"To Leite, though, nearly all the books are mysteries. Born into a poor family, he dropped out of school after third grade and, at 51, is practically illiterate.
But books, he knows, are the gateway to a life of greater possibility and more promise than his own. It might be too late for me, a working man, he reasoned, but not for others.
So bloomed the passion that has consumed Leite's free time over the last two years: transforming his home into a public library, free and open to all in this poverty-stricken neighborhood outside Rio de Janeiro. The streets here are unpaved and unweeded, daily life is a struggle and even a single book is an enormous luxury that can cost up to half a week's wages.
To visit Leite's abode now is to see kids doing homework in what used to be his bedroom. Adults browse titles in what was once the foyer. Rainbows of donated paperbacks and hardcovers on almost every imaginable subject, some in crisp condition, others falling apart, cover every available bit of wall space, jammed together so tightly that a knife would have trouble passing between them.
Da Penha, 54, is the den mother, shushing noisy patrons with the severe expression mastered by all good librarians. Like Leite, she is basically illiterate — but aware of the riches crowding her walls, which sometimes invade her sleep. "I dream that I'm reading them," she said.