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Community Library, 18th Street

Carlos Leite, a Brazilian man, began collecting books on a whim when he asked to keep six encyclopedias someone was throwing out. Now his home is known as the Community Library, 18th Street and contains 10,000 books. He and his companion, Maria da Penha, have allowed the books to take over their home. They moved their belongings into a back alcove so others can take advantage of the donated books in the rest of the house.

"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.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
ladymeow
Oct. 4th, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)
Wow; that's really cool.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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