Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In retrospect, it’s perhaps not so strange that a book by a prison librarian contains violence, references to drugs and sex, and lots of bad language. Never fear, there’s good language, too—enough so I liked the book in spite of myself.
Avi Steinberg: young (20-30 something), privileged in spite of his outsider status as a Hasidic Jew; intellectual Harvard graduate; freelance obituary writer for the Boston Globe. He applies for the job of prison librarian, already wise to the desirability of a steady government job with benefits. He gets it, and sticks it out for two years. This is, of course, a dream scenario for any would-be writer. Danger in the dirty underbelly of society, almost as much street cred as going to war: one can feel this type of distance and excitement as Avi starts his story and his job. Avi is a sensitive guy, though, and he cares. Avi’s heart is the thing that gets him accepted into this prison culture of sheriff vs. prisoner, staff vs. inmate, poverty vs. privilege; it’s the thing that will ensure his eventual departure, as well.
It’s not only about the volumes on the shelves and what their authors wrote. The library is a place where love letters are left and found, literature of the desperate.
“Look for me. Love me, even if we can’t touch. I’m the third window from the top on the left.” Prison is a place of broken hearts and failed dreams and hope is precious and rare. The book is worth the read.
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