9 Books for Your Favorite British Inmate

The British literati is outraged over a new rule affecting British prisons: inmates can no longer receive books sent in from outside. While authors fume (Philip Pullman said the ban was "one of the most disgusting, mean, vindictive acts of a barbaric government"), Britain's secretary of state for justice insists that it's not so bad; prisoners are allowed up to 12 books in their cells at a time and can also buy books with their own money. Then again, as author Mark Haddon said, prisoners have to use their hard-earned cash for necessities like toothpaste and phone calls. Why go after the books at all?

If, hypothetically, you had a pal stuck in British jail who was jonesing for reading material, you might think to yourself, "Hm, would it be so wrong to smuggle in a little literature next time I visit?" If so, these titles would be fantastic for killing time during a tenure in the clink. There's one for every inmate. Even the bad guys.

1. For the existential wreck.

Petit, the Monster is a story about a little boy who can't understand why he does bad things and good things. Why can't he just be good all the time? Is he some sort of monster? The thinking inmate will surely relate to Petit's terrible, futile struggles against the realization of his own original sin.

2. For those planning to break the law again.

Tell him not to, but if your favorite inmate insists he's going to get back at old One-Eyed McGee as soon as the jail gates rattle open before him, he may as well familiarize himself with how the other half thinks.

3. For the one with a dangerous ex-girlfriend.

If Clyde's in jail and Bonnie still roams free, Farewell, My Lovely may prove something of a solace, as the wild ex-girlfriend meets an unlucky end. Well, after killing her man. Whoops.

4. For the one who likes to figure out whodunnit.

Maybe he's innocent; maybe he just likes to play mind games. Either way, the twists and turns of I, the Jury will keep him entertained for hours, when he's not lying to the judge.

5. For the one who's locked up for a long, long time.

After he's done with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, sneak in The Silmarillion — a thorough and thoroughly confusing history of Middle-Earth and other lands. Let's just say there are a lot of made-up words.

6. For the one who feels really guilty.

In Cold Blood, one of the scariest works of nonfiction ever, is a cheerful way to remind any prisoner who's feeling bad about himself, "Hey, at least you didn't brutally and randomly murder an entire family in the Kansas countryside!" Unless, of course, he did brutally murder an entire family in the Kansas countryside, in which case, bring him a copy of Crime and Punishment.

7. For the high-security prison.

If book-smuggling sounds about as dangerous as breaking out of Alcatraz, buy your inmate a copy of Flowers of the Four Seasons, the smallest book in the world, measuring a wee 0.74 x 0.75 mm. You could practically kiss it into his mouth.

8. For the one with a really great sense of humor.

Not every inmate would find this book funny — some might even put a hit on you as punishment for your bad taste — but if you know a guy who knows a guy who really loves prison jokes, send him this gem. Then run away, just in case it hits too close to home.

9. For the one who really, really, really doesn't get along with his family.

If your inmate has been muttering things like "Ma's gonna regret it someday," slip him a copy of Oedipus Rex, wherein Oedipus kills his dad, accidentally sleeps with his mom, and then blinds himself with remorse. Your inmate will soon realize that he doesn't want to be like Oedipus at all. Maybe he'll even send Ma a Christmas card.