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August 19, 2013

’’Orange is the New Black’’: From Page to Picture

When TBRN founder Carol attended the launch/delayed book party for ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK back in June, we knew something interesting would come of it. Carol came in the next day saying that we had to get our hands on some copies immediately. Within a few minutes, I had sent someone over to Random House (a few blocks away from our offices) to pick some up. Emily and I started reading that very night as the series was being released on Netflix in early July.
Being bookish, it's personally difficult (er, irritating) to see a TV series/even just one episode of a show/movie/Broadway play before reading the book. For me, the book must always come first. I remember when The Hunger Games movie came out about a year ago. A friend had already bought me a movie ticket for the Friday night release. So on that Thursday night at 9pm, I headed straight for the closest bookstore and bought a copy. I started reading it on the walk home and I finished it will I stood in line at the movie theater, waiting to be let in the following night. Of course, JLaw made the movie what it was...but I'll still argue (heatedly) that the book is better, and that key parts in the book, which made the story all that much more suspenseful, were left out of the theatrical adaptation.
I would say the same about the TV translation of "Orange is the New Black" --- it doesn't really "live up" to the book. Piper Kerman is a fantastic writer and her story is one that will not be forgotten for years to come...especially now that Jenji Kohan has taken her tale to its visual extremes. Kerman's writing is honest and insightful. At times she is timid and scared, but ultimately strong-willed.
The book gives a first-hand account of life in the prison system, and more particularly, life of a female in the prison system. Despite her rather "short" sentence (which is nothing in comparison to some of the other inmates'), Piper becomes one of the women, learning the rigid processes (and cunning, underhanded techniques) of how the many daily activities are performed --- getting the best food in the mess hall, working for money, buying necessary items from the commissary, bartering and trading these goods, understanding and adhering to the prisoner-constructed social hierarchy...the list goes on. As she navigates prison life, Piper keeps much to herself, but also lends a helping hand to the other inmates in any way she can --- supplying reading material, looking over inmates' appeals. Her fiancé, Larry, and her whole family remain loving and loyal to her throughout her incarceration --- something her prisonmates are not all so blessed to have.
The TV series significantly differs from the book. The show essentially grabs the mainframe of the story --- a young post-graduate woman, whose name has been changed to Piper Chapman --- carries drug money across country lines for her lesbian lover. Almost 10 years later, Piper is busted and sentenced to 15 months jailtime for her naive mistake. Many of the characters in the show are the same as in the book, although their personalities have been exaggerated. In fact, much of the story has been greatly hyperbolized --- and understandably so, for TV's sake (and for our viewing pleasure). Her devoted fiancé is the most understanding and relentlessly loving man a woman could ask for, especially in this scenario. Conversely, in the TV series, Larry becomes detached from Piper and impatient (also, understandably so). This could even be said of Piper's family and friends, her mother and her pregnant best friend, who can only deal so much with this "inconvenience." The most important difference between the book and the TV show, however, is the presence of Piper's lesbian lover, Alex (changed from Nora in the book) played by a brunette Laura Prepon of "That '70s Show" fame. In the TV show, Alex plays a huge roll as both a point of contention and as a symbol of comfort for Piper in the foreign atmosphere of prison. In the book, Alex (Nora) is nowhere to be found, except in flashbacks at the beginning of the story. Additionally, in the TV series, the viewer learns so much more about the background of each of the inmates. Their stories help to define and shape the way the viewer comes to love/appreciate/hate them, and Piper. In the book, we learn only a little bit about each inmate, enough to remember their names. For many of the inmates, the reader is left in the dark about how they even ended up in jail.
Regardless of the TV series or the book, one thing is certain --- readers and viewers alike are loving "Orange is the New Black." I admit that because I'd enjoyed the book so much, it was initially hard to catch on to the series...but after a few episodes, I was hooked. And the last few are not to be missed. With so much epic TV these days ("Game of Thrones" and "True Blood"), once you start, it's hard to stop. It's also certain that reviews and commentary on #OITNB have been taking over media websites. It seems like everyone is watching, and waiting for new news to come out on the second season, which won't be premiering for at least a full year. In the office, we've come across a myriad of interesting articles about the story, the actors, Piper Kerman herself, and it seems that there is a revival of interest in women in prison. "The Cut,"'s fashion and lifestyle blog, recently published a short article on the reactions of five previously incarcerated women who watched the show. Unsurprisingly, they unanimously agree that the show is an incredibly accurate portrayal of prison life for females. I urge you to read the piece here.  One pertinent article I came across was a collected list of books mentioned throughout the show (fitting, I know!). This is particularly interesting for someone who enjoyed the book over the TV show, especially because in the book Piper is an avid reader. During her incarceration, her family and friends send her plenty of books (almost too many that she runs out of room to store them). So on that note, I share with you the New York Public Library article entitled "Orange is the New Black: A Reading List." Being behind bars never seemed so...leisurely?