Reading is really the only way out in here. I'd read a Teen People right now if I had one, or one of those muscle car magazines, or a John Grisham book. I swear to god, anything but staring at the wall. So these are the books I've been able to get my hands on so far. Some of them I borrowed from other inmates. Those books have stars (*) next to them. The other ones were sent to me from home. I have attempted to list them in the order I read them. They are also graded on an academic scale:

*Spiderman: Revenge of the Sinister Six D+
The only reason this juvenile comic book rip-off didn't get an F is because I got my kicks reading about Mary Jane in her pajamas and picturing that actress that played her in the movie. Could have gotten a C- if there had been a fairly X-rated sex scene between MJ and Otto Octavius AKA Dr. Octopus. "Worst book ever!"

*Dune: House Harkonnen C
This book was good because it was over 700 pages long and it killed a lot of time. Other than that, what may have been the literary equivalent of watching Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine showering together to some sci-fi fans was just another book club fantasy novel to me. Also notable is the fact that the book was not even written by Frank Herbert.

*The Bone Collector D-
Kept me from thinking about jerking off.

The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway B+
My best friend during my first few years of college was from Cuba. His family fled the island because of Castro, according to his mother. My friend and I shared a big house on Monroe and Madison in Memphis, across from the Public Eye (before it burned down, of course). It was the nicest place I've ever had. But my girlfriend wouldn't come over because I fucked the girl who rented the house before me. So the house was tainted. Later on I developed my very first habit in that house. And I was sick for the very first time in that house. If I had only known what I was getting myself into. I'd still be in that house probably.

*Ghostbusters 2 A-
By an unbelievable stroke of luck I scored this slim adaptation of the second and last installment of the Ghostbusters legacy (not counting the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon) from a prison ministries group from a nearby Catholic church in Tupelo. The woman who gave me the book had some type of bone disease that made her limp and stutter. It was the best gift ever! And it had pictures! My favorite part is when two ghosts appear in the courtroom and the judge goes "The Scoleri brothers! I tried them for murder in '48 and now they want to kill me!" And Bill Murray goes "Maybe they just want to appeal."
This book was as zany as the movie.

Where the Red Fern Grows B
This is a story about a young boy living in the Ozarks during the early 1900s. He saves his money and buys two coonhounds which become his best friends. They hunt coons and go on adventures together and even fight a mountain lion. The dogs' names are Old Dan and Little Ann. The boy's name is Billy. The author conveniently skirts the issue of Billy's puberty, which I wondered about a couple times.
I hardly noticed this book when I was a kid. But now it made me want to hitchhike deep into the woods, chop down some trees and build a cabin, hunt coons and play the banjo. Really.

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut A-
Vonnegut wrote this while in the midst of a second mid-life crisis and a terrible depression. And you can tell. Breakfast of Champions is a stew of Vonnegut's most popular characters - Kilgore Trout, of course. And Eliot and Mrs. Rosewater. But this book isn't as tragically romantic as Slaughterhouse Five or Godbless You, Mrs. Rosewater. Bonus points for a crude rendering of a vagina by the author himself on page seventy-two.

*Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator B
A sloppy, less organized sequel to the immortal Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this is a tale of a boy in search of a father-figure to replace his flaccid own. The patriarch in this case is Willy Wonka, who in the previous installment willed his beloved factory to young Charlie. In this episode the sprightly genius savant takes Charlie, Grandpa Joe and the rest of Charlie's immediate family on an outerspace romp in the enigmatic glass elevator, all with dastardly results! The ragtag group of adventurers encounters the nefarious Vermicious Knids, takes on the President of the United States in a battle of wits (a rather bold and biting social parody for a "children's book," if you ask me) and braves the ghastly Gnoolies in Minusland in order to rescue Charlie's maternal grandmother who overdosed on Wonka-Vite and lost eighty years of her life even though she was seventy-eight.
Among the highlights of the book is a solipsistic passage in which Mr. Wonka melodiously shouts:

I received a second set of books a few days ago. This time a couple from Rachel and a couple from my beloved mother who has made an effort to communicate with me in this fucking asylum. I am really not sure why I'm doing these book reports or for whom. But I am bored and this allows me to entertain myself. Anyway, here are more, graded and annotated as usual:

VALIS - Phillip K. Dick B+
Earth to Phil?

The Trial - Franz Kafka A-
There's a reason Kafka wanted his stuff burned after he died. All in all, though, this book was worth the patience. If you thought The Metamorphosis was opaque, this book is like eating a shoe. German isn't easily translated into English, anyway, so my congrats to the editor. The publisher wanted to sell Kafka's last, unfinished work as a story of terror. But I kept finding these surreal moments where I wondered just what the old Czech was up to. I mean, I pictured Kafka in his tiny room in Prague, shivering and typing away as he snickered drunkenly to himself. At one point Josef K. picks up the judge's lawbook while the courtroom is empty and leafs through it, only to find nudie pictures in it. A couple chapters later K. opens a door to a broom closet in his office and finds his two assistants with their pants down, being flogged by a guy dressed in black leather. And the Nazis thought a story about turning into a bug was weird.
The bulk of the story, though, is about Josef K. getting caught up in a system that won't let him go free, figuratively or literally, no matter if he's innocent or guilty. In fact, Kafka doesn't even detail the crime K. may or may not have committed. Its irrelavent, really. But, its sickening to know that things haven't really changed, whether its in 20th century, pre-war Eastern Europe, or 21st century America. I kept finding gross comparisons to K.'s situation and mine, so we became kindred spirits. I really learned to love this guy. He had a chance for happiness, you know. And since you're probably not going to read this book anyway, I'll go ahead and tell you that at the end two men in dark coats and hats drag K. quietly across town into an empty lot and plunge a butcher knife into his heart, turning it twice and letting him die.

The Brethren - John Grisham F+
I don't owe myself any excuses for reading this book. I was bored, OK? And the cover looked so cool, kind of a courthouse, lawyer sort of theme. And I imagined the main character being played by, I don't know, Tom Cruise. Or the guy who played Robin in the Batman movies.

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris A-
You mean David Sedaris is gay?

Ironweed - William Kennedy A+
At one point reading this book I trailed off into a daydream while reading and missed some part of the story, only to return my focus while Kennedy is talking about Helen's death. And I frantically tried to find the place I had left off to find out if it really happened. It did, and I was fucking crushed. How could he have done that? Poor Francis had been through so much shit and was trying to take care of Helen. But he had a responsibility to his family. And the book WAS about redemption, too. So he had to go back to them and make amends. I mean, he couldn't watch over Helen constantly. He even left a few bucks for her. And she didn't have to hide that money from him, or yell at him the night before, or steal that record. I know Francis loved her and she really did love him. Why didn't she go to her brother's place to get help? God, did she know she was going to die that day? In that old halfway house in her room, listening to that record? Franics DID try to help her, putting her in that car that night and sleeping out in the weeds by himself. But she didn't want his help. Jesus. This book will tear you apart.
P.S. I heard Tom Waits is in the movie.

Since my second or third day a little Mexican man has been sleeping in the bunk below me. His name is Marco and he is from Vera Cruz, Mexico. He was arrested at a Wal-Mart for stealing two Sony Discmans (Now there's two companies you shouldn't fuck with, if you know what I mean). Marco doesn't have a large family or a cliche-ridden story, although he is illegal. For awhile I was the only person who talked to him. Without condescending to him, anyway. One asshole insisted on referring to him as "Hey Mexican people!" in such an arrogant way that I eventually asked Marco how to say "asshole" in Spanish. He didn't understand so we settled on "motherfucker" in English. This became his new all-purpose mantra. Most of the other inmates thought they could better communicate with Marco if they spoke to him in English, but with a MEXICAN ACCENT. This was more than annoying, having a room full of fucking Ricky Ricardos.
So our friendship continued in broken Spanish. Every coupla days we'd bullshit about something or another for a few minutes. Or he'd ask me questions and I'd do my best to answer them. "Yes, Two-tray palo casa manana," or "The guards want your underwear. What's that en espanol? Trouso?"
Then James moved into the bunk next to mine and an overweight guy they christened "Fat Albert" moved in below him, next to Marco. Added to this clique was a rather good-looking but dumb country boy (busted with two hundred Xanax in his Ford Probe) who picked up a little Spanish while working construction. So the four of them began a stilted dialogue - a hybrid mix of English & Spanish phrases. It was at this time, from atop my bunk, peering over my paperback down on the crew, that I began to learn the finer points of the Spanish language. Phrases like "fucking faggot" and "monkeynuts" were filed away for future use against motorists and siblings. Sooner than expected, however, I found myself with the perfect opportunity to use my multilinguistic skills when I spotted two guys in the shower shaving each other. I leaned over the side of my bunk, called to Marco below me and pointed with glee, "Pinche maricon!" A coupla nights later I picked up on some disturbance below me and paused in my reading to catch Marco say to Fat Albert in almost perfect English, "You remember your wife?" And when I looked over Marco was imitating a rather energetic jerk-off, while the rest of the tank howled.
This morning the guards warned us of another inspection. The first time this happened a couple weeks ago we were told to line up next to our bunks (which were to be neatly made) in an orderly fashion and to keep quiet. The ten inmates who were sleeping on the floor were ordered to push their mats under the other bunks in order to hide their presence, I guess. Now I don't know who these inspectors were, where they were from or what impact they were to have on the DeSoto County Correctional Facility. But I would think that the prison officials would want to show any possible state representatives or lobbyists the real conditions here, thereby demonstrating a need for more funding to improve the situation. Maybe a little extra cash to cushion their pockets or buy hitches for their trucks. But, on the contrary, they were trying to hide the unsightly scabs and were actually trying to make this bunch of heathens presentable. This week I predicted another inspection when we were forced to scrub graffiti (written in aged toothpaste, no less) and scum off the walls with bleached rags. The inspections confused me, needless to say. As far as I could tell we were lining up like fucking soldiers to impress scared-looking white people with money. I couldn't understand it. But as the guards said, right before lunch today we were lined up next to our bunks and sexually threatened to keep quiet until the entourage of inspectors finished their mysterious business. At the back of the room Marco, James and I lined up, fresh from an impromptu Spanish lesson that had left us in hysterics. I peered out the window at the front of the room, past the line of F-pod inmates and saw that the group of inspectors were approaching, checking each tank in the jail. The mood reminded me of high school study hall, right after a paper airplane lands on the teacher's desk but no one dares laugh and fights the urge with bladder-breaking effort. As the entourage, led by the sheriff, three turnkeys and the warden, moved on to our tank and began unlocking the large door I heard Marco impatiently say to James, "Everyone is jacking off," as in "This inspection is taking way too long." But what he actually said, or meant to say was, "Everyone needs a jacket," because our tank was so unbearably cold. I turned around, holding back a snicker, and asked Marco "jacking off?" while gesturing with my right hand (my good hand). Immediately James sparked to life, following my lead with his own emphatic imitation. At this point we were "shushed." But Marco was confused, pulling on his shirt and saying "jack off" repeatedly. As the front door opened and the inspectors, sheriff, turnkeys and warden walked in, I, lost in the debate, finally caught on: I pulled on my shirt and said, "Oh, JACK-ET. We're COLD, we need JACKETS!" And Marco's puzzled face brightened as he excitedly threw his hands down his pants and shouted out in his broken Mexican accent, "You think I say EVERYONE JACK OFF!" The first ten inmates in earshot began to laugh hysterically in front of our inspectors and all hell broke loose. By the time order was restored we lost two days worth of smoke breaks and television, leaving me time to write and breathe fresh air for a change.


- Brendan Spenglar