I’m not going to lie, the title was the first thing that drew me to this book. Even though I am a library assistant, my bachelor’s degree is in Criminal Justice and Criminology so I’ve always wondered how a library would work in a prison. I knew they existed because of the classes I took in college but I didn’t learn how they would work.
Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald answered the questions I had and even questions I didn’t even ask.
When the author graduated from library school in 2009 there were more librarians than jobs. Gruenwald took the only one that she could find, a position for a librarian at a minimum-security prison outside Cleveland, Ohio. What follows is a memoir of her time at the prison, the inmates and officers she meets, as well as the lessons she learned.
One thing which I discovered while reading this book is how similar working in a prison library is to working in a public library. You still have the same patron looking for the newest James Patterson or other bestselling authors. You still have patrons asking random (sometimes off-the-wall) questions, seeking legal advice, and wanting the daily paper.
But I also learned what makes them different. A patron looking for the latest bestseller may be stymied due to prison rules and regulations about content. Further, budgetary considerations mean that patrons have to wait until a book is available in paperback. Also, prison libraries are subject to quite a bit of censorship, which for the most part is something that doesn’t exist in public libraries.
Reading Behind Bars isn’t a fast-paced memoir, but it was an informative read about one librarian’s first job and the lessons she learned along the way. This is an important memoir for librarians and library employees. Any reader, as well as those employed in the criminal justice field, may learn something from this memoir.
– Reviewed by Carissa, Main Library
This year was the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy and liberation of Paris. Writers have been busy marking the occasion! Many readers have heard of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the story of a convergence of two lives on either side of the conflict: a Parisian girl and a German youth with a gift for electronics. His beautifully written tale has earned spots on numerous best of lists for 2014.
The only thing that can make a great piece of historical fiction better is a highly readable work of non-fiction to go with it. To that end, I invite you to try When Paris Went Dark: the City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald Rosbottom. He tells the story of the city’s occupation from a variety of perspectives: from its people (German commanders to Parisian street vendors) to its high schools (one in particular was a breeding ground for Resistance fighters—I’d watch that teen drama series) and apartments (the labyrinth of interweaving corridors and doorways of Parisian housing played a major role in hiding those at risk). Rosbottom explores the effects of the Occupation on the French psyche as a nation ponders what it did to resist and if that was enough.
If Doerr and Rosbottom’s books sound appealing, I also encourage you to read Agnes Humbert’s wartime journal Résistance: A Woman’s Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France (1946), the story of her years in the French Resistance and as a prisoner in a forced labor camp in Germany. A curator at the Musée de L’Homme, Humbert was among the first group of organized opponents of the Occupation. We share her sadness and fear as her beloved city is occupied, its museums violated and its citizens arrested. But like the heroine of a favorite work of fiction, she never loses her spirit. Determined to make her internment productive for the Resistance, she sabotages the parachutes she is forced to make for the German war effort, all the time recognizing the irony of being forced to make artificial silk, a new technology that her mother had invested in before the war.
Despite her circumstances, Humbert keeps her sense of humor and refuses to surrender her humanity. At one point during her years in slave labor, she ponders what Descartes would think of the factory’s rayon-making machines and the thoughts one has as one is at them. After her liberation she spends her time helping the American army bring Nazis to justice and coordinating efforts to feed and house residents of the village that enslaved her. Humbert’s journal reads like an adventure story and I found myself cheering for its inspirational heroine throughout.
Formats Available: Book (Regular Print and Large Type), Audiobook (CD), eBook
Reviewed by Valerie, Iroquois Branch