Spoilers Ahead! Do not read if you haven’t finished Season 2 of OITNB. What’s taking you so long?
A friend once joked that if I went to prison, my lifestyle wouldn’t change that much because I spend so much time sitting around reading anyway. Indignities and dangers of incarcerated life aside, that’s kind of spot-on. A natural theme of Orange Is the New Black is how the ladies of Litchfield pass time, and a big part of that is reading books they normally wouldn’t. Sounds blissful, doesn’t it?
Season 2 features books even more prominently than the first. Some of the most dramatic scenes take place in the Litchfield library, and books serve as plot points, punchlines, insights into character, sexual gratification, and weapons. Here are just some of the most important book-related moments from OITNB and what they may represent. You might want to check a few out, but be careful re-shelving the books once you’re done — you know Poussey is a stickler for the Dewey Decimal System.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The very first image of Season 2 is Piper asleep in the SHU with a Dover Thrift edition of Anna Karenina perched over her face. Solitary confinement is the perfect place to get through Tolstoy’s epic in one massive binge. Piper probably even read every word of Tolstoy’s lengthy description of agrarian society — it’s better than listening to the voices through the walls. You could also argue that Piper is Anna, Larry is Karenin, and Alex is Vronsky.
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
Red reads YA! During the former HBIC’s long period of exile, she can be seen reading this tale of teen sisters on several occasions. It might appeal to Red because it deals with an intense, co-dependent female relationship — a type of relationship Red cultivates and exploits.
The Mist by Stephen King
Speaking of exploitative relationships, Vee picks up a copy while visiting Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren’s cube. This King novella might be a glimpse into Crazy Eyes’ mind: foggy, disturbing, and like King’s writing, often startlingly precise.
Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
Once Piper returns from her sojourn to Chicago, this novel is the only one that her fellow Litchfield inmates haven’t stolen. Symbolically, the book fits the moment, as Orlando is a novel about leaving home and coming back very changed.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Piper angrily reclaims this book from Pennsatucky’s former henchman Leanne, who’s sitting in her bunk moving her lips to the words — pretty highbrow for one of the Meth Heads! Some of the inmates could probably relate to McEwan’s instant-classic, as it’s about how a single thoughtless action can have profound repercussions for years to come. Piper spoils the ending for Leanna, saying, “Everybody dies!” That’s actually pretty accurate.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
A realm full of characters deemed too odd — or “mad” — for the real world? Sounds like prison. Or Oz, for that matter. “Lewis Carroll must have gone to prison,” Taystee quips to Poussey. It’s also a reminder that just because Piper is our blonde lead doesn’t mean she’s the only “Alice” in Litchfield — it’s a strange and scary place for Taystee and Poussey as well.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
As one of her Machiavellian maneuvers, Vee offers cancer patient Rosa a copy of the hottest book in America, thinking it’ll be “right up her alley.” Hilariously, Vee refers to Green as a “sick f—” for wanting to write about kids with cancer. Rosa waves the book away, saying, “I’ve got enough depressing shit in my life. I don’t need it in my books, too.” Fair enough.
Hand-Me-Downs by Rhea Kohan
The Litchfield library becomes the front for Vee’s stamps-for-smokes ring. Flaca checks out this out-of-print title (written by OITNB creator Jenji Kohan’s mom) from Poussey, who hands her a tobacco-filled tampon along with the book.
The books on Larry’s shelves
Piper, out on furlough, revisits the home she shared with Larry. I scoured the bookshelves in the background for titles. Like most couples, their books are probably mixed in together. I saw Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosas, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, Tender Mercies, books by Michael Crichton, Oscar Hijuelos, and Laura Lippman, and the coffee table book Varieties of Visual Experience. Those are all in keeping with a couple of educated, affluent yuppies — The Corrections is like the wasabi peas (Piper’s favorite snack) of contemporary literature.
Rejuvenile by Christopher Noxon
Props to OITNB‘s prop master, or whoever put Rejuvenile on Healy’s desk when Piper visited his office to pitch the Litchfield newsletter. Healy is trying to take his role as a “counselor” to the inmates more seriously, and apparently his approach is to treat them more like children, which explains the “feelings jar” and his strategy of “creative play.” “Rejuvenile” refers to adults who “cultivate tastes and mindsets traditionally associated with those younger than themselves.” If Noxon is in any way responsible for the bearded hipsters playing kickball on my block, he deserves some time in the SHU.
Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and other books on Polly and Pete’s shelves
While Piper and Larry clearly read book reviews, Polly and Pete’s book selections are a bit more basic. I spotted airport-friendly best-sellers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Also, on the coffee table, there was Go the F*** to Sleep, the hot gimmick of 2011. Pete, a man-child who’s not ready to be father, was probably the one who thought the children’s-book-for-adults craze was hilarious.
The End of Men by Hanna Rosin
No one would be surprised if Healy were a card-carrying member of the Men’s Rights Movement. He hands Pennsatucky this thoughtful and balanced study of changing gender norms but misinterprets it as a screed promoting lesbianism and the obsolescence of men. He probably couldn’t get past the title.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning Vee’s timely and cutting Amazon zing. “Is it cold for Amazon to underprice books just to capture market share?” That almost makes up for the crazy trouble Vee stirred up all season.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Litchfield ladies need to find creative ways to get off, and reading Gabaldon’s sexy historical romance series works for Taystee. But instead of the tawny-haired Jamie Fraser, Taystee re-imagines the romantic lead as a “Nubian king.”