Diane Ferbrache's Reviews > Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
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's review
Dec 07, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: about-books, libraries, memoir
Read from November 24 to December 01, 2010

I bought this book because it was about a librarian. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I mistakenly thought it was by the children's/YA book author Avi. It's not, but that's just fine!!

Avi Steinberg was raised in Boston in an Orthodox Jewish family and, in his teens, dedicated his life to study of scripture and Jewish law, even spending time studying in Israel. As he matured, though, he became discouraged and left that life to become a journalist, but found himself writing obituaries, something that left him less than satisfied. He left that job to become (of all things) a prison librarian. This is the story of those two years.

I was certainly intrigued by the comings and goings in the library and Avi's sometimes very funny accounts. His journalistic approach is incredibly readable, and I was sucked into the story from the first chapter. I could not put this book down. In addition to the obvious appeal for a fellow librarian (me!), Avi's descriptions are vivid and put the reader right inside the prison doors. Every character is alive and vividly real. He shares a handful of prisoner's stories in detail. I laughed and I cried. The most impressive part of this book is how Avi humanizes the prison staff and prisoners without creating romanticized characters. These are people who have done some really bad things and are paying the price. The staff is hard-working and dedicated, but they are not all "good guys" either. There are some follow-up stories of released prisoners that bring the reader right into their homes. This is a totally captivating book, an intimate glimpse into a world that most of us (thankfully!) will never know.
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