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Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian Paperback – October 4, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
I'm not totally sure what I expected, but I think it was something funny: something about a librarian hanging out with pimps and drug dealers, scattering literature across the infertile soil of a prison's worth of undereducated, life-hardened, embittered minds. I was looking for some uplift, here, something about how books can save even the toughest cases.
What I got instead was reality. Avi Steinberg, who falls into prison librarianhood mainly because he is avoiding the expectations of his strict Orthodox Jewish upbringing (Doctor or lawyer or rabbi, oh my!) but not making enough money as a freelance obituary writer (Another career I never really thought existed, though of course it does), does indeed hang out with pimps and drug dealers, but it isn't really funny. These are not the cartoonish pimps that floated through my mind, a cornucopia of platform shoes and ostrich feather hats and 70's jive lingo; these are actual hustlers, men who make their living off of the exploitation of women, men who are cold and calculating and violent no matter how charming they appear. And because they are human beings, they are also emotionally stunted victims themselves, sufferers of abuse and neglect and generational poverty; their less savory characteristics are simply their best defense against the world that surrounds them.
Although there is very little about the saving grace of literature and words and books, Steinberg does paint a vivid and touching portrait of the criminals he dealt with every day for the years he worked in Boston's South Bay prison, as well as a harsh and unflinching one.Read more ›
Avi Steinberg has written a love story of sorts. Love tends to manifest itself in serendipitous ways and often takes us by surprise. I'm sure Mr. Steinberg tried to maintain a "professional distance of the heart". But, for two prisoners in particular, the tendrils of human connection pushed their way through the cracks in the concrete of prison protocol and reached Avi's core.
Jessica and Chudney reached into the core of my being also, and I really didn't want them to. I thought "Running the Books" was going to be more humorous than pensive. But those tendrils reached through the concrete of my own stand-offish heart and here I am, still thinking about two people who I will never meet.
Of the two, Jessica captured me the most. She had hope, but the reality of how her choices and addictions had wounded others weighed heavily on her heart. She wanted to hope, but she was a realist. She knew that some habits can't be broken and some relationships can't be healed. Some people can hope and with that hope forge a new life, but she knew that option wasn't for her.
Chudney is the opposite of Jessica, ever hopeful and optimistic. He made plans so that when he left prison behind him, it would be for good. As a reader I was rooting for him. As I read along I kept hoping he would make it. I couldn't wait to cheer his successes. In my mind, he was going to make it! I just knew he was. There were only two options for him: quick success or struggling but finally making it. Failure wasn't a thought.Read more ›
Since that sounds more than slightly lazy - I suppose what I really mean is that there wasn't a story arc that held my interest through the whole book. Though I realize this is a memoir - there just isn't a climax of any sort. The reader is introduced to Avi, we learn how he ends of applying for and becoming a librarian in a Boston prison...and then we just stay there in prison with him.
We learn more about the prisoners than we do Avi. Which is interesting, of course, but because he is our window into this world that few of us know much about, we want to know more about how he feels in that unreal atmosphere - and the effects that it has on his life outside of work. For that matter - I wanted to learn more about his life outside of work, period.
"The main book man. I like that. I can't help it. For an asthmatic Jewish kid, it's got a nice ring to it. Hired to run Boston's prison library - and serve as the resident creative writing teacher - I am living my (quixotic) dream: a book-slinger with a badge and a streetwise attitude, part bookworm, part badass. This identity has helped me tremendously at cocktail parties."
Because he's one of the few people we read about that spends time in the prison world by choice, I wanted to know more about what kept him there, more about how he felt about leaving and what he did after his prison experience.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you're only looking for cheap laughs at the expense of incarcerated "characters," then, no, this is not the book for you. Read morePublished 19 hours ago by Nick Carraway
A good book about a young Jewish man finding himself through his work as a prison librarian. The book moves along at an easy pace. Read morePublished 11 days ago by recreader
I loved this funny, sad, insightful book. I wish Avi had stayed at the prison so he could share more true stories with us. Read morePublished 1 month ago by book babe
A memoir about a man changed by his experience working in a prison. At times a little draggy, but overall a good read.Published 1 month ago by MikeF
I had to read this book as a part of my Honors College colloquium and I really enjoyed it. Great for discussions. I learned a lot and stayed interested. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Courtney O
This book literally sickened me. The author is a self obsessed young man, who glorifies pimping and exploits the writings of students in his classes. Read morePublished 10 months ago by thatsme