The Reading Promise

A father reads out loud to his daughter – 3,218 nights in a row.

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    The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared
    By Alice Ozma
    Grand Central Publishing
    279 pp.
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A coworker was trying to explain to me just how pampered her nephew was.

“His mother read him Harry Potter!” she finally came up with as the sina qua non of indulgence. “Not just picture books: Harry Potter.”

The conversation ended shortly after I explained that I was currently reading “Goblet of Fire” to my then-8-year-old.

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Based on this criteria, Kristen Brozina must be the most spoiled child in existence. Her father read to her every night from the time she was 9 until the day she went away to college. “The Streak,” as they called it, lasted 3,218 nights. Originally, they were going for 100 nights, as Kristen – who now uses her middle names, Alice Ozma – explains in her memoir, The Reading Promise. Actually, her dad, a children’s librarian, was trying to stave off what he called “The Curse of ‘Dear Mr. Henshaw.’ ” He had been in the middle of reading the Newbery Award winner to her older sister, Kathy, when Kathy informed him she could take it from there.

Father and daughter can’t agree on how long the streak was originally supposed to last or which book they were reading when it started. (They are sure it was one of the Oz books but can’t agree as to which one). But both remember when it ended: in a stairwell in her dorm the day she arrived at Brown University in Providence, R.I. The book: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

The Streak, as Ozma writes, was a constant in a life of uncertainty. It survived her mother’s departure (on Thanksgiving Day, no less), the deaths of both her grandparents, and her older sister leaving home, first for college, then for good. Her father was not a hugger, so the only snuggling she got was during story time. (One of the saddest chapters describes the end of the cuddling one night when the two had an argument when Ozma was 12 and both were too stubborn to unbend.)

The Brozina household was rich only in books. Her dad was trying to repay debt, while saving for his daughters’ college education and keeping the house – on a librarian’s salary. “My back-to-school wardrobe one year consisted of one orange shirt, a size too big and oddly stained, that I found on clearance. We went for a few years without eating any meals out, and even the occasional treat of two items each from the McDonald’s Dollar Menu was enough to make my sister and me stare at each other bug-eyed, wondering what had come over our father to prompt such frivolous spending,” Ozma writes.

But her dad taught her to love spiders, thunderstorms, and, above all, stories. They read all the Oz books multiple times, Dickens, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes. When Alice was a teenager, her dad would “edit” YA books like “Dicey’s Song” as they went along, leaving out anything that embarrassed him and rendering some of the conversations indecipherable.

Sometimes devotion to The Streak could be painful: One night, her dad showed up at community theater rehearsal at 11:45 p.m., announcing to the director and the rest of the cast that he needed to read to his teenage daughter. (The book was “Ten Little Indians,” by Agatha Christie, read by flashlight.)

They weren’t expecting The Streak to go on more than three times longer than Scheherazade’s marathon record, so Ozma doesn’t have a complete list of everything they read, but there’s enough fodder in the list she includes at the end to launch a thousand bedtime stories.

I immediately grabbed “Become Perfect in Three Days or Less” and two Oz books from my local library, for use at bedtime after we finish “Redwall” and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” My son is now as old as Ozma was when she and her father started their streak. I don’t know if we’ll amass a pile as immense as theirs, but as legacies go, you could do a lot worse than books.

Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.

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