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Running the Books: The Adventures of an…
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Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Avi Steinberg (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7224318,631 (3.63)63
Member:mfigroid
Title:Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
Authors:Avi Steinberg (Author)
Info:Nan A. Talese (2010), 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Read in 2018, Bio / Autobio / Memoir

Work details

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg (2010)

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» See also 63 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
I can't say I read this one, but I did dip in at several places. The premise is enticing. But the execution leaves much to be desired.
Author is not able to elicit adequate empathy for himself or for others within the stories. ( )
  2wonderY | Dec 29, 2017 |
A most excellent opening paragraph leads the way into a a book that's part memoir, part expose, and part biography of the prisoners Steinberg meets. It's funny and fascinating, but it's also thoughtful and poignant. If you're looking for answers one way or the other about prisoners and the prison system, this isn't your book. But if you're looking for a chance to meet some interesting people and see the impact of prison on them, them on prison, and all of it on a civilian employee, then definitely give this one a try. ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
From Publishers Weekly
In this captivating memoir, Steinberg, a Harvard grad and struggling obituary writer, spends two years as a librarian and writing instructor at a Boston prison that's an irrepressibly literary place. True, his patrons turn books into weapons (and one robs him while out on parole), but he's beguiled by the rough poetry of inmate essays and "kites"--contraband notes secreted in library books--and entranced by the "skywriting" with which they semaphore messages letter-by-letter across the courtyard. And there's always an informal colloquium of prostitutes, thieves, and drug dealers convened at the checkout desk, discussing everything from Steinberg's love life to the "gangsta" subculture of Hasidic Jews. Gradually, the prison pulls him in and undermines his bemused neutrality. He helps a forlorn female prisoner communicate with her inmate son, develops a dangerous beef with a guard, and finds himself collaborating on the memoir of a charismatic pimp whose seductive rap disguises a nasty rap sheet; he has to choose sides, make queasy compromises, and decide between rules and loyalty. Steinberg writes a stylish prose that blends deadpan wit with an acute moral seriousness. The result is a fine portrait of prison life and the thwarted humanity that courses through it. (Oct. 26) (c)
Copyright © PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. ( )
  WayCriminalJustice | Apr 8, 2016 |
I have secretly wanted to be a prison librarian for many years, so I was eager to read this memoir from someone who had done it. I found his honesty about his role in the prison, his relationship with the inmates and officers, and his conflicts with his own past thoughtful and well-written without being conclusive or judgmental. The author represents his own complicated feelings without being afraid to admit his many mistakes in interactions with the incarcerated and the civil servants who work with them. This is a book about respect for those who seek answers and I hope to be a better librarian for having read it, regardless of the population I serve. ( )
  jeangabrielle | Mar 13, 2016 |
I have secretly wanted to be a prison librarian for many years, so I was eager to read this memoir from someone who had done it. I found his honesty about his role in the prison, his relationship with the inmates and officers, and his conflicts with his own past thoughtful and well-written without being conclusive or judgmental. The author represents his own complicated feelings without being afraid to admit his many mistakes in interactions with the incarcerated and the civil servants who work with them. This is a book about respect for those who seek answers and I hope to be a better librarian for having read it, regardless of the population I serve. ( )
  jeangabrielle | Mar 13, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Avi Steinberg’s memoir, “Running the Books,” about his job as a prison librarian at “the Bay” — the Suffolk County House of Correction in South Bay near Boston — gets off to an obnoxious start.

Mr. Steinberg is a self-described “asthmatic Jewish kid,” a young Harvard graduate and a stalled novelist. He applied for the prison library job when he saw it posted on Craigslist. He needed the health insurance. Probably he needed a book idea too.

The early bits of “Running the Books” are as hopped-up as a spaniel with a new rubber ball. The tone is, more or less, “Augusten Burroughs Goes to the Clink.” Here’s a not atypical passage: “It was official. I was now on the side of angels. The Po-Po. The Fuzz. The Heat. The Big Blue Machine.”

But a funny thing happens to “Running the Books” as it inches forward. Mr. Steinberg’s sentences start to pop out at you, at first because they’re funny and then because they’re acidly funny. The book slows down. It blossoms. Mr. Steinberg proves to be a keen observer, and a morally serious one. His memoir is wriggling and alive — as involving, and as layered, as a good coming-of-age novel.

The humor bubbles up organically. When a homophobic prisoner learns about a book called “Queer Theory: An Introduction,” he bellows in agony: “They got theories now?” Mr. Steinberg gets this advice from a prison staff member on how to comport himself: “Don’t smile. This isn’t the Gap.” He listens bemusedly to one inmate’s intricate disquisition on why pimping, he relates, is “the great male art form, the art form to which all others aspired.”

Explaining his relatively pampered Orthodox Jewish background, Mr. Steinberg reports: “My yeshiva high school’s basketball team was named not the Tigers or the Hawks, but the MCATS. As in, the Medical College Admission Test.” . . .
added by PLReader | editNY Times, Dwight Garner (Oct 19, 2010)
 
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Epigraph
February 19. Hopes?February 20. Unnoticeable life. Noticeable failure.February 25. A letter.-FROM KAFKA'S DIARY, 1922
Dedication
To my family
First words
Pimps make the best librarians. Psycho killers, the worst.
Quotations
What in Flannery O'Connor's countenance met with Solitary's approval?
"I dunno," she said. "She looks kind of busted up, y'know? She ain't too pretty. I trust her."
She also informed me, in praise of her friend, that "hoes make the best librarians." Why? "Because they know how to be sweet but they will bust yo' ass if you get out of line."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385529090, Hardcover)

Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to Harvard, he has only a senior thesis essay on Bugs Bunny to show for his effort. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing. And his romantic existence as a freelance obituary writer just isn’t cutting it. Seeking direction—and dental insurance—Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison.
 
The prison library counter, his new post, attracts con men, minor prophets, ghosts, and an assortment of quirky regulars searching for the perfect book and a connection to the outside world. There’s an anxious pimp who solicits Steinberg’s help in writing a memoir. A passionate gangster who dreams of hosting a cooking show titled Thug Sizzle. A disgruntled officer who instigates a major feud over a Post-it note. A doomed ex-stripper who asks Steinberg to orchestrate a reunion with her estranged son, himself an inmate. Over time, Steinberg is drawn into the accidental community of outcasts that has formed among his bookshelves — a drama he recounts with heartbreak and humor. But when the struggles of the prison library — between life and death, love and loyalty — become personal, Steinberg is forced to take sides.

Running the Books is a trenchant exploration of prison culture and an entertaining tale of one young man’s earnest attempt to find his place in the world while trying not to get fired in the process. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:34 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In this captivating memoir, Steinberg, a Harvard grad and struggling obituary writer, spends two years as a librarian and writing instructor at a Boston prison, attracting con men, minor prophets, ghosts, and an assortment of quirky regulars searching for the perfect book and a connection to the outside world.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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