Aside from consuming The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Atlantic (“not the easiest magazines to give away in prison”) nose to tail, Genis lavished the bulk of his attention on serious fiction, especially the long, difficult novels that require ample motivation and time under the best of circumstances. He read Mann, James, Melville, Musil, Naipaul. He vanquished “Vanity Fair” and “Infinite Jest.” He read, and reread, the Russians, in Russian. He kept up with Chabon, Lethem, and Houellebecq. At first, Genis resisted “Ulysses,” but his father kept bringing it. “I argued that he wouldn’t have the willpower to get through it once he became a free man,” [his father] Alexander Genis told me. …
The seven volumes of Proust took Genis a year to finish. Much of it was spent in solitary confinement—he had been charged with “unauthorized exchange” after several prisoners “sold [him] their souls” for cups of coffee (“some Christian guards didn’t care for my sense of humor”). He read “In Search of Lost Time” alongside two academic guidebooks, full of notations in French, and a dictionary. He said that no other novel gave him as much appreciation for his time in prison. … In prison, time was both an enemy and a resource, and Genis said that Proust convinced him that the only way to exist outside of it, however briefly, was to become a writer himself. He finished a novel, a piece of speculative fiction about a society where drugs have never been criminalized, titled “Narcotica.” Later, when he came across a character in a Murakami novel who says that one really has to be in jail to read Proust, Genis said that he laughed louder than he had in ten years.
A reader, responding to this post on financial literacy, adds something relevant to this post as well:
Funny coincidence: Catey Hill published a piece this morning about a young murderer who’s become a self-taught investment expert, and an advisor to his fellow inmates and even prison staff. One guard dubbed him the “The Oracle of San Quentin”. Here’s a fun bit:
Carroll also stresses the importance of reading beyond financial publications. His magazine list includes some highly unlikely fare for a men’s prison, including Teen Vogue (great for insight into things that teens adopt first, like social media); PopStar! (to keep up with the entertainment industry) and Shape (for fitness innovations and products).