REVIEW: Running the Books

Avi Steinberg is leading a pretty aimless life, writing obituaries for a newspaper, when he takes an abrupt detour and becomes a prison librarian. Throughout the first half of the book, Steinberg portrays himself as a real naïf about prison life. He is fascinated by the ways that inmates find of skirting the restrictions on their interpersonal communications, and he allows some of them, master manipulators who can sense his inexperience the way a dog senses fear, to con him into giving them more freedoms and privileges in the prison library than are permitted by the strict rules.

Steinberg nicely portrays his growing savvy as the book progresses, and an encounter with a former inmate out in the “real world” serves as a stark reminder that even the most charming, intelligent pimp is still a pimp. Overall, however, the book was entertaining without being compelling. A couple of long interruptions in my reading did not leave me clamoring to get back to it, although I did eventually.