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.


Titus said...

Just read swiss, loosely on parenting too today!

Not the sort of book that would usually attract me, but I'm intrigued by the notion and the dedication. Bookish households beget bookish children, I have no doubt (Lo! Land of the English Students!) but whether that's a really good thing I'm not sure.

And the quote is great, but some incredible aspiration! Growth and happiness are big concepts and as hard to hold as the usual handful of sand. I have no doubt Russian oligarchs (the bete noir a la mode) make the growth and happiness of their children a big priority, but whether they'll be sensitive and productive is open to debate. In fact, the more I think about the quote the more it seems to unravel, so maybe I'll be giving the book a miss. I'm a bit tired of children as priority. Let's have a life with children right there with us, but not the reason why we're having that life.

Great picture. Good golly! Baby h looks just like a baby h should! How come some babies are like that?

Rachel Fox said...

I wonder often if h would be as bookish without her fairly bookish home surroundings... but then I have watched Mark try to convert her to sports often enough to know that a lot of it is just IN her and nothing to do with what's around. One of our favourite quotes used to be from "My name is Earl" (the kids beauty competition episode) - "Put that book down!"

I don't think we need to overanalyse the quote from her Dad too much (plus he is a man whose whole career was working with children - keep that in mind). I know what he meant, you know what he meant (and you do it too - I've met your boys and read your blog!).

I didn't put the dedication in (did I?). It reads "For 'Avant', 'Prospectus', and literary magazines everywhere filled with nerdy, wonderful kids - there's hope for us yet".

As for the baby pic - she was a skinny thing for so long.. makes me love these slightly chubby baby pics all the more!


Titus said...

Oh yes, I like that dedication!

The Weaver of Grass said...

That's a photograph you must treasure Rachel.

I loved the bookshops in the US too - Borders was the one we came across most - in Flagstaff and in Baltimore - floor upon floor of books, and coffee machines and lovely settees to sit and read. Why aren't our bookshops like that. I bought Travels with Charley in Phoenix Borders and Complete Emily Dickinson in Baltimore and I treasure them both. Have made a note of the book you recommend - sounds good.

Rachel Fox said...

The Borders stores in the US are all being shut down, Weaver. We did go to one (the original Ann Arbor one) and got a few bargains (as they are closing too as far as I know). The company is disappearing ("Business operations are expected to cease by September 2011" according to wikipedia).

We did try to do the big shop/coffee machine/settee route for bookshops in the UK but I think we started too late and the internet shopping writing was already on the wall. It's one reason I liked Powell's so much - it is an independent and a very good one. Though, as I say, I like most bookshops (even bad ones). I like libraries even more.


Anonymous said...

Neil has always read to the boys at bedtime. Not to Sam any more but Caelan demands it every night without fail. It is one of my most cherished experiences of being a wife and mother. Perhaps I will get around to this book at some point, I hope so. x

Rachel Fox said...

You're near enough to be able to borrow my copy!

I suppose reading about her lovely, dedicated Dad might be sad at times (for those of us who missed out on that experience...) but somehow it isn't annoying. It's just a family tale - good and not so good stuff happens.


hope said...

I think the love of books is often a seed planted by an adult who loves to read! My Mom read to me until I could read, then I always seemed to have my nose in a book of some kind.

I did the same for my nephew, who's the only grandchild on our side of the family. In fact, I have the distinction of gifting him his first age one week old. :) He was adopted and the book, written by actress Jamie Lee Curtis who adopted her children, is "Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born!" A simple, feel good book for adopted kids told with a sense of humor and the thought that "you were suppose to be in our family, no matter how you got here."

Seems like I have a book going in my desk for lunch hours and one on CD to listen to on my commute.

Love little "h" and especially that hair!

Dominic Rivron said...

Sounds like a good book. (When people start talking about reading stories to children I find it hard not to start going on and on about Arthur Ransome... I'll resist!)

I try never to read in my lunch hour. If there's one hour I want to savour every minute of, it's that one - and if I spend it reading a good book, time flies by.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, we have an adopted person in our family too, Hope - one of my favourites! Blood ties can be overrated... And which hair are you referring to? h's lack of it? My Mum's post-gardening, never-a-woman-to-rush-to-the-salon-or-use-a-hairdryer look?

You, go on about Arthur Ransome, Dominic... never!


hope said...

The lovely color! Seems like she and I had the same lack of hair style at that age. :)

And I think your Mum looked perfect! Just like a Grandma should look...well then again, I grew up in the Fairy Tale era, before Grannies where wearing jeans and power walking. ;)

Rachel Fenton said...

When I lived int eh UK books were cheap and plenty. Back then I used to visit shoes until the day came I might be able to afford the ones I coveted. Usually the day passed and a new pair got my imaginary flowers and grapes. But here in NZ the books are expensive - even second hand ones - and my local library is not so into the random tomes that I am and a wait is necessary for them to catch on. I visit books now. I'll be visiting this book to assess its merits for future purchase.

I read to my daughter every day until she turned six, when she expressed a desire to read to herself. She reads every day. I'm sure we spend more time together because of reading.

Bit rambly today, sorry.

h is lucky to have been given a house of sound and books and you x

Rachel Fenton said...

typo maniac....

Rachel Fox said...

My Mum never once wore a pair of what she called "denim jeans", Hope! And because she lived with us for 6 years (though that was after the photo on here) we have lots of great photos of the two of them together. They were great pals. h is lucky too - she still has other lovely grandparents on her Dad's side.

I don't buy clothes much but I can visit shoes too, Rachel (I bought a pair of green trainers in LA, for example - love them to bits!). That book situation sounds harsh - books here (on Amazon) have got so much cheaper... not good for the industry perhaps but good for the customer. They even do free delivery now... and because we live in the sticks I do use them (there isn't a proper bookshop for miles). I buy a lot of second hand books and use the library a fair bit too.


Anonymous said...

I'm reading, "ROOM" by Emma Donoghue. Even though I'm not a mom, it is one of the most compelling things I've ever read.

Rachel Fox said...

A good recommendation... I'll keep an eye out for it.