Review: Running the Books – Avi Steinberg

I’ve been talking to everyone about this book, telling them how good it is and so on and so on. However, for some reason I found that it took me a very long time to read this book. I don’t think this has anything to do with the lack of witty content, I think it’s more related to the fact that my life has been pretty hectic lately and reading has taken a back seat. I think my drought is over though and the book I’m reading now seems to have sparked my reading bug again!

Okay on to my review of Avi Steinberg’s, “Running the Books“. As the subtitle indicates, it’s the “adventures of an accidental prison librarian”. Accidental is pretty accurate as Avi is a Harvard graduate, looking for a job that provides health care benefits and comes across a job offering on Craigslist as a prison librarian. In an attempt to ensure he is fully covered (benefit wise), he takes a chance and interviews for the position. Shocking to him (as well as other prison guards) Avi is offered the position and takes us, the reader, on a journey with him as he works at the Suffolk County House of Correction located near Boston.

We are introduced to many inmates that play an intricate role in Avi’s world. One of my favorite inmates that we are introduced to is Jessica, who continuously sits by the window in the library. After a lack of participation, Avi confronts Jessica about what’s so fascinating outside the window onto the basketball court, we then find out that Jessica’s son has also been convicted and after giving him up at a young age, she is able to view him, essentially for the first time. The story of Jessica and her son had me in tears on more than one occasion.

There are other individuals in Avi’s memoir, such as C.C.  Too Sweet, a convicted pimp and a prisoner that has dreams of creating his own cooking show called “Thug Sizzle”. It was filled with a sense of humor that had me chuckling at parts, but also filled with sincerity that had me thinking about how people end up in compromising positions that rob them of their freedom.

Many of the prisoners get released in the novel, but ultimately Avi expects to see them back in no time, because the world of crime seems to be a never-ending cycle sometimes. Avi is not the least bit phased when one evening he is robbed by a former prisoner, who takes his money and then proceeds to tell him that he still has overdue books. Being an insider in a prison obviously takes an overwhelming impact of Avi’s outlook on life and makes him view the world a little differently.

It’s filled with humor, sadness, and mentions of great literature (including an Oprah book shelf). It’s a coming of age story that shows a young Jewish man searching for some kind of direction. The irony involved is that he had to go to prison (as an employee) to find some clarification about what’s really important in life.

There is a great article about this novel in the New York Times, you can find it here.

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One thought on “Review: Running the Books – Avi Steinberg

  1. Kathleen says:

    This sounds wonderful and inspiring. I can imagine that the author’s life was changed forever because of his job. I’m off to check out the link to the New Yorker article to learn more and will add this to my list to read. Great review, thanks!

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