Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to attend Harvard, he has nothing but a senior thesis on Bugs Bunny to show for himself. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, Steinberg remains stuck at a crossroads, his “romantic” existence as a freelance obituary writer no longer cutting it.
Seeking direction (and dental insurance) Steinberg takes a job running the library counter at a Boston prison. He is quickly drawn into the community of outcasts that forms among his bookshelves—an assortment of quirky regulars, including con men, pimps, minor prophets, even ghosts—all searching for the perfect book and a connection to the outside world. Steinberg recounts their daily dramas with heartbreak and humor in this one-of-a-kind memoir—a piercing exploration of prison culture and an entertaining tale of one young man’s earnest attempt to find his place in the world.
In this captivating memoir, Steinberg, a Harvard grad and struggling obituary writer, spends two years as a librarian and writing instructor at a Boston prison that's an irrepressibly literary place. True, his patrons turn books into weapons (and one robs him while out on parole), but he's beguiled by the rough poetry of inmate essays and "kites" contraband notes secreted in library books and entranced by the "skywriting" with which they semaphore messages letter-by-letter across the courtyard. And there's always an informal colloquium of prostitutes, thieves, and drug dealers convened at the checkout desk, discussing everything from Steinberg's love life to the "gangsta" subculture of Hasidic Jews. Gradually, the prison pulls him in and undermines his bemused neutrality. He helps a forlorn female prisoner communicate with her inmate son, develops a dangerous beef with a guard, and finds himself collaborating on the memoir of a charismatic pimp whose seductive rap disguises a nasty rap sheet; he has to choose sides, make queasy compromises, and decide between rules and loyalty. 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
A Slice of American Pie: Boston's South Bay Prison
Truly a great read! Steinberg invites you into Boston's South Bay library in a way where you almost forget if you're a fellow colleague or a recently booked inmate. I fell in love with the characters - not simply inmates or criminals, but individual people, with individual desires, experiences, pasts, and futures, a part of the larger, American story - thanks to Steinberg's writing. Highly recommend this memoir.
No reviews! I can't believe it!
Hilarious and harrowing. A great book.