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Download Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian Audiobook, by Avi Steinberg Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.26 out of 53.26 out of 53.26 out of 53.26 out of 53.26 out of 5 3.26 (31 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Avi Steinberg Narrator: Dustin Rubin Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2010 ISBN: 9780307876423
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Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to Harvard, he has only a senior thesis essay on Bugs Bunny to show for his effort. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his 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.

The prison library counter, his new post, attracts con men, minor prophets, ghosts, and an assortment of quirky regulars searching for the perfect book and a connection to the outside world. There’s an anxious pimp who solicits Steinberg’s help in writing a memoir. A passionate gangster who dreams of hosting a cooking show titled Thug Sizzle. A disgruntled officer who instigates a major feud over a Post-it note. A doomed ex-stripper who asks Steinberg to orchestrate a reunion with her estranged son, himself an inmate. 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • I haven't laughed this hard since David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day. Los Angeles Times
  • Acidly funny. . . . Mr. 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. The New York Times
  • “An impressive account of a world that few readers of this newspaper will recognize [written] in wry, captivating prose. The Economist
  • “Steinberg's writing is funny, poignant and accessible. He's the guy you want in front of the campfire because he knows how to tell a good story. . . . The characters pop off the pages — not because they're stereotypical or overly sentimental, but because they're real. Some get saved, others get even more lost, but Steinberg brings them all equally to life — for better or worse. Associated Press
  • “Captivating. . . . 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. Publishers Weekly
  • “Hysterical, ingenious, illuminating. I wish I had left yeshiva for prison right away. Gary Shteyngart, bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story
  • This wonderful memoir is about a prison library, but it’s also about love, religion, Shakespeare, murder, the human condition and Ali G. This is a book for everybody who loves books — felons and non-felons alike. A. J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries
  • Running the Books reads like a cross between Dante's Inferno, Isaac Babel's Red Cavalry, and HBO's The Wire — a narrative rife with moral compromises, power games, and moments of redemption.  As he navigates the perilous and often absurd ins and outs of a punitive institution, Avi Steinberg shares his love of the written word with an incredibly diverse array of convicted felons.  Whether he is discussing Sylvia Plath with a fragile prostitute, compiling recipes for a gang member who aspires to his own cooking show, or helping a garrulous pimp write his memoirs, Steinberg is unfailingly thought-provoking, witty, humane, and, above all, relentless in his pursuit of a good story. Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed
  • Imagine Kafka as a prison librarian — which may not be such a bad description of Kafka — and you get some idea of the joys this book delivers. Steinberg's profound susceptibility to both absurdity and pathos makes Running the Books one of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long while. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
  • A freewheeling meditation on the nature of incarceration and a moving chronicle of a population that remains, by design, hidden from view. USA Today
  • Steinberg emerges as a thoughtful and gifted debut author. . . . [His] writing is sharp and witty throughout, but he is at his most eloquent when describing the world of his youth and his Orthodox upbringing. . . . Steinberg effectively demonstrates the parallels that exist between such seemingly disparate universes. What this poignant memoir ultimately brings home is, in many ways, obvious — that humans are, all of us, exceptionally fragile and emotionally complex beings. The Forward
  • 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. Laura Miller, Salon
  • “Heartbreaking and entertaining. . . . Steinberg's compassion for those he mentored clearly comes through. Yet, this is far from a preachy memoir on prison reform. It's a young man's blundering, but touching, journey to find a place in the world. Fortunately, he makes us laugh and – sometimes cry – in the process. The Seattle Times
  • Funny, eclectic, and ultimately moving. The Daily Beast
  • “Hilarious enough to make you want to read its lines to anyone who happens to be around, and profound enough to have you care deeply about many of the men and women whose crimes have brought them to Boston's Suffolk County House of Correction. . . . There's plenty of humor here, for sure, but Steinberg, in tender, understated prose, also brings out the inmates' irrepressible humanity. John McMurtrie, San Francisco Chronicle
  • Steinberg’s account may very well make you laugh and cry, but it will also have you re-evaluating items in your home for their potential as weapons. Running the Books is a powerful look at the prison system and a highly personal memoir in one. Bookpage
  • Delightfully insightful. . . . How much can we readers expect to learn about prison life through the prism of its library? Answer: Volumes. Haaretz
  • “Perceptive, comic, self-deprecating, reflective, and pungently ironic a la Catch-22 ... Running the Books is both very funny and heart-breaking, further evidence for Mark Twain’s edict that ‘The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there is no humor in Heaven.’ Chicago Life Magazine
  • Steinberg offers a meaningful, unusual perspective on the U.S. prison system and on convicts’ lives. Tablet Magazine
  • Caroming instantaneously from profane comedy to abyssal 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. Booklist
  • Running the Books is one of the more thoughtful and nuanced looks at prison culture. . . . And it'll probably remain high on the list of great books about the subject. AOL.com
  • "An affecting and valuable read. School Library Journal
  • “Acidly funny…Mr. 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.” 

    New York Times

  • “A fiendishly intricate moral puzzle, sad and scary, yes, but also—and often—very funny.”

    Salon

  • “A freewheeling meditation on the nature of incarceration and a moving chronicle of a population that remains, by design, hidden from view.”

    USA Today

  • “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.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • A 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Loren | 2/8/2014

    " I was interested in the prisoners rather than the author. He lost me when he started filling in his own backstory. I feel bad about admitting I was reading to learn about the prison library, rather than the prison librarian. I stopped reading rather than be frustrated. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Toby | 2/5/2014

    " Now this was a strange and unusual combination - a former Orthodox Jew who ends up as the librarian in a New York prison. The writing is a bit disjointed but the ruminations on the multifaceted role of a prison library and the dilemma of a sympathetic librarian who tries not to cross the line is strangely compelling. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Hubert | 2/4/2014

    " A bit too long and wordy, but this memoir about a Harvard-educated prison librarian is revealing for what it says about social class, the neglected, and humanity. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jane | 1/21/2014

    " I loved this book. As a librarian, I was at first annoyed that Avi Steinberg referred to himself as a librarian, while admitting that he had no training (formal or informal) as such. However, once I got over that, I found it a fascinating story. It's much more about prisons and people than about libraries. I thought it interesting that the author found that a common factor amongst the prisoners was a lack of maturity - an inability to deal with problems in an "adult" way. I was also amused to note the parallels between the roles and dilemmas of a prison librarian and a school librarian! The book was funny and sad and compassionate and beautifully written. I look forward to discussing it at Book Club. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Natasha | 1/13/2014

    " I wanted to like this book but could not get used to the author's style. It's more a book of short (less than a page) essays than a cohesive book about working in a prison library. And a librarian's quibble: he's not actually a librarian. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 BetsyD | 12/28/2013

    " I really enjoy the "interesting job" genre of memoir. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Dawn Trlak-Donahue | 12/27/2013

    " This book needs some serious editing. The story isn't bad-but way, way too long. Also, the author takes himself way too seriously. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rebecca Brothers | 12/27/2013

    " I heard the author being interviewed on NPR and almost wrecked my car trying to write down the title. This story of a Harvard grade turned prison librarian had me at hello: it begins with the line "Pimps make the best librarians." I mean, who wouldn't skid to a halt, run into the nearest bookstore, grab this up, pay full price, and then make everyone in the place listen while you read that most awesome first line out loud?! Turns out Stienberg's experiences working in that library were so close to the ones I had working in a public high school as a new graduate that I started having sympathy pains for him. It's a great portrait of what happens when naive kids right out school try to do, and fail to do, to make the world around them better. It's such a GOOD READ! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Megan Daily-Scott | 12/21/2013

    " loved it, was an impulse snag from the new non-fiction shelf at the library but has fascinating moving details of lives you would otherwise maybe not encounter, the author's as a former yeshiva student and his patrons at the Boston prison library where he works "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Brenda Gadd | 11/25/2013

    " Interesting story about being a prison librarian. I liked it more than I thought I would, given the topic. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Indu | 11/25/2013

    " Candid and well written. The subject and setting of the book make it intriguing, because it is one we don't see or think of particularly often.The narration was very absorbing. Made me appreciate books from a different perspective. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kate | 11/25/2013

    " It was a little slow...I think it could have been about 70 pages shorter, but overall a good read! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Carl Moore | 11/10/2013

    " The book is about prison and for the first hundred pages I felt like I was inside one. After that it was okay. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Gwen | 3/19/2013

    " Liked it a lot. Made me think about some of the real purposes of libraries, and how people use them. Also interesting to learn more about prison libraries, which I briefly considered working in years ago. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Rebecca Raeske-Grinch | 12/5/2012

    " Much more a "life of prisoners" story than a librarian tale. Jessica and her son's story broke my heart. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Teresa | 11/20/2012

    " Could not finish this. I tried to put it down and come back, but I could not get back into it. Found the author/narrator whiny and not very engaging. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 April | 9/7/2012

    " Rather interesting read. A window into a prison library, its purpose/use and the patrons it serves. Some noted similarities with the public library and some definitely not! I got the impression that the author matured a bit through his experience and has moved on to other pursuits. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Donny Nordlicht | 5/31/2012

    " A little too rambling, but not poorly written enough to deserve only 2 stars. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jonathon | 5/29/2012

    " I am convinced that anyone who gave this book five stars did not read it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Laura | 1/3/2012

    " This book was interesting, but not really a "story." So, I found it kinda slow. It's more just a retelling of his time spent as a prison librarian. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Colleen | 8/19/2011

    " Eh. I was really intrigued at the beginning and excited to be hearing this story. Then, it just got tedious. I'd recommend only reading about half the book and you'll get the point and won't really miss anything. He was also a little heavy-handed in his "introspective" and moralizing parts. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jenna Van Winkle | 8/18/2011

    " This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Reading it for a book club and I have really enjoyed it! Avi Steinberg is a great story teller. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Corky (Corinne) | 6/29/2011

    " I loved this and his view of the inmates and the stories of their lives.
    I have wondered if he has continued to work within the prison system.
    A great read! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sarah | 6/17/2011

    " This was just delightful. Former Orthodox boy writes a memoir without being ridiculous, has a wacky job without being ridiculous, and has stuff to say, again, without being ridiculous. Also, it has the coolest cover, if not ever, then recently. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jenna | 6/8/2011

    " This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Reading it for a book club and I have really enjoyed it! Avi Steinberg is a great story teller. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jess | 6/1/2011

    " This memoir by a 20-something Harvard graduate who spends 2 years as a prison librarian had its good moments but overall it was somewhat boring. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for the depressing saga of convicts (although there was some humor---so a bit of a highlight there). "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Dalepat | 5/28/2011

    " Don't look for any happy endings for the author nor any of the prison inmates. "In a world where nothing, not even God's promies, is reliable, at least one can rely on disappointment." That sums up the book, life and prsion. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 becky | 5/21/2011

    " I am returning this to the library before I finish it because I don't really like it. I really wanted to like this book - it is about a librarian! But I find Steinberg's tone very condescending. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stargrave | 5/20/2011

    " Engrossing read, though felt a bit long since observations and questions have no clear beginning and end. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Diana | 5/12/2011

    " The book has it's moments and certainly has some unique characters, but the story itself feels as aimless as the author when he lived this story. It feels like he's appropriated other people's stories in order to come to some half revelations of his own. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sarah | 5/12/2011

    " I really enjoyed this book. It gives a good look into what it's like to be a prison librarian and if I wasn't such a pushover, I'd try to find a gig like that myself. "

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About the Author
Author Avi SteinbergAVI STEINBERG was born in Jerusalem and raised in Cleveland and Boston. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Review of Books, Salon, and other publications.