temporaryworlds (temporaryworlds) wrote in bookish,

#14 Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg

After graduating from Harvard, Avi Steinberg spends his days working as an obituary writer, a decision that neither satisfies his bank account nor his critical family and friends. Almost by accident, he finds himself applying to be a librarian in a tough Boston prison. As a newly minted prison librarian and creative writing instructor, Avi is given a unique insight into the prison and the complex individuals that populate it. But it doesn’t take long before the stress of his new working environment begins to have an impact on his physical and mental health.

While I was in library school, I ran across one woman who wanted to become a prison librarian. I remember admiring her passion for the subject, but had a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of voluntarily spending any extended period of time in prison. At the beginning of Running the Books, Avi himself lacks the drive that I witnessed from my classmate, and instead almost falls into the position. I can’t help but be glad that he did because the result is a wonderfully written memoir on his two years on the job. I perceive Steinberg’s greatest strength as a writer is his ability to capture his subjects, in all of their quirks in complexities. Over time, Steinberg comes to care for the inmates who visits the library and his writing classes, and I couldn’t help but be equally entranced by his subjects as well.

Running with the Books hits all of the big emotional centers. Steinberg has a real knack for portraying humor, so I often found myself laughing out loud at the bizarre situations he would find himself in. At the same time, the books is not only lighthearted, and I found myself truly touched by some of the sad or more serious moments. The book is also a mostly smooth read, even if it did feel a little over long. This makes it a great selection for people, like myself, that don’t read a lot of nonfiction. Another aspect I really enjoyed about Running with the Books was the eye opening view it gave of prison life. Before picking up this novel, my main source of knowledge on the inner workings of a prison came form movies (mainly Cool hand Luke and the Shawshank Redemption). This made Running the Books a very informative read as well as an emotionally stimulating one.

Running with the Books is a well written memoir about a fascinating subject. Librarians in particular will enjoy this book, as well as anyone with any interest on prison life, and the power of books and writing.

Rating: four and a half stars
Length: 399 pages
Source: Readfield Community Library
Other books I've read by this author: this is my first

Next I will be reviewing A Million Suns by Beth Revis

xposted to temporaryworlds, bookish, and goodreads

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