What happens when a working-class boy in an Italian American family in the Bronx begins to love reading and gets absorbed in the world of books? This essay explores the fears and the hopes raised in one family in the mid-1960s and the ambivalence of success American-style. When books are scarce, they arrive with an aura around them of promise and danger, like visitors from another place and time. The article takes up the possibility that reading may represent betrayal, albeit perhaps a necessary one, and suggests that to become a scholar from a working-class background comes with pain, and that this pain may become a source of conceptual insight.

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