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“Orange Is the New Black” and books as the hot new product placement

The Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black" offers an eclectic reading list through product placement.

Orange is the New Black
Check out Alex (Laura Pepron) reading in the Netflix promo.

“I’m going to read everything on my Amazon wish list.”

That line might be the answer to any number of questions:

  • What are you doing this summer?
  • How would you spend a year on a desert island?
  • What would you do if you went to jail?

In fact, it’s a comment from Piper Chapman, the lead character and central inmate of the Netflix hit prison series Orange Is the New Black (based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name).

In the first episode, Chapman, a Smith graduate (read: smart), is on her way to prison for a drug-related crime she committed 10 years earlier. In the decade previous to her self-surrender at the prison, Chapman has become a Brooklyn-style yuppie, a “pretty blonde lady” who (if you’re into stereotypes) looks like the last person you’d see wearing orange scrubs. (For the record: White ladies make up the largest racial group in U.S. women’s prisons.)

Chapman seems more like the kind of person you’d see reading Gillian Flynn’s best-selling murder-intrigue novel Gone Girl.

Indeed, later in the series, we do see Chapman reading Gone Girl. Actually, we see a lot of inmates and guards reading popular and, in some cases, symbolic titles throughout the 13-episode series.

Could it be that books are the hot new product placement imagery?

Product placement has been a practice in the movies long before Apple products, Chevys, Coca-Cola and beer labels became de rigueur in films and on TV.  As writing enthusiasts, we’re always on the look out for the ways the work of writers is featured in other cultural realms – whether at a festival or conference, a performance event, an art installation, in architecture or on the big screen.

But forget about the potential commercial value for a moment. As readers and writers, we’re always on the look out for where writing shows up — including portrayals of some of the strongest and most diverse women characters in a current TV screenplay. We applaud the creators of OITNB for making books a part of the show’s narrative.

Here’s a partial list of the titles or references The Writer watchers caught in the first season of Orange Is the New Black.

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall
  • Night Shift by Stephen King
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
  • The Bible
  • This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Ulysses by James Joyce
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  • “The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost
  • 1000 Places to See before You Die: A Traveler’s Life List by Patricia Schultz
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

The lineup is broad and fascinating, popular and canonical — and cross genre: poetry, playwriting, fiction, nonfiction. What books would you include in a contemporary prison? And would you prefer to have your book be in a prison library or be used as product placement on a hit series?

Originally Published

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