Running the BooksThe Adventures of An Accidental Prison Librarian

Aug 31, 2011

“Pimps make the best librarians. Psycho killers, the worst. Ditto con men…This is at least what I’m told. I wouldn’t know. I’m not a pimp. I’m in a different sort of racket. My name is Avi Steinberg, but in the joint, they call me Bookie.”

While helping a friend of his family look for a job, Avi Steinberg comes across a Craigslist ad for a prison librarian. Out of curiosity, and against the advice of everyone he knows, Avi applies for the job. Rabbi Blumenthal is especially disapproving. Avi should be involved in the Jewish community. Why would he waste time working in a prison? Is prison any place for a good Jewish boy? But, “nearly every single one of the prophets was either a criminal or had spent time among criminals. Clearly the prophets themselves believed there was something to learn in prison, even if Rabbi Blumenthal did not.” And so, Avi shaves his head in order to pass the drug test and heads off to work with a brand new sheriff’s badge in his pocket.

 In prison Avi struggles to get along with insecure and petty veteran guards, navigates foreign relationships with charming and manipulative inmates, and wrestles with various opinions of what the role of a prison library really is. But he also experiences the beauty of kites (notes passed between prisoners through library books), underdogs, and “small graceful actions, repeated often and refined with time”.

 While Avi only lasts two years at the prison library, he obviously cares about his charges. That care makes for relationships simultaneously heart-felt and confusing, some of which are, at times, tenuous. That care is also what makes staying an impossibility.

Reviewed by Helen H.
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