I have been known to make fun of my lawyer friends for reading books about lawyers, so I felt a little self-conscious when I started to read Running the Books: the Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. Avi Steinberg’s account of working in a Boston prison library alternates between thoughtful explorations of prisoners’ lives and prison culture and laugh out loud stories involving people he encounters; both guards and inmates.
He starts teaching writing classes in the prison and has one class of women who want to see pictures of the authors before deciding whether they will read her/his book. He decides to incorporate this into his class, passing around a picture and having them write down their impressions of the author and then write down their vote. They like Toni Morrison, think Federico Garcia Lorca is trouble, sense that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a liar, and one woman votes, “Hellzz ya!!,” for Walt Whitman.
Stories like this and accounts of an inmate with a plan to become a TV chef, a pimp writing a memoir, and the time, mid-mugging, Avi and mugger recognize each other makes for a great read.
Running the Books