Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian is advertised as a David Sedaris style read, one that is supposed to amuse, enlighten, and dissect everyday life. While Steinberg is a capable writer, one with an MFA and journalism background to boot, the text fails to live up to the expectations that I had after hearing the author on Radiolab on NPR.
While an enjoyable read, the narrative walks the reader through the author’s life as a prison librarian in Boston. Part of the narrative is fascinating, especially as Steinberg digs into working in a prison and relays touching stories of inmates. He details their hopes and dreams, touches on their crimes, and works to justify their existence first to himself and then to the reader. That said, Steinberg tends to fail in selling himself. While the reader finds a multitude of ways to entertain with the quirks of the prison and his interactions with guards and inmates, Steinberg himself fails to pop as a character. We read about his love life in passing, his friends in the same vein. His reasoning for leaving the prison is inferred, but not explained, while his entrance into the facility is drawn out. Yes, the book is enjoyable but at times the narrative fails to hold together as a whole, and in doing so, it just ends. I was fine with it ending, but wanted more from said finish.