The Prison Book Club

Ann Walmsley. Penguin Canada/Viking, $29.95 (304 p) ISBN 978-0-670-06948-4
In 2011 and 2012, journalist Walmsley spent time in two Ontario prisons facilitating book clubs for inmates. This book is based on her experiences in the book clubs and the journals she asked several of the prisoners to keep about their reading, but it is also about Walmsley facing her own fears. She begins the book by recounting how she was traumatized by a violent mugging in London eight years before her friend Carol Finlay, who created and championed the book club program, asked her to be a part of it. It sets up an interesting tension within her account, but the split focus isn't entirely successful. Her initial descriptions of the men are based primarily on their crimes and personal appearance; their conversations help change her views. However, the overly dense text, which includes lengthy synopses of each book, is not as personal as a traditional memoir, and the tone is unclear at times. Sectioned book by book, Walmsley's recounting of the discussions needs to be more condensed and focused with more from the book club members and less of her own subjective paraphrasing and interpretations. Those factors make it a cumbersome read, but the story of the book clubs is nevertheless inspiring. Agent: Hilary McMahon, Westwood Creative Artists (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 01/18/2016
Release date: 09/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-14-319416-3
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