The Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” has many pleasures, but it wasn’t immediately apparent that literature would be one of them.
Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, the main character, Piper Chapman, is a middle class woman who leaves behind her literate life for a stint in prison, bringing books with her for sustenance. So it makes sense that the producers have planted books as a virtual Easter egg hunt in the background of prison life.
In recent weeks, the Tumblr “Books of Orange Is the New Black,” decided to find and capture the literary references on the show, from bestsellers like “50 Shades of Grey” and Taystee’s quotable line about “Harry Potter” to Red’s reading of the YA book “Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters” and Jonathan Tropper’s “This Is Where I Leave You.”
For Piper Kerman, whose memoir served as the inspiration for the series, books were important to her life in prison. “They were complete lifelines. They were the only legitimate forms of escape,” Kerman told Jacket Copy in a recent interview.
Mysteries, romances, street fiction were all read in prison, and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s “Random Family” was “hugely popular,” Kerman said. “There were these dog-eared copes that kept getting passed around.” (Spotting the differences between the series and the memoir has become something of a popular occupation.)
The Books of Orange Is the New Black Tumblr doesn’t just list books but includes scenes about book-talk: you can nearly cringe in real-time as Chapman recommends the author Nicholson Baker as a “sexy book,” or as she awkwardly corrects other prisoners about Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”
The Tumblr site declares that “Piper Chapman is the new Rory Gilmore,” a reference to the bookish protagonist of the now-gone series “Gilmore Girls.” And in fact, around the Internet bloggers have taken up the “Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge,” attempting to read the hundreds of books referenced in the series’ many seasons. It’ll take “Orange” quite a few more seasons to compile such a substantial reading list.
Even though Chapman’s reading life makes her a nerd in prison, it’s also what makes her attractive, as her ex-girlfriend sums up her appeal: “She’s hot. She’s read everything.”