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Book Review and Questions of Class

August 12, 2010

I just read a book that makes me want to discuss it in a college class, instead of write the review assigned to me by the Ledger. It’s a memoir, written by someone who found himself, unexpectedly, working as a prison librarian. It’s detailed, and funny, sometimes insightful. He sketches the inmates and his experience in a way that makes it easy to see what he sees.

And yet… I really wish I had a sociology class built around this book, to talk about the questions of privilege and class that become inevitable, when you’ve got a white suburban young man navigating questions about knowledge, authority, and books, with prison inmates. The book reflects some of that unease, but— a whole separate book would be needed to come to some resolution. As a reader from a similar background as the author, will I fall prey to the same unthinking assumptions as he will? Can I assess whether he’s telling a story across class and culture and race, in a way that works and is respectful?

I’m having trouble turning off my social science academic brain (grown dusty with long periods of disuse since college) and just being a pure book reviewer on this one. Hm. Gotta stop thinking so hard and write.

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