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24 November 2008

Book suggestions for someone in prison? And an appeal for anyone inclined to be a penpal with a prisoner.[More:] I've been corresponding with a prisoner in Illinois for about a decade; we met in the course of my anti-death penalty activist work (he was on death row; his sentence was subsequently commuted to life without parole after the IL moratorium took effect).

I like to send him books now and then, but lately I have been absolutely drawing a blank. Any suggestions? Among the books that he's enjoyed are A Confederacy of Dunces, Krakauer's Into Thin Air, Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, Eye of the Needle (Ken Follett), and Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. I recently revisited this AskMe thread from about a year ago and sent him The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence, both of which went over like a lead balloon. So I come to my fellow mechazens for help!

Also, I seem to recall from a long-ago thread that a number of mechatters are accomplished penpals, or would like to become penpals. In the past year or so, work and personal demands have meant that I'm not able to write him as frequently as I used to, so I wanted to see if anyone here might be inclined to take on a new penpal (email's in my profile, if you'd prefer to let me know if your interest that way). He and I have mostly just chatted over the years about books, news events, sports, etc., and I know he'd appreciate having an additional person or two sending him mail now and then. He plays chess, too, and so might be interested in a game by mail.

(Also, at the risk of sounding defensive: if you're not personally inclined to write someone in prison, that's great; you don't need to write him. If you have sincere questions about the situation, I'll answer them. But please no OMG YOU HORRIBLE CODDLER OF CRIMINALS YOU'RE AS BAD AS A MURDERER!!!!!!!! comments; I've had enough of such remarks over the years to last a lifetime. Thanks.)

Sounds like he likes creative nonfiction. One book I really enjoyed was In the Heart of the Sea. It's really good for taking you to a different time and place.
posted by mudpuppie 24 November | 17:57
This is really good non-fiction, incorporating history, adventure, science, anthropology, and just plain enjoyable reading.
posted by danf 24 November | 18:08
Goodness--this blog post from today is a little broad, but might be of interest.
posted by box 24 November | 18:09
I'll second mudpuppie on In the Heart of the Sea. I'm halfway through it, and it's unspooling like a great novel—dramatic, suspenseful, and beautifully written.

I would also recommend Gould's Book of Fish, a mad little tale which is set in a 19th century Tasmanian penal colony.
posted by Atom Eyes 24 November | 18:21
How about Hemmingway? Seems like it would be a good fit given the things he has liked.
posted by kellydamnit 24 November | 18:23
All fabulous suggestions! Keep 'em coming! (and mudpuppie: aw, thanks.)
posted by scody 24 November | 18:33
Count Of Monte Cristo?
posted by jonmc 24 November | 18:37
posted by By the Grace of God 24 November | 19:13
- The Far Pavilions, by M M Kaye.
- Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
- The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
- The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
posted by jonathanstrange 24 November | 19:13
OH - and The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, by Haruku Murakami
posted by jonathanstrange 24 November | 19:14
Hrm. Would it be weird to send a book about murders? The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America was an enjoyable read. Generation Kill was good, as well as One Bullet Away, written by the lieutenant featured in GK.
posted by gaspode 24 November | 19:19
The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel comes to mind. Although it is violent, it is metaphorically so.
posted by rainbaby 24 November | 19:24
What has he read that he has enjoyed?

Hitting the list of books that I was required to read at various points, these stand out:
My Anotnia
How Green Was My Valley
A Passage to India
The Jungle

Among the books I stumbled on by myself that I enjoyed:
Round the Bend
A Town Like Alice
The Beautiful and the Damned
It Can't Happen Here
Among School Children
Old Friends
The Tao is Silent
posted by plinth 24 November | 19:52
How about big stoopid fun like Dan Simmons' The Terror, a sprawling historical novel about 19th-century explorers gettin' munched by polar bears and haunted by their dead shipmates and stuff? Sounds spot-on to me.
posted by BitterOldPunk 24 November | 20:19
Something Rich and Strange.

If you can find it...this is the most lyrical and beautiful piece of escapism I've ever encountered.
posted by sakura 24 November | 20:41
I was the "book guy" for a friend who spent two years in jail a few years ago, and the biggest hit amongst the stuff I sent him was anything by David Sedaris.

Also, mad props to plinth for mentioning The Tao Is Silent... that book was a HUGE influence on me in my younger days.
posted by BoringPostcards 24 November | 22:08
Two Years Before the Mast
posted by DarkForest 24 November | 22:13
Since he liked Into Thin Air (a book which has made me reluctant to travel more than 200' above sea level), he might also enjoy Krakauer's Into the Wild.
posted by jamaro 25 November | 00:20
If he liked Meditations, maybe he would enjoy James Stockdale's Reflections of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot.

It's a collection of essays, with some repetitiveness. But he's very much influenced by Marcus Aurelius. And he writes a lot about his prison experience (POW in Vietnam for over seven years).
posted by ibmcginty 25 November | 01:05
Cryptonomicon might be a great choice, it's hefty, sprawling, absorbing, and full of fascinating true historical info, characters and tidbits. One of my all-time favorites.
posted by taz 25 November | 01:24
Charlie Wilson's War is an awesome read.

It might be morbid, but Scott Turow's book on the death penalty in Illinois, The Ultimate Punishment, was really good too.
posted by reenum 25 November | 12:44
Jonmc defends the (semi) defensible. || When the MeFi realm crosses over into work...