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Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian
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Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  434 ratings  ·  100 reviews
“A fascinating look into a world many of us never see, and a powerful story about one woman’s journey to find her own strength, with a clear message of the importance of books and information for all.” Booklist (American Library Association), starred review

Shortlisted for the 2020 Social Justice & Advocacy Book Award by In the Margins Book Awards.

In December 2008,
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published July 2nd 2019 by Skyhorse
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Average rating 3.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  434 ratings  ·  100 reviews

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mindful.librarian ☀️
Review math:
5 for the prison library topic
3 for the actual writing
2 for the voice
Overall = 3.3333 and worth reading if you are a MAJOR library nerd like me and want any library memoir you can get your hands on. If you only ever want to read ONE book about libraries, try THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean.
I just didn’t love the super casual, irreverent and often profane tone and I think there could have been several more rounds of editing to eradicate some repetitions of content. But most
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
When I read the synopsis of the book trying to determine if it was worth checking out at the library (irony), I had thought it would be more about a real human experience with these inmates. Instead, I felt like I was just reading about someone's job, like, literally, anyone could write a book about their time on their job. Where was the meat? The real human experience? I didn't get it. I think her best writing was in the epilogue and wished that bit of deepness would have carried through the ...more
Kept my interest and I learned a bit about prisons. A little too much profanity out of the librarian’s mouth. Could have done without that and it certainly wasn’t necessary at getting the point across. Proof reading was lax throughout, but to a small extent.

I thought it was funny she said the most requested books were by JD Robb and Nora Roberts. Romance books were very popular even though this was a men’s prison.

Oh another tidbit I found interesting.. the prison library could only carry
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I hope this book leads more people to donate to and support prison library programs.
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this to be an incredibly enthralling read. I read almost all of it over the course of a weekend. I simply couldn’t put it down.

I'm a big library nerd. I've always been pretty active in my own libraries. One of the first steps I take when moving to a new town is getting my library card. I just love being in libraries.

But prison libraries are something that I never really gave much thought to. Neither did Jill prior to landing a job at one, it turns out. Throughout the book, you’ll learn
Allison Carmola
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for this advance copy.

I enjoyed this book. Full disclosure, I am a librarian so I like reading about librarians, but I do think this book has a wider appeal. It starts a little slow, and especially near the beginning there were things about the writing style that annoyed me. But the characters and situations are interesting, and I was fully engaged by the end.
Alexandra Robbins
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is not enough literature representing librarians – the guardians of books – or the incarcerated, who are under constant guard. Grunenwald amiably gives voice to both in an important, interesting memoir that celebrates the liberating power of literature and the right to the freedom to read.
Christina Autumn
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Read a hundred pages. I'll read anything about libraries, but the author is a poor writer and she's obnoxious. I would love to read a book on this topic by someone else!
Kelly Magro
Satisfied my curiosity of what a prison librarian's job might entail. Interesting behind the scenes look at a low security prison. Definitely not a page turner and was slow and boring in a lot of areas. I wanted more from this.
Neelam Babul
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love reading and every time I see the words book, library, book club, reading I have to read that book.

Jill writes an impressive narrative of her role as a librarian working in a prison. At the beginning of each chapter, the reader is given an example of a prison rule in place for the safety of the inmates as well as the staff working there.

The book also talks about her life during her tenure as a librarian in prison. She accepted the job since jobs were scarce during those times and
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book but I felt like at times (a lot if times) her stories were padded with words. The topic, while interesting, was covered very flatly. I nearly snapped the book shut twice when she described in detail how she was wheeling a cart with punch on it in great detail down a hallway and then again when she had to describe how her co-worker parked the van they took to a conference in the prison parking lot (she left space behind the van so they could maneuver it when they ...more
Kelly K
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
As a public librarian, I found this surprisingly tame. We've had all of these characters in and more on a daily basis without a panic button or correctional officer at our beck and call. When I worked at our main branch directly down the road from the police station, it would still take them 20-30 minutes to arrive if we called.
Anyways, back to the book. It was definitely entertaining and I enjoyed the insight as to what it was like working in a prison library, especially one I could easily
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Hard to finish, to be honest. The content was fine, but the writing style was irritating in that it definitely felt written from the perspective of someone who hadn't had a friend/loved one incarcerated or done enough anti-oppression self-work to effectively build a class/race narrative for solidarity with patrons. Prison libraries have a pretty incredible, revolutionary history and I just wasn't feeling that reflected in this.
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author describes the ins and outs of life in prison from an unlikely place- the prison library. For these inmates, the library is more than a place with books, it’s a haven. This book is an easy read that’s both enjoyable and thought provoking, and one fact is very clear throughout- Ms. G is definitely a gangster.
I received an advance copy from the publisher and Edelweiss. This is my honest review.
Jill MacRae
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Egad it was bad. The writing and editing are appalling. The whole book has the tone of a "what I did on vacation" essay. The author claims to have advanced degrees in writing yet her style offers no grounds to believe this. Some of the anecdotes she relates that show errors in judgement and action, are evidence of a serious lack of emotional maturity which she somehow shrugs off as standard for an introvert. Didn't like the book or the author.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book. Review to come in Booklist.
Myra Rodriguez
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an extremely information book and quite easy to read, yet I did not finish this book. I love Orange is the New Black and Oz, so this book's title appealed to me. It shared a realistic view of prison life without all the drama that is needed in making a show but with from a unique point of view - the new librarian. This book starts at the beginning of her career as a young graduate searching for the perfect job, finding it and coping as a young female in a male prison while doing ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
I provide library service in NYC's jails, so I was eager to read this book. But DAMN, this was...not good. It read slightly better than a first draft, so a long way from what a polished, published book should be. Given that the publisher is Skyhorse, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

While reading, the lazy writing and constant Harry Potter references annoyed me (it took me three weeks to finish this). But in the end, I just didn't get what the point of the book was. What were people supposed to
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it
A light, nicely written, easy-to-read memoir. There is a bit of language and discussion of situations found in prisons.
Dec 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, 2019-read
2.5 Stars
sonja Kreshel
Awful. Skip it
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
It was a bit repetitive. And there were numerous errors missed by proofreaders. But it was an interesting subject that held my interest.
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a fascinating book! When I first picked this up, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I've read books about prison experiences before, including Behind the Gates of Gomorrah and The Maximum Security Book Club, but I think this was my favorite. Perhaps it was because the story takes place in a library. Or maybe it was just Grunenwald's writing voice. Regardless of the reason, I found this a very hard book to put down.

The beginning was a bit slow, and there was a moment when I thought I
Jason Braatz
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fun-reads
Fun read! The author is a librarian with the benefit of being able to write quite well.

The author states up front that it's written as a memoir, but I believe a better description would be to describe it as a collection of smaller stories about a woman's recent 2-year journey as a prison librarian for a low-security prison. Ms. Grunenwald writes from her own vantage point and each chapter is centralized on a different quirky anecdotes or small story.

This is a light (in the context of the
4.5 stars! I loved hearing Jill's experiences at the library and related to her love of both books and organization sooo much. This book made me want to change my major to library science! The reason it isn't five stars is because I had a hard time sometimes when reading about her personal struggles, even without comparing her situation with the inmates. I started to get especially peeved every time she complained about the early alarm at 5am, but that's probably because that's been the normal ...more
Megan Palasik
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I read this book in 3 days, which is quite the feat for me! It was hard to put down.
Jill writes an easy to read narrative of her adventures as a newly minted librarian working in a prison. Her style is conversational, as if you are sitting over coffee and updating a friend on your life (with humorous Harry Potter references and asides). This style will make you laugh out loud at times and gasp at others.
At the beginning of each chapter, the reader is given an example of a prison rule in place
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I love libraries and have thought when I grow up (aka retire) I want to be a librarian. Therefore I was curious to read about an aspiring librarian who's first job is within a prison. To be honest I didn't realize prisons had libraries. Grunewald, or Ms G provides insight into what it is like inside the walls of a minimum security prison, the rules and the highly structured days. She introduces some interesting characters and explains some of the challenges of improving the library on a ...more
Jan 03, 2020 rated it liked it
A friend recommended this book because she knew I volunteered at a prison book club. "Reading Behind Bars" has its moments, especially in the latter half, but I would not recommend purchasing it at $34.99 Canadian. Why? It's a combination of problems: overstated drama that is insufficiently resolved and not all that dramatic, excessive detail for the sake of detail, too many allusions to YA literature, and, perhaps most of all, the title and its implicit promise—this is a minimum security ...more
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Getting through this memoir was a bit like taking a long hike through a bog. I mostly enjoyed this interesting and personal look at one woman’s experience during her short(20 month) but memorable stint as a prison librarian. I thought her voice was authentic to a woman of her age, and I certainly had my eyes opened to the happenings in a prison, even a minimum security one. I did find there was repetition of some of her anecdotes; the copy editing could have been better at reducing that. Also I ...more
Carol Brite
Aug 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was looking at my library's new book list and this was book caught my interest. I also have a library degree and actually considered working in a prison library at one point. Although I did not end up in a prison library, this book gave a look at what I might have experienced. I thought Ms. Grunenwald, also known as Ms. G, showed how much a library can mean to someone. It was interesting to see her interactions and how she grew while working there. Ms. Grunenwald also demonstrated that hope is ...more
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