Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: The Reading Promise

Author: Alice Ozma
Publisher/ Format: Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover, 304 pages
Year of publication: 2011
Subject:  father/daughter relationship, books, reading
Genre: Memoir
Source: ARC from publisher via Net Galley
Rating: 3 of 5

A series of vignettes about books the author and her father read to each other over the course of 3200+ nights-- from the time Alice was 9 years old until the night before she went to college. I was frankly underwhelmed by this book.

The premise was so inviting, and since I'm so in love with books I thought it would be a fairy tale come true.  My father was well-read but never read aloud to us.  He did not come from that tradition.  I think everyone in my family read so early that we didn't want to be read to, we wanted to do it ourselves.  On the other hand, my dad drove me to school and home (at least an hour in the car each day), every single day of my four years of high school and the first two years of college.  There were 4 other girls in his big old Dodge Monaco, and the discussions that arose from all of our lives and our readings and assignments at school were as enriching as any late story hours.  So perhaps I found Ozma's scenario contrived.

Alice's father was an elementary school librarian who had the background and training to be able to spot exactly the right book at the right time to fill a need in his daughter's emotional life.  Her parents had separated when she was young, she lived with her father, and she had a mighty imagination.  Dad the librarian's choice of stories and commitment to his daughter are awesome.  An example is her obsession as a 12 year old that JFK's dead body was at the foot of her bed, and her father's wearisome attempts to disabuse her of that notion.  As a young parent I read to my children, but I'm not sure we'd have ever been able to hold up to this promise on either side.  Either the children or the mother would probably have dropped out or skipped a night at least.

In the end, having now grown up and graduated from college, Alice slips out of the fairy tale tent to climb a soap box as she describes the devastation wreaked upon her father when the school system began to allow less and less time for the librarian to read aloud to children, and began to shift to electronic resources instead of a total diet of paper.  Her obvious dismay at the way her father was treated, and his subsequent early retirement, are trumpeted throughout the final chapters of the book.  He did find a new audience by volunteering to read to elderly folks who no longer were able to do that for themselves, and seemed to be happy in being able to spread the gospel of reading.

In addition to the full list of books they read during "the streak", the final chapter gives us a full page reading promise to sign.  In addition to promising to read to ourselves and our children, she wants us to promise to
  • "...speak out if reading is cut from the school curriculum, and to fight for books whenever their value is challenged
  • ....tell everyone I know how reading calms me down, riles me up, makes me think, or helps me to get to sleep at night
  • read, and to read to someone, as long as human thought is still valued and there are still words to be shared"
She ends by saying "I promise to be there for books, because I know they will always be there for me."

These last sentiments are what drives many of us to blog about the books we read, and I applaud her devotion to the written word.  I'm just not sure getting them to sign a pledge to read is the way to go.


  1. you lost me at the word memoir...

    seriously, I looked at it the other night, on my "get rid of Border gift cards" trip, but I have read a lot of mixed reviews. and then there was the whole memoir thing...

  2. Doesn't sound like my cup of tea, either.

  3. It sounds so promising. I'm truly sorry it didn't deliver in the end.


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