Audio Book Review: Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Ste...
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This is the summary of Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg (Author), Dustin Rubin (Narrator).
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Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
by Avi Steinberg
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Anchor (October 4, 2011)
Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to attend Harvard, he has nothing but a senior thesis on Bugs Bunny to show for himself. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, Steinberg remains stuck at a crossroads, his "romantic" existence as a freelance obituary writer no longer cutting it.
Seeking direction (and dental insurance) Steinberg takes a job running the library counter at a Boston prison. He is quickly drawn into the community of outcasts that forms among his bookshelves-an assortment of quirky regulars, including con men, pimps, minor prophets, even ghosts-all searching for the perfect book and a connection to the outside world. Steinberg recounts their daily dramas with heartbreak and humor in this one-of-a-kind memoir-a piercing exploration of prison culture and an entertaining tale of one young man's earnest attempt to find his place in the world.
A few years after graduating from Harvard, Avi Steinberg is stumped. While his friends are getting married and getting promoted, Steinberg has grown dissatisfied with the insularities of his upbringing, from the Orthodox Jewish sense of "chosenness" to his Ivy League education, its secular counterpart. Anxious to shed the ideologies of his background, and seeking direction, Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison. He's about as far from his comfort zone as he can get.
Steinberg's new quarters attract a crowd of quirky regulars seeking connection with the outside world, among them an amiable pimp who solicits Steinberg's help in writing his memoir, an industrious gangster who dreams of hosting a cooking show titled Thug Sizzle, a tyrannical officer who instigates a major altercation over a Post-it note, and an ex-stripper who asks Steinberg to orchestrate a reunion with her estranged son when he unexpectedly shows up behind bars. Over time, Steinberg creates a unique community for these outcasts and forms unlikely personal relationships, which he recounts with heartbreak and humor. His experience leads him to a deeper sense of purpose and turns him into the person that a yeshiva never could.
Running the Books is a trenchant exploration of prison culture and a refreshingly entertaining tale of one young man's earnest attempt to find his place in the world.
In this captivating memoir, Steinberg, a Harvard grad and struggling obituary writer, spends two years as a librarian and writing instructor at a Boston prison that's an irrepressibly literary place. True, his patrons turn books into weapons (and one robs him while out on parole), but he's beguiled by the rough poetry of inmate essays and "kites"--contraband notes secreted in library books--and entranced by the "skywriting" with which they semaphore messages letter-by-letter across the courtyard. And there's always an informal colloquium of prostitutes, thieves, and drug dealers convened at the checkout desk, discussing everything from Steinberg's love life to the "gangsta" subculture of Hasidic Jews. Gradually, the prison pulls him in and undermines his bemused neutrality. He helps a forlorn female prisoner communicate with her inmate son, develops a dangerous beef with a guard, and finds himself collaborating on the memoir of a charismatic pimp whose seductive rap disguises a nasty rap sheet; he has to choose sides, make queasy compromises, and decide between rules and loyalty. Steinberg writes a stylish prose that blends deadpan wit with an acute moral seriousness. The result is a fine portrait of prison life and the thwarted humanity that courses through it.
When Steinberg graduated from Harvard, he expected to become a rabbi, but neither his faith nor his chosen lifestyle made that a suitable career choice. As a stopgap, he applied to work in a Boston jail library. There he was responsible not only for the day-to-day functioning of the library but also for teaching inmates creative writing. A dedicated intellectual and instinctively diffident, he was almost too easy prey for tough, aggressive, streetwise, ever-conniving criminals. To his chagrin, the hard-bitten prison staff equally tested his presuppositions about humanity's benevolence. Caroming instantaneously from profane comedy to abysmal tragedy, Steinberg recounts his struggles to relate humanely to people at the edge of society. Prison librarianship offers some of the profession's greatest challenges, and Steinberg tells just what it's like to suddenly recognize that the mugger attacking him in the park was the same guy he had checked out some books to a few months earlier.