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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

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  206 ratings  ·  43 reviews
In December 2008, twentysomething Jill Grunenwald graduated with her master’s degree in library science, ready to start living her dream of becoming a librarian. But the economy had a different idea. As the Great Recession reared its ugly head, jobs were scarce. After some searching, however, Jill was lucky enough to snag one of the few librarian gigs left in her home stat ...more
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published July 2nd 2019 by Skyhorse
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3.54  · 
Rating details
 ·  206 ratings  ·  43 reviews


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Kate ☀️ Olson
➕➗ Review math:
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5 ⭐ for the prison library topic
3 ⭐ for the actual writing
2 ⭐ for the voice
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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.
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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
...more
Elizabeth
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 paperba
...more
Jenna
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
...more
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.
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 recessi
...more
Melinda
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.
Cari
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book. Review to come in Booklist.
Heather
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 bo ...more
Emmy
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 mig
...more
Chrissy
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 w ...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
...more
Joscelyn
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 shoestri ...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
Katrina Shawver
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I just finished Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald. What a fascinating memoir by a librarian who worked in a men's minimum-security prison, as the only job she could get with a freshly-minted MLS degree. Reading geeks, and of course librarians will love this - but it is also an easy, engaging read for a book club, almost conversational in tone. The author is so well-read she frequently uses phrases from other books most will recognize, and is honest about her shortcomings and successes. Most ...more
Julianne2girls
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wasn't sure what to think going into this book, but it intrigued me. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Other than one or two small typos and one grammar error, this book was a very quick read and hard to put down. I started Wednesday morning before work and was done by Sunday night.
"Reading Behind Bars" is a fantastic memoir that shows how Jill (the author) grew with her first librarian position after college be one in a Correctional Facility. It shows ths reader how both the inmates
...more
Brandi
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a fantastic read. Jill’s a great writer, and her personality really shines through in her story. It was super interesting to learn about the ins and outs of working in a prison.

It was good timing for me to read this, too, since I just finished Orange Is the New Black and was emotional about saying goodbye to the ladies of Litchfield. How nice to read about prison workers who actually want to help their charges and make their days brighter.

I really liked how Jill kept comparing her real-li
...more
Kim
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An honest, unflinching and sometimes humorous look at the work of a library who serves a prison population. Although the author worked in a minimum security prison, she was still on guard for some of her time there. She even developed a kind of friendly relationship with some of the men there. Her compassion and caring were evident, along with the sheer exhaustion of working in such a structured environment. After reading this book, I am inspired to donate books to prison libraries as the qualit ...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 pict
...more
L G
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Audra
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing

This book was amazing. I love listening to Jill on the Professional Book nerd ms podcast. So when reading this I could totally hear her voice. The picture she presented is so clear. As 8 read her story I felt as if I was right next to her in the Prison (so glad I wasn’t ). Jill does a tremendous job at telling her story. Thanks so much for doing this project. A library in the prison system had not crossed my mind. I am great full because now I know what to do with all the books I have fin
...more
Sheri S.
Aug 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Grunenwald didn't set out to be a prison librarian but this was the job she found after completing her master's degree. The prison library is without an electronic catalog, the books are overall dated and she has a huge stack of donations to process that the previous librarian never completed. Grunenwald discusses the challenges associated with running a prison library and how out of her comfort zone she feels at the prison. She records entertaining as well as concerning interactions with inmate ...more
Lesley
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.
Kay Wright
Sep 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Read about 50 pages of this highly detailed memoir of working in an Ohio prison not far from where I live. Built under the Voinovich administration, Grafton is a minimum security prison that provided life, meaning jobs, to a dying community. Her story is okay, there have been better books written about being a prison librarian, but just not that interesting. Her cutesy asides became irritating very quickly and I set the book aside with no intention of coming back to it.
Evelyn Cronin
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another homerun book!

I have waited to get my hands on this book because I love Ms. Grunenwald's perspective on her life and the world around her. I'm not sure I was aware that prisons had libraries until reading Ms. G's bio and I love that this memoir gives those on the outside an honest look into prison life and what is required to work in one - the ability to let go of bias and assumptions and too see people for who they are and not what they've done.
Danielle
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
When Jill Grunenwald graduated from library school in 2008 library jobs were in scarce supply, so she wound up working in a minimum security men's prison. She shares her stories of working the prison for just under 2 years. There were some interesting stories, but the book definitely felt like an amateur memoir and over-familiarly written.
Kimberly  Tilly
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this book.

Jill, met you at the CLE marathon expo and bought your book about running. Am hooked on you as an author and love your perspective and humor. The way that you intertwine authors and books shows you care about your craft. It’s a pleasure to share your love for reading and this city. Hope I see you out sometime, I owe you a beer for all the laughs.
Marie
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: prisons
No one inside could watch time marching on.

Keep your shit at the gate.

At least momentarily, this can make the rest of the shit in my life not matter.

Work smarter, not harder.

All about those tradeoffs.
Jennifer Myers
Aug 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Insightful- I love libraries and it makes me feel good knowing that even if people are incarcerated, they have an opportunity to expand their knowledge and education. Easy read and "Ms. G" has a witty writing style.
Lynn
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
A compelling look inside a prison library, with a nod to Avi Steinberg's *Running the Books*, this time narrated by a young woman, which gives a whole new perspective to a whole new set of situations.

I read this EARC courtesy of Skyhorse Publications and Edelweiss. pub date 07/02/19
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