Monday, April 04, 2016

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, by Alice Ozma


I expected to hear about beloved books from my childhood in The Reading Promise, and I did.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find a new story as well.  At the ripe old age of about 23, Alice Ozma wrote a memoir about her life with her father, a children’s librarian (his title may have been “school media specialist,” but this is how his daughter thinks of him). 

Quirky, honest, childlike, off-the-beaten-path, funny, touching, silly, sometimes sad, . . .  These words describe the author and her father as well as the book. James and Alice are not open books, though, and each surprises in different ways. Even as their conversations and experiences are at times reminiscent of events in books they are reading, their distinct personalities and relationship become the focus of our story. 

The Reading Promise was that Alice’s father would read to her every single night.  He had already read to her a lot by the time she was nine, but then they made a pact that they HAD to read for a hundred or a thousand nights (memories vary)—but “The Streak” ended up lasting until Alice left for college!  Some days they read on trains, some days at minutes before midnight.  They faced divorce (Alice’s mother left), learning to ride a bike, boy-hating, nighttime fears, road trips with Alice’s much older sister, and deaths.  The deaths included those of Alice’s beloved fish Franklin, for whom a hilarious funeral was held—hilarious to everyone but Alice, of course—and of Alice’s grandfather.  After Poppop’s funeral, Alice was surprised when in that night’s conversation at reading time her dad shared his grief, memories, and questions:  “He had always spoken with me honestly, but it was never quite so candid. He was talking to me like an adult, breaking all the rules I had come to understand about explaining death to children.”  And she found at the age of ten that her effort to be a “compassionate listener” helped her father through his grieving process.  After all the downs and ups, cats and laryngitis, cars and stars, a transcript of the Reading Promise and a list of many of the shared books is included.

Another story about times and interests shared by a girl and her father is the youth novel The Meaning of Maggie, reviewed here.  A different kind of reading streak results from the promise that Nina Sankovitch makes to herself to read a book a day for a year(!), a journey she chronicles in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading.  The helpful staff at your Virginia Beach Public Library can help you find other books about books and the experience of reading at all stages of life—you’d be surprised at how many there are.

Review by Lynn K.

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