A total of 22 people attended a special session that featured a visit from author Amy Liptrot, whose book dealt with her descent into alcoholism and recovery, much of it through writing about the natural world as she experienced it on her return to her native Orkney. Many were regular book group attendees, but we also had a number of prisoners from the prison’s in-house substance misuse programme.
Many of the questions reflected the curiosity of the group as to Amy’s personal circumstances – how was she coping now without alcohol; how long did the book take to write; did she wish that she had never gone through her experiences or was she glad that things had happened as they had, given that they had led to her being where she was now?
However, it was gratifying that many attendees – especially book group ‘regulars’ – also engaged with the writing itself. Much of Amy’s recovery came about during a two year period when she lived alone on one of Orkney’s smallest inhabited islands, worked for the RSPB as ‘the corncrake wife’, took up sea-swimming as therapy, learned astronomy and wrote. One prisoner who described himself as a “city boy” attested to his enjoyment in reading of the natural world, the stars and planets, which had kept him reading in his cell till the early hours of the morning – “it took me out of jail for a while.”
Meanwhile, another book group met to discuss The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and had a similarly successful, if slightly smaller, meeting. Most of the men had read the book, although one said he didn’t want to because it was a ‘children’s book’. I told him that I felt it was a cross over book originally written for children but now enjoyed by all ages (similar to Harry Potter.)
We then continued discussing how ‘serious’ a book dealing with WW2 subject matter ought to be. Some of the group liked the word replacement of ‘fury’ for the Fuhrer and ‘out with’ for Auschwitz; others did not, and felt these words trivialized the events of WW2. I had read the book for the second time and saw it in a different light. As I knew the story I felt a sense of danger for Bruno this time. The men reminded me that it was odd to feel a sense of danger for Bruno when he was just a single boy and thousands had died in the gas chambers. We went on to talk about other holocausts of Rwanda, Cambodia and Serbia. The discussion lasted for about 1 and half hours. At the end one of the men wanted to know why I had chosen the book. I pointed out to them that the group had forgotten that they had chosen the book with two men stating that it was their suggestion.