T.W. Brown's Reviews > Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
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Sep 13, 2011

it was amazing
Read in January, 2011

Running The Books by Avi Steinberg is one of those titles that stands out as very different from what I am known for reading. No zombies or vampires here. However, it does take the reader inside prison...a concept I AM familiar with.

As somebody familiar with the prison environment, I'm always interested in the mythology that swirls about involving the realm of incarceration. Television--for whatever reason--likes to glamorize the worst of the worst. The tendency is to feature the outlandish wanna-be trannies and the violently anti-social.

Running With The Books is more than just a peek inside the Big House. It is about a man who makes parallel discoveries about his own life and the lives of the inmates he meets at his post as a prison librarian. It is amazing what a person can discover about his own life when watching others.

As somebody who knows, it was fascinating to see the mind of a "civilian" struggle with dealing face-to-face with inmates. There were moments while reading and I would find myself saying, "Avi, you are gonna get screwed." It was tough to read at times...realizing before the writer that he had committed a terrible mistake in an unforgiving environment.

I can say firsthand that there is a real desire among the incarcerated to be treated and thought of as regular men and women. However, it is one of the biggest mistakes that a civilian worker or CO can make inside the fence.

While it is one thing to help and invest time helping an inmate who is trying to better themself...it takes a lot of discipline to not cross a very blurry line. For every "honest" inmate trying to make positive changes in their lives, there are ten who will abuse any act of charity and kindness. That is a painful thing to say as somebody who has been locked up, but it is the truth.

I could go on forever about that subject, but this is a book review, not a dissertation for a psyche class on the mindset of the incarcerated. Running the Books is a fascinating read...for both sides: civilians and the incarcerated. It would be a brilliant book club selection and spark some fascinating dialog. (Especially if a prison book club were to read it. Yes, such things DO exist.)

If you know somebody who is locked up, send them the book. Otherwise, it is a wonderful and fascinating drama. Steinberg draws you in, not only to his story, but the multitude of stories that unfold around him.
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