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

Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
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's review
Oct 06, 2010

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bookshelves: fiction, true-life, librarian
Read from April 14 to 19, 2012

** spoiler alert ** goodreads recommendation

Author Avi Steinberg reflects on his time as a prison librarian - who he met and what he learned from them about himself and about life.

He was raised as an Hsidic Jew, and seriously studied the Talmud and Jewish teachings in high school and for a year in Israel. Then he went to Yale... and he doesn’t definitively state why he abandoned the lifestyle and committment.

He is writing obituaries... not making enough money... and ‘accidently’ falls into the job for four years (and again, doesn’t definitively state why he leaves (something to do with a subtle war between him and some of the guards).

He is never quite at peace with what his role should be as the prison librarian... he tries to find balance with helping inmates out and staying separate - with having an open library and having a library with lots of rules. He relays how another gets in trouble by disposing of a shank for another inmate - the another had good motives, but... And he is constantly at battle, wondering if he is doing too much, inviting too much... where to draw the lines.

Some snippets...

Jessica - in 35-40 years old - in for drugs I think. She joins his writing class so as to watch out the window the exercise yard where her 20 year son is (I don’t know why he was incarcerated) at that time. She left him in a church when he was a baby... And Avi gets caught up. And when she is going to be moved, he encourages her to give something to her son... and she gets made up with snippets of cosmetics from different people, and a paper flower in her hair... and another inmate who only drew tattoos before agrees to sketch her... and she works for weeks on a letter to her son... and Avi contacts her son for her and says she has something for him... but she never delivers... and after she leaves, he finds out she had ripped up the portrait and the letter... he can only speculate on why... but she clearly touched a cord in him.... when his mother leaves to see his dying grandmother - a woman who lived through Germany’s Hitler - and was a bitter woman - and Avi, through Jessica, is better able to understand his grandmother’s withdrawal.

And Cobey or something like that - nickname pimp - and has developed a plan to be a tv chef - gangster sizzle... and Avi is engaged in helping him gather information - and he likes him... but then he runs into an inmate who had been released, in a donut shop, with one of his girls (prostitute on drugs) - and then he googles Cobey and finds out that he had been convicted of trying to force a 14 year old girl into prostit

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