Someone who interviewed Bernie Madoff in prison last week noted in the NY Times that Madoff has been reading James Michener novels while serving the first 2 years of his 150 year sentence.
The Times asked for reading suggestions for Madoff which most commenters agreed that Madoff lounging about reading is an odious thought altogether. But it got me thinking about inmates and their reading selections. Would reading great literature in earlier years have given some criminals a moral compass they lacked? Would reading classic works now make them more penitent? Personally I think reading quality novels is a great way to see characters grapple with conscience, consequence etc. For me, the dilemmas that characters face and how they react has always enlightened me.
While I think reading great books can impact the choices and actions we make personally, not everyone would agree. Laura Miller wrote in Salon magazine: “Some of the best-read people I know are thoroughgoing jerks and some of the kindest and noblest verge on the illiterate.”
Anyway, the image of Madoff incarcerated in North Carolina reading Michener is also a little unnerving. After all, many of us would love to have more time to read novels ourselves. It seems like our inmates should be earning their keep or doing something aimed at restitution.
Relative to Maddoff, it seems like he still lacks a sense of remorse or personal responsibility for all the financial devastation he caused. Madoff alludes to feeling anguish but almost more for being caught than for understanding the scope of his deception. I love the quote used in the article, that comes from a awesome contemporary novel, Atonement, by Ian McEwan (which describes Madoff to a tee):
“It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above it, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.” -Ian McEwan, Atonement