Nearly four years ago, George Stoyonovich had quit high school “on an impulse” when he was sixteen. “This summer” [the beginning of the story] is a hard time for jobs and George, now “close to twenty”, has none. Having no money to spend, he stays off the streets and spends most of the day in his room. Sophie urges him to read some “worthwhile books” but he is in no mood for them: “Lately he couldn’t stand made-up stories, they got on his nerves.
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“Then one night” George sees Mr. Cattanzara, a little drunk, walking toward him. He hands a nickel to George, saying “Go buy yourself a lemon ice, George,” as he used to do when George was a “squirt.” Asked to name one book on the list he has read so far, George cannot answer. After saying, “George, don’t do what I did,” Mr. Cattanzara leaves.
One evening, while on his walk, George meets Mr.
Cattanzara coming home very late from work. George tells him that he is reading one hundred great books in the library list. He wants Mr. Cattanzara to respect him. “After that”, George does nothing different from usual but he finds the people in the neighborhood start calling him “a good boy.” He feels himself being respected because of the books he is not reading.
“As the summer went on George felt in a good mood about things.” He occasionally buys paperback books but he never gets around to reading them. Yet, “he could could feel approval on all sides.” “For a few weeks” he talks only once with Mr. Cattanzara, who says nothing about the books. George decides to stay away from “the change maker.”
“The next night” George is afraid to leave his room. Sophie finds out that his brother is not reading a single book on the list and calls him a “bum.” “One night,” after staying in his room “for almost a week” George sneaks to the park unable to stand the heat. Unexpectedly, he finds people still friendly to him. A man on a street corner asks him if it is true that “he had finished reading so many books.” “After a couple of days,” George sees Mr. Cattanzara again. He feels that Mr. Cattanzara “had started the rumor that he had finished all the books.”
“One evening in the fall,” George runs to the library and “though he was struggling to control an inward trembling, he easily counted off a hundred, and then sat down at a table to read.”