Review: The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley


Title: The Prison Book Club

Author: Ann Walmsley

Published: Oneworld December 2015

Status: Read from December 31, 2015 to January 02, 2016 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen and Unwin}

My Thoughts:

In The Prison Book Club, journalist Ann Walmsley shares the story of the eighteen months she spent as a volunteer with Book Clubs for Inmates, a fledgling project that began at the Collins Bay Institution, a medium-security penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario that has now grown into a successful nationwide program.

Walmsley was understandably reluctant when her friend, Carol Finlay, asked her to support the Collins Bay book club, several years before she had been badly traumatised when she was violently mugged outside her London home. She has little recollection of the first meeting at Collins Bay but decided to return, taking strength from her late father’s (a former judge) advice, “If you expect the best of people, they will rise to the occasion.”

For eighteen months Walmsley joined inmates in Collins Bay, and later the Beaver Creek Institution, to discuss selected fiction and nonfiction titles including The Cellist of Sarajevo , The Book of Negroes , The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Walmsley recorded the book-club discussions and conducted regular one on one interviews with a select number of prisoners who also kept diaries for her, not only about their thoughts on reading but also aspects of their daily lives. It is this material she draws on to tell the story.

I admit to being surprised that the literary titles chosen engaged the men so much. I enjoyed the discussion and insights of the prisoners, even though I was unfamiliar with several of the books. The program is an excellent initiative that seems to offer tangible benefits to the prisoners that choose to participate. What particularly struck me was Walmsley’s recognition of the way in which reading seems to encourage the development of empathy, something I have long believed to be true.

I was less interested in Walmsley’s musings about nature and felt perhaps that she could have better explored the contrast between the book club made up of her affluent friends, and the prison book club, beyond the menu and setting.

Overall I found The Prison Book Club to be an interesting read, I really admire the program and I’m heartened to learn that Australian prison’s are encouraged to establish book clubs for inmates. I’ve also added a few books to my own reading list as well including The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story and Alias Grace

Available via

Allen & Unwin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AUvia Booko

BookDepository I Amazon US I Amazon UK

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Patty
    Jan 03, 2016 @ 05:03:19

    This is an amazing story!

    Liked by 1 person


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