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Canberra’s prison bookworms favour Game of Thrones, Muhammad Ali and cookbooks

The library inside the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Photo: Jay Cronan The Hume library’s collection at the Alexander Maconochie Centre contains about 5000 items. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The life of sporting great Muhammed Ali, the real-life hell faced by Australian soldiers during World War I and the gory violence of Game of Thrones have proved an acceptable form of escape for inmates locked inside Canberra’s jail.

ACT Corrections has shed light on the most requested books pored over by detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre library.

Fantasy fiction was the leading choice for male and female detainees from the Hume library’s collection of about 5000 items in 2015.

Prisoners were engrossed by American fantasy writer Peter V. Brett’s fear-laden The Painted Man, the first in The Demon Cycle series that features flesh-eating demons that rise at night and feast on humans.

The blood, power struggles and romance that fill George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books, which inspired the hugely popular television series, were also sought-after.

As were books from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga, part of The Riftwar Cycle series, which follows an epic battle between human magicians set in the mythical worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan.

Inmates also gravitated towards fictional works with a tighter grip on reality, such as action thriller books by Australian writer Matthew Reilly and British novelist Lee Child.

Stories of real life featured prominently next to works of fiction in last year’s literary preferences.

Detainees commonly borrowed biographies and autobiographies, particularly of sports legends such as boxer Muhammed Ali, and stories of Australian history such as Gallipoli Diaries, about the Anzacs, by Jonathan King.

Yearly editions of Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, which detail bizarre items and events from around the world, were another hit.

Last year’s most popular items also included books focused on learning and practical skills for inmates who wanted to use their spare time productively.

Cookbooks were crowd-pleasers, particularly 4 Ingredients and books published by the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Inmates also favoured dictionaries, poetry books and volumes on art and drawing, such as How to Draw Animals.

Language books were well-read, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Asian languages the most favoured.

Indigenous inmates make up roughly 20 per cent of the ACT’s prisoners.

Surging detainee numbers have put significant pressure on the territory’s jail facilities in recent years and the AMC’s population reached more than 400 inmates on Christmas Day.

Detainees at the main jail and a 30-bed overflow facility at Symonston Correctional Centre can also browse regional newspapers, legal materials and magazines.

The most popular magazines in the past 12 months were motoring and science publications, including National Geographic.

Fantasy books by Raymond E. Feist and George R. R. Martin, as well as thriller novels by Lee Child, featured in last year’s favoured literary choices for Canberra’s jail inmates.

Prison memoirs had also been in demand.

Choices among the territory’s prison population appeared to differ from residents outside the jail walls, with Libraries ACT last month revealing its most borrowed book for 2015 was the thriller Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins.

That was followed by romantic comedy The Rosie Effect, a sequel to romantic comedy bestseller The Rosie Project, by Melbourne-based writer Graeme Simsion.

Journalist Annabel Crabb’s look at work-family balance in The Wife Drought, Marie Kondo’s The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organising and former prime minister Julia Gillard’s My Story rounded out the top five.

In 2010, the most borrowed book from the AMC’s then-new library was The Damage Done, the autobiography of convicted Australian drug trafficker Warren Fellows.

The book details the harsh conditions Fellows faced during 12 years in Thai prisons for his role in a heroin distribution ring.

White Lies, the musings of Damian Marrett, a former undercover officer with Victoria Police who helped bring down members of the Griffith mafia, came in at number two, followed by John Silvester and Andrew Rule’s Underbelly.

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