Books for Prisoners – authors’ recommendations

“Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells.” Some leading authors recommended books for prisoners as part of the recent campaign ‘Books for PrisonersTouching the void‘.

Martin Amis: I would recommend Primo Levi’s If This is a Man. It is a masterly evocation of something much worse than prison: murderous enslavement for the crime of being born.

 Jim Crace: I’d send the Prison Trilogy by Pramoedya Ananta Toer – written in the head and remembered while on Buru prison island, but denied pen, paper and books.

 Carol Ann Duffy: I would send Jimmy Boyle’s visceral autobiography, A Sense of Freedom. It describes his journey from a violent, criminal youth to the degradation, shame and remorse he experienced in Scotland’s most draconian prisons – and the redemption eventually delivered by literature and art in the special unit at Barlinnie. It is a book everyone concerned with this current debate should read when the most wretched of our fellow citizens, who have nothing, are now being told they have less than nothing.

 Tracy Chevalier: I would recommend giving prisoners Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. It’s a true account of a disastrous climb in the South American Andes in which the two climbers face terrible choices, hit rock bottom, facing death, yet manage to survive. I can imagine prisoners would find a lot to relate to in the story of finding a way up and out from the worst moment of your life.

 Hermione Lee: The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad. Because it shows the danger and treachery and fear in English public life.

 Ian McEwan: The Grass Arena by John Healy. It’s a long and brilliant postcard from hell. A brutal childhood, alcoholism, a London underworld – this is what it’s like to touch bottom, then find your way up through the game of chess.

  Elif Shafak: My Books for Prisoners recommendation would be Rumi’s Masnavi, composed of six books of poetry. The style is extraordinary, interwoven with stories within stories. The themes Rumi deals with (death, body, love, birth, beauty) are both universal and timeless. His peaceful voice speaks to our hearts and minds across all national and religious borders, and challenges head-on the teachings that promote bigotry, xenophobia and discrimination

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