Review: The Reading Promise

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared
Alice Ozma
Hachette Book Group
$24.99, hardcover, 304 pages
Also available as Open Ebook ($11.99)
Release date: May 31, 2011

Once upon a time, a little girl and her father wanted to know if they could read aloud for 100 nights in a row. When they reached that milestone, they decided to keep going. Eventually, when the little girl went to college, the nightly reading stopped after 3,218 nights.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma uses those nights of reading as the frame for an episodic memoir that covers life in the Bronzina household from when Ozma is in the third grade to present day.

Her father is a elementary school librarian, and his love of literature is evident the name he gave his younger daughter.

Ozma begins each chapter with a quote from a book she and her father would have read around the time of the incident that anchors the chapter: The Giver for a chapter about the death and funeral of her beloved beta fish; Charlotte’s Web for a chapter about watching spiders and summer storms on a porch; Dicey’s Song for a chapter about the awkward father-daughter conversations about a growing daughter.

A reading list at the end of the book details most of the books the two read during what the referred to as “the streak.” It’s full of classic children’s books that most readers have encountered at one point or another.

The episodic nature of the book is, in part, the book’s downfall. Ozma never spends enough time with pieces of her life that, in a different memoir, could serve as a center pole. Her mother leaves the family, but it doesn’t seem to affect Ozma and her father much other than the two of them trying to figure out what would make an acceptable Thanksgiving dinner. Her older sister pops in and out of the book but doesn’t seem to be part of the family.

At times, this isn’t a problem. After all, Ozma is telling the story of her relationship with her father. At others, however, the episodes rush by before their importance in Ozma’s life is clear. The Reading Promise is Ozma’s first published work, and the pacing shows that. You want to stop her as she’s writing and encourage her to put more words on paper, to spend more time with an episode. The scenes are probably vivid in her memory, and her writing is engaging so readers want to spend more time with the scenes. Unfortunately, Ozma is on to the next one far too quickly.

One of the stronger points of the book is her writing style. In the beginning chapters, the voice is that of a younger child, capturing who Ozma was at the time. Sometimes, she can come across as precocious, one of the kids you only see in sitcoms, but by the end of the book, it’s clear that Ozma was an intelligent child and, although some of the dialogue may be a fantasized version of how she spoke as a child, it fits with the picture of who the author is.

Readers expecting a close discussion of children’s literature and how it affected Ozma may be disappointed. The nightly reading is just a framework for stories about growing up. What does come through is her father’s love of reading and the importance both he and Ozma place on reading to children and making a place for literature in the home.

Ozma ends the book with a sudden, almost academic paragraph on the need for a commitment to reading in modern life. It feels out of place; after she had done a decent job in showing the need, she doesn’t need to explain it.

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