A wide-ranging collection of essays that attempts to define ""the Italian American experience,"" in reaction to the ""too successful"" Godfather films, which ""have held up an image that has obliterated the reality."" Divided into three sections encompassing personal memoir, Italian-American literature, and ""identity politics,"" the anthology is put together by novelist and critic Parini (Benjamin's Crossing, p. 410, etc.) and Ciongoli, a neurologist and president of the National Italian American Foundation. Several of the contributors are familiar names, such as Gay Talese, whose ""Origins of a Nonfiction Writer"" looks at the fascinating precincts of his mother's dress shop, where what he ""heard and witnessed . . . was much more interesting and educational than what [he] learned from the black-robed censors"" in parochial school. Dana Gioia chips in with an examination of Italian-American poetry, while Fred GardaphÃ¢ looks at his ""life's reading"" of such writers as Pietro di Donato, John Fante, and Mario Puzo. Edvige Giunta echoes GardaphÃ¢ in her lengthy paean to Tina De Rosa's Paper Fish, ""a landmark in Italian American literature."" In another arena, Richard Gambino posits that ""wildly . . . inauthentic myths . . . have come to serve as a substitute among Italian Americans for an authentic, developed identity."" Linda Hutcheon writes of ""crypto-Italians"" such as herself, Cathy Davidson, Sandra Gilbert, and Marianna Torgovnick, who, through marriage, become ""a silenced marker of Italian heritage."" Parini describes his quest to learn if his ""emotional connections"" to the Old Country were ""real, or just a piece of trumped-up sentimentality."" Occasionally, the personal reflections become intensely uncomfortable, as in Louise DeSalvo's recollections of vicious fights between her mother and her step-grandmother. Informative and engaging, but perhaps too evenhanded. Too many of the essays lack the passion and the lusty good humor that are trademarks of Italian-American culture.