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

not what it claims to be

[Caveat: I listened to about one-third of this audiobook before giving up.]

Ozma’s father read aloud to her every single night from when she was nine years old until she left for college.  That’s lovely.  I love books and reading and reading to my children, so I thought I would enjoy this book.  However, the book isn’t about the books they read, or about how the books affected their lives, or really about reading the books at all.  Each chapter begins with a quote from a book they read, but other than that, the author talks little about the books or the reading.  Rather, this is a memoir of Ozma growing up with her father.  And I found it incredibly…mild.  There is no real conflict, just a series of little stories, hiding out in the museum with her father for a boy-hater’s club, getting locked in the principal’s office, and so on.  No real conflict, just pleasant little stories.

Also, two sticking points: First, from a causal inference crank (me).  Ozma’s father writes the foreword and points out all the fabulous academic achievements that Ozma has achieved, suggesting the link between years of reading aloud and said achievements.  We all know that reading aloud is great for kids, but the specific link in this case is pretty tenuous.  How much of these wonderful achievements comes from reading Alice in Wonderland and how much comes from having a father who encourages reading in other ways, from having a father who works at a school, and so on.

Second, from a book-loving crank.  Ozma attributes the finding of Narnia to SUSAN in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Susan!  I would be annoyed if this were a regular book, but this is a book about someone who loves books and children’s literature.  Susan’s the last one who would have discovered Narnia.

I’m sure many people would enjoy this book, but it is not a book about the books that Ozma and her father shared, or about books at all.

PS For an excellent essay on reading aloud to your children, read Anne Fadiman’s introductory essay in her book Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love.

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