Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Running the Books (2010)

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison LibrarianRunning the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading a review of this book a number of months back, I requested that our library get a copy and they did! I was pleasantly surprised to receive notice that it was waiting for me at my local branch. It appealed to me because I was also 'an accidental prison librarian' briefly at the State Prison of Southern Michigan back in the late 80s and I wanted to see if this author 'got it'. He absolutely did.

A few years after graduating from Harvard, Avi Steinberg looked around and noticed that his friends and classmates were 'advancing' in the world. He had nothing to show for his efforts and took the job as a prison librarian to gain some stability in his life.

Avi Steinberg's book is more than just a litany of the things that happen in a prison library. He manages to show the human aspect and the complexity of trying to survive in that environment whether you are a prisoner or a civilian. All the while he is trying to find his purpose in the world. Although our experiences varied, I relived many of the days I spent inside the walls through his eyes. It angers me whenever someone talks about inmates being coddled in prison. And I can still remember the day I cried. Everyone cries in prison.

I didn't know any people who were murdered until I worked at the prison. For several years after I left, I would see names of people I recognized in the paper, who had been killed at the prison. It is a disconcerting world and difficult to escape. In this I could relate on a much smaller scale to the losses Avi experiences - the loss of possibilities.

And I don't want to forget to mention the cover of the book. It is a portrait of Avi composed of date due stamps in a rainbow of colors. Clever and appropriate, it adds a light touch to what is truly a difficult two years in prison. If you choose to read this book, you will emerge with a different mind set and a changed view of the place of prisons in our society.

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