Monday, 22 August 2011
The Reading Promise
On our recent can-we-escape-normal-life-please trip to the US and Canada we spent a certain amount of time in bookshops. All three of us (man, woman, child) are fairly keen readers and we all feel comfortable and relaxed, I think it's fair to say, in a bookshop (though we like music and DVD shops too...). In our time overseas we went to little second hand bookshops, giant book megastores and pretty much everything in between (and indeed one of my favourite places in North America is undoubtedly Powell's marvellous bookstore in Portland, Oregon - our Oregon visit is back here).
Despite these bookstore visits in fact I did very little reading during those six months on the road – mainly I had my nose in guidebooks and maps, leaflets and more maps. I read a few books along with h – though currently she prefers to read to me rather than the other way round – but mainly I planned to catch up with reading again when we got home. It was a bit weird reading so little for six whole months (usually I read quite a lot, I suppose) but it made it more like a holiday (as in different from the norm) and it seemed the right thing to do at the time.
One book that was top of my list to read when we got back was this one:
“The Reading Promise – 3,218 nights of reading with my father” by Alice Ozma (2011). I'd seen a copy in a Chapters store in British Columbia in June but had not bought it then due to our ever-increasing amount of luggage-to-get-home-somehow. Instead I bought it when we got home (it's originally a US book but I got the UK edition – published by Hodder & Stoughton, their page for the book is here). Then I got to reading it pretty much as soon as I could.
I suppose I found this book tempting mainly because it is about a parent and child reading together and reading is one of the things that h and I have done together most often. h has always loved books with a kind of crazy passion (this is the child that, as young as maybe not even 2 years old, woke us up in the middle of the night regularly with “read me the ducky book, read me the ducky book!”) and now, at 11, the passion shows no sign of dying out either. She doesn't only read books it should be said - she plays with them like they are toys, talks to them, wanders around the house with them, almost climbs inside them. She also much prefers to read aloud (or listen) rather than read quietly and again this preference shows no sign of disappearing. I find it interesting for many reasons but partly because “More about the song” for me was always at least partly about sound in poetry (rather than what seem to me drier, more intellectual concerns) and so I suppose maybe she and I have the preference for sound in common.
In “The Reading Promise” Alice Ozma tells her and her father's reading story – how left together at home for most of her formative years reading was one of their mutual passions to the extent that they agreed to read together every night (without fail) until she left home for college at 18. It started as a read-for-a-hundred-nights, turned into read-for-a-thousand nights and then it just kept going and they came to call it their “Reading Streak” (or “the Streak” for short). Ozma's father was a primary school librarian (not something we ever have in the UK to my knowledge) and he was something of a professional reader so in their case it was always him reading to Alice, rather than the other way around.
"The Reading Promise" isn't hugely about the books they read (something she covers in a blog post here) and like many readers I found this a bit offputting at first. However I stuck with it and I'm glad I did because it is a charming account of a very dedicated and loving father/single parent and the passion for books and stories that he nurtures in his daughters and his students. It is also, I suppose, about the place of books in our lives as computers advance in schools and homes (though this is mostly in the final chapters) and it is also about eccentricity, in many ways, in children and in their parents. Maybe all families are eccentric (thus making a nonsense of the word...) but I think that single parent families, in particular, can't help but be a bit eccentric (I know the one I grew up in was...) and that at times, as a child, you feel the lacks more than the gains. Ozma, however, seems to have learned (a bit earlier than I did perhaps...) to appreciate that devoted single parent and to celebrate their efforts and achievements. For that (and for getting a good book published before the age of 25) congratulations to Alice Ozma – job well done on both counts.
Alice's father, Jim Brozina, has written the foreword to the book and here's an excerpt from it that I know my Mum would have approved of:
“A parent who has proven time and time again that the growth and happiness of his or her children is priority number one does not have to worry about where those children are heading in life. They will be sensitive and productive members of society for as long as they live.”
I'm not sure it's always as straightforward as that... but it's not a bad idea to try it anyway.
Alice Ozma's website is here.
An old blog post of mine about reading to the small one is here
The pic at top of post is an old one of my Mum reading to h (aforementioned “ducky book” I think). It must be from about 2001.