
I enjoyed this book. I
was intrigued by the idea of a book club in a prison. It felt like something
I wasn't particularly drawn to any of the prisoners. I would have
liked to have found out more about them as for me it was the descriptions and
reviews which dominated the book. I liked this part of it a great deal. It made
me want to read some of them and it was good to have the book list at the
I was impressed by the prisoners reviews. I thought it showed how
thoroughly they had read the books and how committed they were to the book club.
It was interesting that the book club seemed to help the author as much or maybe
more than the prisoners themselves.
It fulfilled my expectations in that it was
an interesting read and it gave an insight into how the prisoners thought. I'd
recommend it to anyone who likes to read about real people living in different
situations from most of us.
I enjoyed the book for the most part but it would have been more interesting for me if the characters had been fleshed out a bit more - I was having some trouble distinguishing them from each other. (I think that probably reflected Ann's actual lack of interest in them as people rather than aids to her "recovery" and the raw material for a book). I was surprised at the type of book they read but that may be me being a literary snob! They must have selected their participants quite carefully for them to be able to read and critically review most of the titles that they read and they did seem to be more insightful than I would have thought most prisoners would be - presumably if they had had more insight they wouldn't have ended up in prison!. I would also have found it more interesting if I had actually read more of the books myself. I think I expected more of a difference between the prison book club and other book clubs which would have been interesting. I have to say that I found both Carol and Ann's attitudes (particularly Ann's) to be patronising and condescending and they seemed to have the feeling that they personally were lifting the prisoners out of their lowly lives and improving their lot by running the clubs. Not sure about their motives - Ann wanted to write a book and Carol was intent on building a book club empire - but perhaps that doesn't matter. Strangely, although the books reviewed were different in each chapter I began to find it repetitive too. Not as good as I had hoped but I have definitely read worse! I would have given it a 5 out of 10.
Our book group read this book for our September meeting.
It caused mixed feelings amongst the book group with some of us really enjoying the book but others of us not getting very far in it at all.
Some of the comments raised were:
"It was interesting to see how different the prisoners' views were on the books from my own"
"It would have been nice to read more about the theory behind the benefits of reading groups in prisons rather than just limiting this to a paragraph at the end of the book"
"The book seemed to focus on the success stories. What about the other members of the reading groups?"
"The groups read an interesting array of fiction and non-fiction and it was interesting to read about their choices."
We felt that the author missed the opportunity to present a balanced view of her project and of the wider implications for the project. Widening her focus to cover more of the book group members would have given us a more balanced picture of how the group worked and of the range of comments provided by its members.
We would be very likely to recommend this book to other reading groups as there was lots to discuss and it was very thought-provoking.
An attack in London left Ann Walmsley unable to walk along down the street and shook her belief in the goodness of people. On moving back to Canada her friend Carol asked her to join her in a new book club to be held in a men's medium security prison.
For the men, the books were precious as the meetings offered a respite from isolation and a hostile environment.
The book follows six book club members who kept journals and participated in one-to-one conversations.
The books changed the men and the men changed Ann, allowing her to move forward as a victim.
This was an interesting read and clearly demonstrates the power of reading both individually and as a group. It is a memoir based on the author's experiences and audio recordings that the men, the prison authorities and others allowed her to make.
The book also demonstrated that bad can be turned into good with a little help and support from others.