Title: Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
Author: Avi Steinberg
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publication Date: October 19, 2010
Hardcover: 416 pages
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.
Absolutely stunning, Running The Books: The Adventure of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg is a surprising gem of a memoir and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Steinberg introduces us to his life, as a young Harvard graduate and lapsed Orthodox Jew, searching for what to do with his life. After a stint of writing obituaries, Steinberg quickly realises he needs a job that pays well and offers benefits which leads him to become the librarian at a Boston prison. Steinberg’s memoir is expertly written, taking the reader deep into not only Steinberg’s life, but also into the lives of those who work or are incarcerated within the prison. Alternating from deadly serious to light hearted and funny, Running The Books will take the reader on an extraordinary ride as Steinberg learns the ropes of prison life and the hierarchy of which he is the lowest. Vividly detailed and descriptive, I must point out that considering the very nature of the book, Steinberg does indeed use strong language and prison slang, a warning for those easily offended. The use of the language did not offend me considering the context in which it is used, yet I would have been remiss not to mention it. Running The Books: The Adventure of an Accidental Prison Librarian is a thoroughly engaging and intriguing memoir and is written in a unique manner, one that appears to mature as Steinberg finds his way. I truly enjoyed Running The Books: The Adventure of an Accidental Prison Librarian and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a slightly different type of book or anyone who enjoys memoirs.
AVI STEINBERG was born in Jerusalem and raised in Cleveland and Boston. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Review of Books, Salon, and other publications. To learn more please visit his website.
I received a complimentary copy of Running the Books by Avi Steinberg from Doubleday to review. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.