Alice Ozma grew up in a book-lover's paradise, a bookish child with an elementary school librarian father enthusiastic about reading to her every, single evening, the two of them sharing lines they'd read, inside jokes about characters, etc. Before they began an official goal of reading together 100 nights in a row, they already came very near meeting that goal on a regular basis, skipping only a handful of nights. But making it an official gave them something firm to strive for, and once they'd achieved that it was time to set an even higher goal: reading for 1,000 nights.
One thousand nights! At first her father balked at that, thinking "Where will we be, what will we be doing in 1,000 days?" Unsurprisingly, in the end Alice had her way. Their next goal was set. With a little trepidation they were on a mission. And succeed they did, and then some.
The premise of the book is charming, and the relationship between Alice and her father a very close, endearing one. With a mother who'd run off from the family, and an older sister who seems more a shadow than a real person (which may just have been Alice's choice, to cut the family down to she and her father only), having her father to lean on was a comfort. As a bonus, she was the center of his world, the one person in his life he could say he influenced for the better, the father many of us dream of.
The problem with the book is after the first couple of chapters – in which Ozma describes her reading plan and its rules – the rest are unsatisfying, seemingly unconnected vignettes. As an adult, I found the reading had a few charming moments, as well as the poignancy of a child's perspective on a mother who abandoned her family, but the bulk of these stories were not at all compelling. It became a slog reading little bits about her family life, especially since the stories lacked much of anything in the way of talking about books – the purported intention of the book.
If Ozma intended to write a book aimed at children, she may find a certain appropriate audience. Perhaps they wouldn't mind as much a lack of continuity from chapter to chapter, a falling off from the original premise. But as a read for adults, there's simply not enough there to hold the interest. Could be she wanted to become a precocious, Ramona-type character who went from mischievous act to mischievous act, but if so somehow she didn't quite manage that. It would have required actual segues between the chapters, a plot one could follow, instead of random, meandering stories of dubious interest.
I was very disappointed in The Reading Promise, and felt the description of the book did not live up to the actuality. Had the vignettes and characters been more fully fleshed out, the writing of a higher calibre, perhaps I could have gotten beyond the promise unfulfilled. I would still have felt a bit cheated, but as it is I don't understand for whom, exactly, this book was written. It seems to be pitched at adults, but is it, really? In my opinion, no. It's written in too unsophisticated a style to hold the attention. Again, as a book for children maybe it would work, but even that's on thin ice.
I don't expect The Reading Promise will stand the test of time, and don't expect it to make the list of "Best Books About Books and Reading," which is most unfortunate, considering the intent Ozma had in writing it. The set-up was perfect: the precocious child who loves reading, paired with a father who loves sharing his love of reading with her. In the end, though, it just falls flat. What a shame.
[Thank you to NetGalley for my eBook ARC of this book.]