My father was a printer. I remember him taking me downtown to his office and showing me the metal letters he used to place on the large machine press that would make books, magazines and papers. He stressed how with one mistaken letter, the whole printing would be ruined. He was proud of his work and his brothers who worked beside him. The high paying trade would disappear from my youth to teenage years, and this magical workplace with adroit hands and keen eyes was replaced with a computer. Before he was fifty, his livelihood was obsolete.
Alice Ozma’s The Reading Promise proposes an even more terrifying suggestion. What if reading is on its way out; being replaced by educational pundits who believe that narrative is holding humanity back from reaching its technological potential? This young Philadelphian author has penned her touching memoir of being a daughter of a lover of books. She and her father explore a journey of over 3,000 nights of reading together. From Shakespeare to Lowery, The Secret Garden to Harry Potter, Alice traces her passion for books as she recounts her family life from the precious and intimate to the tragic and bizarre aspects that make each family dynamic unique.
The Streak begins when Alice was nine and ends on her first day of college. The Reading Promise offers a zestful attitude towards reading rarely seen in her generation. The book consists of simple four to five page essays on mostly pedestrian childhood and teenage issues tied together with the motif of a father and daughter relationship. For the first part of the book, you have the feeling that Alice Ozma is learning how to write, in love with her own voice, and afraid to reveal too much to the reader. Her writing is a girl in a pretty, frilly dress who does not want it to get dirty. She is afraid to judge and challenge as it becomes a tribute to her demigod of her father.
The chapter inscriptions taken from other works was the most valuable part of the first 15-20 chapters. I was about to give up this too sweet candy when I started to feel the writer breaking through. Just when the streak of her father’s reading to her was coming to its conclusion, Alice Ozma starts finding her voice. She challenges her mother in a stream of consciousness when she is in a car accident. She sees flaws in her father as he tries to start relationships and his frugality. The best part of the work is when her father’s job as a librarian and his “reading aloud” philosophy are challenged and discarded by his school district, thus sending him into retirement. Though the first 20 chapters are worth a peripheral read, they do set up a young person’s emergence as a passionate advocate for the value of reading and loyalty. The last ten chapters reveal a new voice rising with emotion, style and insight.
It is rare that you get to read a new writer and watch her grow in the midst of a book. You have that in this coming of age collection of essays. It will serve the reader in exploring a father daughter bond, remembering when books became important, and how we must defend and promote the written word by reading and promoting the craft. Alice Ozma’s warning comes clear in the end: if readers are not passionate about this form of communication, then its enemies will eliminate it from the future.
That trip long ago, when I was six to my father’s printing job, made me passionate about writing and words. He did not see his disappearance coming, just like Alice’s father in The Reading Promise. We should spend a little time thinking how important reading is and why our society is devaluing it each day. If we do not make the promise to be passionate about books and words and practice reading and writing today, there is a real reality that it will not be here tomorrow.
From the Book Jacket:
Alice Ozma, a recent Rowan University graduate, lives in Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is passionate about literature, education, and working with children. Find out more about the author by visiting her website: www.makeareadingpromise.com
You might also like these other posts from the Lunch Break: Writing’s Future, Books: Who told you you might meddle with such hifalut'n foolishness, hey?, and A 30 Somethings' Reflection On The Modern Day Bookstore