Reading Behind Bars: Book summary and reviews of Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald

Reading Behind Bars

A Memoir of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian

by Jill Grunenwald

Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald X
Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald
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  • Published in USA  Jul 2019
    360 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

At turns poignant and hilarious, Reading behind Bars is a perfect read for fans of Orange is the New Black and Shakespeare Saved My Life.

In December 2008, twentysomething Jill Grunenwald graduated with her master's degree in library science, ready to start living her dream of becoming a librarian. But the economy had a different idea. As the Great Recession reared its ugly head, jobs were scarce. After some searching, however, Jill was lucky enough to snag one of the few librarian gigs left in her home state of Ohio. The catch? The job was behind bars as the prison librarian at a men's minimum-security prison. Talk about baptism by fire.

As an untested twentysomething woman, to say that the job was out of Jill's comfort zone was an understatement. She was forced to adapt on the spot, speedily learning to take the metal detectors, hulking security guards, and colorful inmates in stride. Over the course of a little less than two years, Jill came to see past the bleak surroundings and the orange jumpsuits and recognize the humanity of the men stuck behind bars. They were just like every other library patron—persons who simply wanted to read, to be educated and entertained through the written word. By helping these inmates, Jill simultaneously began to recognize the humanity in everyone and to discover inner strength that she never knew she had.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review—Rory Aronsky
The story of being a  librarian in a minimum-security men's prison in Ohio not only evokes curiosity about the stringent procedures involved (such as only safety scissors allowed to be used when repairing worn-out and ripped books with tape), but also about the prisoners themselves, a glimpse into how having access to these books, these newspapers from across the State might affect them. Does it change them for the better? Give them hope? Enlighten them?

Library procedures interest me. And for a little while in a book like this, it's interesting enough in order to set the scene, as well as Jill Grunenwald's background. But an entire book it should not make, and that's pretty much what's here. It gets tedious, and we don't get to hear much about the prisioners she's serving.

Reading Behind Bars is akin to that episode of M*A*S*H from season 5, where Radar takes a correspondence course from the "famous Las Vegas Writers' School" and begins to write the way he thinks writers write, instead of being himself. There are so many strained similes, you can hear muscles being pulled and needing ice. For example, in describing a co-worker, Nancy, Grunenwald writes, "When she smiled, her cheeks popped like ripe peaches." While an assistant is described as " pale as water, which made the juxtaposition of her dark hair and eyeliner all the more stark like a ghost from a horror novel." A prisoner is awarded the cliched description of being "dark as midnight" (in skin color). And Stephanie, one of the recovery counselors, doesn't simply jerk her thumb behind her, pointing at where her office is. No. "Stephanie cocked her thumb in a gesture pointing towards the office in the back."

I tried getting past page 104. But I couldn't! No more! No more! I tried as long as my sanity would hold out. I was hoping for some good reading from such subject matter, a world I thankfully have never known, but still wanted to know more about. None of that. You would expect, even hope, with a title like Reading Behind Bars, it would be about the inmates, too. But it is not.


Other Reviews
"Fans of Orange Is the New Black will appreciate this alternate view of life behind bars, and those looking for life changes will find lots of inspiring motivation." - Publishers Weekly

"A compassionate perspective on prison life." - Kirkus Reviews

"I stayed up all night to finish Jill Grunenwald's utterly engrossing account of her time working in a prison library. It's funny, fascinating, and often moving, and it shines much-needed light into a world most of us will never experience." - Alison Green, author of Ask a Manager

'In her latest memoir, Reading behind Bars, Jill Grunenwald draws her readers into the unique world of a prison librarian in this compelling read." - Marie Benedict, author of The Only Woman in the Room

"Reading Behind Bars shines a light on an important but often ignored corner of the literary world. This book makes you laugh while giving you a fresh perspective on why libraries are crucial in society today. Grunenwald's story is as entertaining as it is enlightening - it's Susan Orlean's The Library Book meets Orange is the New Black. If you're a book lover, don't miss this one. A vital read for 2019." - Mallory O'Meara, bestselling author of The Lady from the Black Lagoon

The information about Reading Behind Bars shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Jill Grunenwald

Jill Grunenwald (www.jillgrunenwald.com) is called "a stylish and sparkly writer" by the New York Times, and is the author of Running With a Police Escort: Tales From the Back of the Pack and Images of Modern America: Hudson. She has her BFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University and her MLIS from the University of Kentucky. Currently she is employed as a staff librarian at OverDrive, where she is also the creator and co-host of the Professional Book Nerds podcast. She lives and works in Cleveland.

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