A compassionate perspective on prison life.

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READING BEHIND BARS

A MEMOIR OF LITERATURE, LAW, AND LIFE AS A PRISON LIBRARIAN

A newly minted librarian discovers the importance of reading for prison inmates.

In 2008, with a fresh degree and few job prospects, Grunenwald (Running with a Police Escort: Tales from the Back of the Pack, 2017) took her first professional position in a men’s minimum security prison in her native Ohio. Although she came to her new job with part-time experience in public libraries and a master’s degree in library and information science, she felt completely unprepared for the restrictive prison environment. “I had neither intended nor set out to become a prison librarian,” she admits, not even fully understanding what a “correctional facility” really entailed. In a forthright, gently told memoir, the author portrays herself as both naïve and well-intentioned as she deals with inmates—mostly serving time for drunken driving charges or drug convictions—for whom a prison library meets a range of needs. Some read local newspapers, some consult law books or, with limited access, LexisNexis; one inmate confesses that he wants to read the books he should have read in high school; a few take the opportunity to hide behind bookshelves to masturbate—one of the many infractions that Grunenwald must report. The library also serves as a place of respite. For inmates who work as library assistants as well as for those who come to read, the library is “a unique pocket of freedom” within the highly regimented and surveilled prison. What Grunenwald encountered on her first day was a huge mess: outdated reference books, mixed-up encyclopedia volumes, inadequate shelving, unprocessed donation books, and two computers for inmate use, one of which was continually broken. In addition, she confronted a plethora of rules that governed inmate behavior, movement, and her own responsibilities. Quickly, she had to establish her authority. “Power in prison is in constant flux,” she notes, with inmates having the power “to inspire fear within the staff.” After 20 months, “tired and burned out,” Grunenwald left for another job, hoping she helped some inmates to develop a real love of books.

A compassionate perspective on prison life.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5107-3706-8

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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