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Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

Avi Steinberg

Top 10 Best Quotes

“I don't need no Smith and Wesson, man, I got Merriam and Webster.”

“Pimps make the best librarians.”

“I think you’re more an archivist than a librarian,” he said. He told me that archivists and librarians were opposite personas. True librarians are unsentimental. They’re pragmatic, concerned with the newest, cleanest, most popular books. Archivists, on the other hand, are only peripherally interested in what other people like, and much prefer the rare to the useful. ”They like everything,” he said, “gum wrappers as much as books.” He said this with a hint of disdain. ”Librarians like throwing away garbage to make space, but archivists,” he said, “they’re too crazy to throw anything out.” ”You’re right,” I said. ”I’m more of an archivist.” ”And I’m more of a librarian,” he said. ”Can we still be friends?”

“Yet for quixotic reasons--namely, that I enjoyed writing obits--I had decided to scale back on articles about city life in order to write exclusively about the city's dead. For even less money. It was a strange and inexplicable career move.”

“I flipped to the author’s photo in the Library of America edition of O’Connor’s collected works, and forked it over. Solitary examined the photo. “Okay,” she said, handing it back, “I’ll read it.” What in Flannery O’Connor’s countenance met with Solitary’s approval? “I dunno,” she said. “She looks kind of busted up, y’know? She ain’t too pretty. I trust her.”

“All across America public libraries were, and are, being shut down, while prisons-with libraries-were, and are, being built. This has been a choice the American public has been making for over thirty years.”

“Pimps make the best librarians. Psycho killers, the worst. Ditto conmen. Gangsters, gun runners, bank robbers – adept at crowd control, at collaborating with a small staff, at planning with deliberation and executing with contained fury – all possess the librarian’s basic skill set. Scalpers and loan sharks certainly have a role to play. But even they lack that something, the je ne sais quoi, the elusive it. What would a pimp call it? Yes: the love.”

“Pimps make the best librarians. Psycho killers, the worst. Ditto con men. Gangsters, gunrunners, bank robbers- adept at crowd control, at collaborating with a small staff, at planning with deliberation and executing with contained fury- all possess the librarian's basic skill set.”

“His elegant librarianship ... made me appreciate how order is created: Not through grand schemes - to which I was often drawn - but by small graceful actions, repeated often and refined with time.”

“For days I kept imagining the fate of the world's misplaced letters. I started noticing them everywhere. All the right letters sitting on desks and dressers, slipped into purses, abandoned in email Draft folders, forever sealed and unsent. Shredded. Forgotten, sometimes intentionally. And the wrong letters, placed in someone else's hands - which, once delivered, may never be taken back. Emailed and immediately regretted.”

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Book Keywords:

reading, flannery-o-connor, career, obituary, prisons, librarians, autobiography, libraries, librarianship, death, pimps

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