Tag Archives: Mikita Brottman

Book Review: The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman (4/5)

30 Dec

I saw this book on my 2014 trip to Powell’s in Portland. I wanted to buy it but I’d reached the spending limit my husband put on me so it went on the TBR. At least I finally got to it! And I had a great audio experience for this one.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison by Mikita Brottman

Summary from Goodreads:

On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman starts a book club with a group of convicts from the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. She assigns them ten dark, challenging classics—including Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe’s “The Black Cat,” and Nabokov’s Lolita—books that don’t flinch from evoking the isolation of the human struggle, the pain of conflict, and the cost of transgression. Although Brottman is already familiar with these works, the convicts open them up in completely new ways. Their discussions may “only” be about literature, but for the prisoners, everything is at stake.

Gradually, the inmates open up about their lives and families, their disastrous choices, their guilt and loss. Brottman also discovers that life in prison, while monotonous, is never without incident. The book club members struggle with their assigned reading through solitary confinement; on lockdown; in between factory shifts; in the hospital; and in the middle of the chaos of blasting televisions, incessant chatter, and the constant banging of metal doors.

I’m realizing that prison seems to be a common theme in my book selections lately. You’ll see more in the next few to see where that comment comes from. This one, however, is the strongest example of the theme. There is very little of this book that doesn’t take place in the prisoner’s classroom. Brottman focuses her telling on the time she spends in the prison and talks a lot about how the men are treated in prison and the experience they have. The book evokes a lot of sympathy for the prisoners. The conditions that the men live under do seem unjust and if you can forget the reason those men are behind bars, it seems heinous. But when you do remember, you have to really think about it. These are men who have committed horrific crimes. But does any person deserve to be treated the way these men are treated? The literature they read often speaks about people in extreme circumstances that the men can relate to. They often find sympathies with the characters. In books that are supposed to seem extreme, these men see nothing they haven’t seen before.

Brottman does a wonderful job of describing the men. You really start to feel you know them and that you can almost trust them because of the consistent characters she draws. For me, the most telling part of the book was the afterward when she talked about the men who were released and what it was like to see them on the outside. Without the institution surrounding them, they were a lot rougher around the edges and despite what Brottman thought of their connection in the book club, they were not potential friends on the outside.

Stephen was my favorite character. When you heard his story, it made you think that he was going to be the one person who wasn’t as rough and violent as the others. His crime was an accident and he really was a good kid. He seemed this way in the club, too. He’d been trusted to train a service dog and he always seemed to do the reading and understand it. There were a few things that didn’t check out, mostly about him having a girlfriend on the outside who was married. When he was released and Brottman interacted with him outside the prison, he wasn’t the same sweet kid. He was gullible and immature. I think he was so well described that it wasn’t a surprise to the reader and you could see how Brottman thought he would be different outside.

Brottman was easy to relate to. As a fellow reader, it’s hard not to sympathize with a book club leader. I sometimes forget not everyone cares about a story as much as I might. Brottman forgot this a lot. As a book lover, I get very passionate about books. I would get frustrated in high school when others didn’t care about the discussion or assignments. She was my inner book nerd in a very unusual setting.

Mikita Brottman
Image via the Baltimore Sun

I liked how Brottman concentrated on the lives of the prisoners and how they were treated more than the books. Often, there were parallels between their lives and the books. Brottman made good selections to help facilitate discussions connecting the two. I thought it was interesting to hear how the prisoners reacted to lock-downs, new roommates, and rules violations. It was a view of prison I hadn’t had before.

The section where Brottman talked about the newspaper article about her group. I think it portrayed her in a bad light and showed a lot of self-doubts. She seemed pretty confident until that point but second-guessed everything that happened and was mad about how the article turned out. It shifted my view of her a lot.

The audiobook was narrated by Beverly Crick. I think she was a good choice. Her British accent helped me remember that Brottman is British and her accent would have made her stick out even more in the prison. She did good accepts for the men as well and I didn’t find them distracting. The book was very internally focused so there wasn’t much dialogue anyway.

The book invoked a lot of sympathy for the men. You forgot often that most of them had been convicted of murder or rape. Brottman seeks to see the humanity in these men, much in the same way books look to humanize their characters. I think it’s in her nature as a reader and teacher of literature to look for the good in people.

Writer’s Takeaway: I left this book was some pessimistic takeaways. While someone might read a book, it doesn’t mean they enjoy it or get anything from it or think about it later. It might not change their life in any meaningful way. Sometimes, they look at every page and process every word and that’s that. I have to remember that as a writer, my book might not change lives. It might not affect them at all. And that’s okay. Because someone will feel something eventually. It just has to find the right reader.

Overall enjoyable and informative. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Maximum Security Book Club | Snowflakes in a Blizzard
The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison by Mikita Brottman | Rachel Reads Books
Prison Book Clubs! | Librarian Behind Bars

WWW Wednesday, 4-December-2019

4 Dec

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m back to Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley now that my vacation is over and I’m reading at lunch again. Maybe this will keep me inspired to submit my first book and keep working on my second? Maybe? I’m hoping it has some unique advice about writing for a YA audience. I’ve been missing that reading so many of these books on craft close to each other.
I started my January book club selection, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s a nice long one so I had to start early! I heard Lee speak at the Midwest Literary Walk this year and my copy is signed! Exciting.
I also started in on The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. I’m excited to wrap up my reading challenge with this one! It’s always nice to get more YA reading in, too!

Recently finished: I finished Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody on the plane home from California. It was terrifying and inspiring at the same time. I hope to watch the movie soon so I can compare the two while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I finished The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman once I started driving to and from work again. This made me look at convicts differently and see them the way the system looks at them. I hear a lot about prison ministries and other programs where volunteers go into prisons and I wonder if I’d be a fit for something like that. I also wonder if I have a skill worth knowing for someone in prison.

Reading Next: My next audiobook is a book club selection, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I have until January to listen to it so I’m not really concerned about getting through it before I need it finished.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 27-November-2019

27 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ve gotten through very little Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley since I’m away from work and not reading on my lunch. I know this one will take a while so I’m not really worried about it, though. It’s one that’s OK to read in chunks since there’s not a consistent plot I have to worry about.
I think I’ll finish The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman pretty soon. I’ve got a few warm-weather runs that helped me get through chunks of it even without commuting for work. It should be done by next week.
I’m enjoying Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody but I can sense the bias in it very strongly. Of course, I think anyone in Betty’s situation would be incredibly biased so I don’t blame her, but it’s not even thinly veiled. I’m curious to see how this was turned into a movie. I think it will be well done.

Recently finished: Nothing here this week. Not too much of a surprise since I had three last week. I’m sure one or two will find their way here soon.

Reading Next: I still plan on reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee next. And I should be able to start it next week. So I guess not much has changed in my reading world in the past week.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 20-November-2019

20 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: Total changeover this week! I started reading Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley on my phone. I’ve been trying to read more writing books lately as I get ready to submit my first novel and work my way through NaNo on a second. We’ll see if this provides any help.
I was able to start The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman on audio. This is a shorter one than I thought so I should move through this pretty quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing how Brottman structures this book because it could concentrate on the literature or the men and I’m not sure yet what she’ll pick.
I also started Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody as planned. I’m a little early in it to make a judgment but I will say I missed reading memoirs and I’m glad to be reading one again.

Recently finished: I finished My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart a little unexpectedly. I didn’t realize so many of the final pages were not part of the text so I finished it mid-lunch one day. I was a little disappointed in this book. It wasn’t really a cookbook nor a memoir. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.
I also wrapped up Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine finally. I liked the beginning 200 pages of this book but the last 150 feel flat to me and I left it feeling disappointed. I believe it’s part of a trilogy and maybe more time should have been spent on the second half of the book and another book added to the series. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.
I also wrapped up The Mortifications by Derek Palacio and was, yet again, a little disappointed in it. The magical realism was stronger as the book went on and it was an element I wasn’t a huge fan of. I usually avoid magical realism and I didn’t realize it would so prevalent here. You may notice a trend here: I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I think it’s an audiobook I’ll need next and I’ll have to go with The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This will help me wrap up my When Are You Reading? Challenge. I also want some more YA in my life, it’s been a while and I miss it.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 13-November-2019

13 Nov

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I think Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine will be done by next week. I really enjoyed the first half of the novel but it’s slowed down for me a lot and I’m dragging a bit through the last 100 pages. I thought it would be done sooner but oh well.
I made a great surge with My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart. I had a slow conference with a lot of downtime to read a silly cookbook and this was perfect because the frequent interruptions weren’t a problem. I’m optimistic about getting this one finished this month.
With just one audiobook, I’m moving through The Mortifications by Derek Palacio pretty quickly. The audiobook is well done. I’m noticing a lot of subtle magical realism elements that are often found in Hispanic literature. It’s not a favorite of mine, but I’m still enjoying it and learning a lot about Cuban culture from it, too.

Recently finished: I loved Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie and I’m so glad there are more books in this series. I recommend this book series a lot because I think it deserves more attention than it’s gotten. It’s funny and well-plotted. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.

I’ve only posted once since last week and thankfully it was a book review (as I’m growing behind on those). I posted my review of When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan on Thursday. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I’m still reeling from all the free time I have to read what I want! I need to be ready with an audiobook and a physical book soon. For my audiobook, I think I’m going to listen to The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman. I saw this one at Powell’s and talked myself out of buying it but still wanted to enjoy it eventually. It seems like now is a great time.
I’m also going to get ready with a physical book from the library. The next on my list is Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody. I’ve heard this is a crazy-true story and I look forward to enjoying it!


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!