Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma.

There seems to be a slew of reading/memoirish type books hitting the shelves, and since I view my blog as a journal of my reading experiences, I have been itching to get my hands on a couple of the titles. I am curious to read about others' journeys through literature, so I am always on the hunt for titles that accomplish this (please leave recommendations if you have any. I DO have an ARC of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair waiting to be read, so older suggestions are welcome as well).

I was excited to pick up Ozma's debut and learn about the Reading Streak she participated in with her father for 3, 218 days (something like nine years straight-every day with no misses). It seemed like an inspiring tale and I was interested in learning about the things they read together and what they took from it.

Going into reading it, I assumed there would be a lot of discussion about the books they read (I mean, that IS the subtitle, isn't it?).

I assumed wrong. While there is passing mention of the current book in each little chapter of Ozma's story, there was little to no reflection on the impact of the literature. Perhaps I read too much into what I thought this would be than what it actually was. And I don't want to say that there was no mention or connection to the literature-her chapter on reading Dicey's Song with her father had me cracking up-I just think there needed to be more.

Instead, the focus was placed heavily on her relationship with her father (which seemed awkward to me at times), and on their goal of continuing the streak. There were moments when I wanted to ask her, "But what did you learn from that book?" She never seemed to answer that question for me.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that this book was a waste of time, because it certainly wasn't. Once I realized that the literature was there in the background, I could still enjoy the story of Ozma's childhood-from choosing her own name, to her relationship with her mother (her parents divorced when she was younger), to her relationship with her sister, to moving on and going to college. A lot of her experiences reminded me of some of my own growing up. She told her story bravely and seemed to represent the relationship she had with her father well. And reading WAS an important part of their relationship (there is a partial list of what they read in the back, and quite a few of the titles I have never even heard of).

There were two little chapters that struck me the most. The first focused on a fight she had with her father. The resulting feelings of having their relationship changed by what was said really got to me. I can remember significant moments from my own youth when my relationships significantly altered with both of my parents. I truly felt for her as I read that portion.

The other chapter that truly struck a chord was near the end of her memoir. Her father was a librarian who read aloud to his classes, and changes were made in his school district that placed limits on how long he could read aloud before moving his classes to the computers. His pain at being told NOT to read aloud and the ultimate destruction of the library broke my heart. Libraries everywhere are being cut, and I worry in thinking about how this will impact children in school. Libraries and reading an crucial to learning. We need them.

I think the most important message in this book is one Ozma hits us over the head with at the end-that reading aloud with a child is important. I can remember my mom reading to me until I was old enough to read on my own. I read to my students (most recently I read Dr. Seuss to my seniors), and it it truly one of the greatest things that we can do for children. It is amazing how enthralled kids get with a story when it is being read to them. High school students EAT IT UP when their teachers read to them. Add in an attempt to have voices for the characters and you are golden. They LOVE it.

I cannot wait to read to my own kids, but I doubt I will read to them for as long as Ozma's father did for her. Don't get me wrong, I would love to, but I just don't think it'll happen.

But her message is one that we can all embrace, and for that, I am grateful that I read her thoughts and learned from her own experiences.

Reading truly is a journey and one that we should share with as many as possible.


  1. One of my favorites (that I go back to again and again) is Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris. It is wonderful!

  2. wait, wait ... what is Tolstoy and the Purple Chair? That sounds intriguing.

  3. Reading aloud to my kiddos each night can occasionally be a pain, but is so rewarding in the grander scheme of things. I'm reading a book to my girls right now (10 & 7) and my 15 year-old son has been joining us...such a treat to be able to enjoy a good book together regardless of ages.

    Thanks for the great review. :)

  4. Yeah, I'm curious about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, too!

    And bummer that it wasn't quite as bookish as it could've been.

  5. My dad read to my brother and I for many years--I think until sometime when I was in middle school The primary reason he stopped was because my (younger) brother couldn't get his homework finished early enough. It was really nice though--we went through so many books that way.

  6. My dad read to me through middle school and even The Incredible Journey my 8th grade year :) Wonderful memories! I have this one on my TBR already for that very reason :)

  7. Wow, are reviews of this book are very similar. I am glad you felt the same way I did, I kept waiting for them to actually dicscuss the books! Still, I am glad I read it.

  8. I saw this at BEA but didn't get it, I too thought it'd be about the books they read together. I'll probably pass on it since I don't really do memoirs just for the memoir very often...Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Tolstoy one, love that cover!