Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

by Avi Steinberg
3.9 22

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Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
SusieReads More than 1 year ago
4 1/2 stars. Although I'm not the first to quote it, I love the first few lines of this memoir: "Pimps make the best librarians. Psycho killers, the worst. Ditto con men. Gangsters, gunrunners, bank robbers - adept at crowd control, at collaborating with a small staff, at planning with deliberation and executing with contained fury, all possess the librarian's basic skill set." With this start, I expected the book to have some funny moments. I didn't expect its poignancy. Tired of his job as an obituary writer. a nerdy Jewish guy responds to a Craigslist posting for a prison librarian. Hoping the drugs are out of his system so that he can pass mandatory screening, he applies for and receives the job, probably due to the bar being set incredibly low. As an added plus, or perhaps not, he is given the task of teaching creative writing to people who just want the change of scenery. Mr. Steinberg finds the humanity in prison, understands how his abrasive grandmother was not unlike the inmates, imprisoned by her own life. An inmate points out how Avi's neglected Jewish faith should be taken more seriously, how Hasidim is "the epitome of gangsta." And it makes sense. Lots of posturing, lots of facades, but Avi saw beyond that. Some of the prisoners let him see the insides of their minds. I found it interesting that although the author was a civil employee, he seemed to have much more empathy for the inmates than for the guards. While there are some kindnesses, the officers are often portrayed negatively, in their own petty gangsta world. Still, there are officers like the one who was proud of helping keep society safe, yet went to church every week to ask forgiveness for locking humans in a cage. A story that especially touched me was that of Jessica, a prisoner who watched her own son playing basketball in the recreation yard below. However, whenever the author got too sentimental or too Pollyanna, he would get (mostly figuratively) smacked down. He recalls joking with a prisoner about being a pimp, and then encountering the reality of that word when he meets him outside of prison. Learning about the horrible crimes of someone he was mentoring. Even though this is an entertaining read, every once in awhile it would touch me deeply enough that I would just close the book and say "wow," my generation's equivalent of OMG. "It wasn't remarkable...for an officer to run into harm's way to break up a fight.... That after all was his job, his training. But for him to find a way to be compassionate in an environment like prison, that was courage." The quotes are taken from a bound galley and may be different in the finished version. Thank you to the publisher for giving me this galley.
BookBobBP More than 1 year ago
The author grabs you from the opening lines of this book and draws you in to his story. From the drug addict mother to the pimp with a story Steinberg shows us the human side to convicts. This was a wonderful story and I had a hard time putting it down.
jewelknits More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to get into this book; it was more than the usual "I'm coming off the feeling of the book I just read and now have to shift gears for this NEW book" ... while well-written, the first 1/4 of the book simply felt like mildly amusing, quirky, loosely-woven antecdotes about how Avi grew up strictly Orthodox, about his footloose and trouble-prone friend Yoni, and about the types of people he meets in the prison library, where he also runs Creative Writing classes for both male and female inmates. But THEN, Avi gets personal. He writes about his feelings on finding out that a former inmate has died, and suddenly, the whole novel opens up. We meet a various cast of characters, including: * Jessica (whom Avi names "Solitary" in his head) - she sits in his Creative Writing class staring out of the window and barely participating, resulting in the other women in class demanding to be able to sit and look out of the window at the yard (where the male inmates are). Avi resents this until another inmate tells him the real reason why Jessica looks into the yard, and thus begins a tenuous friendship. * Chudney - whose idea of a love poem is the recipe for Nestle Chocolate Chip cookies paired with a plate of cookies made by hand along with some flowers. He has a detailed Plan for when he gets out that ends up with him being the host of his own television cooking show * Al - the businessman, who made money selling stars to people on the outside * C. C. Too Sweet - who enlists Avi's aid in helping him write his story "The Memoir of a Pimp" and who has a flair for writing, as evidenced by the beginning of the following poem: In Jail Being in Jail is lonely at night, It is waiting for letters that no one will write. It is depending on people You thought were your friends, Waiting for letters no one will send .... With a dry humor, and astonishingly almost judgment-free humanity, Avi chronicles what happens after he answers a Craig's list ad for a prison librarian, an ad he only answers because it is a union job with job security and benefits. As you read through the various vignettes, you will find yourself thinking more and more in Avi's voice as you read, and you will experience both the simple highs and numbing lows , the self-realizations and observations he makes become your own. As I closed the book, which ends as most episodes in our lives end, by changing to a "time after", I felt reflective and rather solemn. I wondered where some of our characters ended up, and hoped for the best. I'm glad I kept at it after what I felt was a rather shaky start, as I felt "fulfilled" at the end in the way that reading any good story will make the reader feel. With these glimpses into someone else's life, I came away with a slightly changed perspective and with more empathy and understanding. Sensitive Reader: There is some profanity and a few sexual references, but not much and not glaring and out of context. QUOTE: There seemed to be endless ways to use books. Hardcover books could be fashioned into body armor. Placed in a bag and wielded as a battle lail. Taped together and used as weights. Used to hide contraband. Books could be mined for paper or illustrations, or used to help prop things up around the cell. And for all of these functions, books became an item for barter. (I received a copy of this title from the publishe
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. A great read for anyone who feels lost in their life.
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ahen More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book.
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