Tag Archives: Running the Books

Jailhouse Rock

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday; $24.95; 416 pages)

“…many of the prophets were either criminals, or prisoners, or had spent time among criminals.”

Avi Steinberg’s story will ring true for anyone who has ever worked inside of or visited a prison.   This is the account of a Harvard graduate, a once highly ambitious and religious person, who accepts a job among society’s outcasts.   Steinberg worked as a freelance writer before being hired as an afternoon shift librarian in Boston’s oldest prison.   He winds up, in Running the Books, telling some great stories of the inmates he was both attracted to and repelled by.   This, however, leads to one of the faults with this telling…  The author never seems to be sure whether the inmates he worked among were unlucky people who were not truly bad, or truly bad people who may have been fortunate to be incarcerated (a number of the inmates died of drug overdoses and violence after being released).

This is like one of those nonfiction narratives where someone with money decides to live without a job to see what it’s like among the working poor.   Here, an upper middle class highly educated young man goes to work in an alien culture and writes about it.   What seems to be lacking is the life’s lesson to be learned from it all.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Giving Away the Books

Thanks to Doubleday Publishing, we have three (3) copies to give away of a memoir that was released just a week ago today, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg.   This hardcover release with a Deckle Edge has a value of $26.00 and runs 416 pages.   Here is the official synopsis:

 “Avi Steinberg is stumped.   While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his Harvard education and Orthodox Jewish upbringing.   And his romantic existence as a freelance obituary writer just isn’t cutting it.   Seeking direction – and dental insurance – Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison.   Over time, Steinberg is drawn into the accidental community of outcasts that has formed among his bookshelves – a drama he recounts with heartbreak and humor.   But when the struggles of the prison library – between life and death, love and loyalty – become personal, Steinberg is forced to take sides.   Running the Books is a trenchant exploration of prison culture and an entertaining tale of one young man’s earnest attempt to find his place in the world while trying not to get fired in the process.”

Here are some early comments on this book:

“Acidly funny…  Steinberg proves to be a keen observer, and a morally serious one.   His memoir is wriggling and alive – as involving, and as layered, as a good coming-of-age novel.”   Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Hysterical, ingenious, illuminating.   I wish I had left yeshiva for prison right away.”   Gary Shteyngart, bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story.

Running the Books presents [Steinberg’s] experiences working in the prison’s library as a fiendishly intricate moral puzzle, sad and scary, yes, but also – and often – very funny.”   Salon.com

If you would like to try to win one of the three available copies of this unique – and clearly funny – memoir, just post a comment here or send an e-mail with your name and e-mail address to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   To submit a second entry, tell us briefly about the most unusual or strange job you’ve ever had.   Did you like it or hate it?   Did you learn anything from it?

This is it for the complex contest rules.   To be eligible for this giveaway, you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address.   Books cannot be shipped to P. O. boxes or business-related addresses.  As always, the winners will be drawn at random by our experienced contest administrator, Munchy the cat.   (Munchy reserves the right to change this contest’s rules and/or dates at any time.   That’s because he’s the boss.)  

You have until midnight PST on Saturday, November 20, 2010 to get your entry or entries in.   Good luck and good reading!

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