"I am terribly afraid of falling, myself," said the Cowardly Lion, "but I suppose there is nothing to do but try it. So get on my back and we will make the attempt."
— L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Reading Promise
By Alice Ozma
Hardcover, 304 pages
Grand Central Publishing
List Price: $24.99
It started on a train. I am sure of it. The 3,218-night reading marathon that my father and I call The Streak started on a train to Boston, when I was in third grade. We were reading L. Frank Baum's The Tin Woodman of Oz, the twelfth book in the beloved Oz series, a few hours into our trip. The woman across the aisle turned to us and asked why my father was reading to me on a train. We simply told her that this was what we always did — he had been reading to me every night for as long as I could remember, ever since we read Pinocchio when I was four. Being on vacation didn't make much of a difference. Why not read? Why not always read?
But her surprise made us think. If we were going to read on vacation anyway, how hard could it be to make reading every night an official goal? I suggested to my father that we aim for one hundred consecutive nights of reading, and he agreed to the challenge. This is how I remember it.
If you ask my father, though, as many people recently have, he'll paint an entirely different picture.
"Lovie," he tells me, as I patiently endure his version of the story, "you're cracked in the head. Do you want to know what really happened or are you just going to write down whatever thing comes to mind?"
Lovie, as I'm sure you can guess, is not my real name.
Alice is, but only sort of. My full name is Kristen Alice Ozma Brozina, but I don't care for Kristen. Alice and Ozma are names my father chose from literature, names I would later choose for myself. It's a decision that took a long time, but one I'm very happy I made. Those names always felt like my real names to me, as I'll explain later. Also, Lovie is not the affectionate pet name you might think it is. As are all things in my father's vocabulary, it is a reference to something — this time it's Mr. Howell's nickname for Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island. My father never calls me by my name; Lovie is his most commonly chosen alternative. But when I drop something, or forget something, or do any of the silly things we all manage to do on a regular basis, "Lovie" is often followed by phrases such as "you nitwit!"
"So tell me then," I say, standing in his doorway as he gets ready to run errands.
"Well, when did Mom leave?" he asks.
"I was ten."
"All right, so 1997 it started. The Streak was a year old when she left."
"And what were we reading?"
"Well," he says thoughtfully, "it had to be an Oz book.
That's what we were into around that time. I wanted to try other things, but you were set in your ways."
So far, we agree. But I know this won't last long.
"We were on the bed, we'd just finished reading," he says, "and I was fearing the Curse of Mr. Henshaw."
"What is that curse?"
"Dear Mr. Henshaw was the book I was reading to Kathy when she asked me to stop reading to her," he says in an almost whisper.
It is clear that this memory, though nearly two decades old, still troubles him. My sister was in fourth grade when she said she no longer wanted my father to read to her. It seemed childish to her, especially since she was already reading novels on her own. But it wasn't so easy for my father. He was an elementary school librarian, and reading to children was what he liked to do best. And maybe next to being a father, it's also what he does best. His soothing voice and rehearsed facial expressions have won over thousands of children throughout his career.
They won me over, too, but I was already on his side.
"For some time, I'd been planning to suggest to you that we do a streak, because then at least you'd be a little older when we stopped reading together. I brought it up, and honest to Pete, I thought you were going to say we should read a hundred nights in a row!" He laughs as he recalls this. I don't laugh because I think I did suggest a hundred nights in a row. Initially.
"No," he continues, "Right away you said, 'Let's do one thousand!' And I had to pretend to be enthusiastic, of course, but I wasn't too optimistic. One thousand nights is a long time."
I have to stop him there. None of this sounds right to me. First I remind him that our goal had been one hundred nights.
When we reached that goal, however, and celebrated with a pancake breakfast at the local greasy spoon, we decided to set a new goal. We skipped the discussions of lower options, from two hundred to five hundred, and ultimately decided to try for one thousand nights. I tell him this, but he just shakes his head. When I try to explain that The Streak actually began on the train, he cuts me off.
"Ah, the Curious Incident of the Train in the Nighttime!" he says, adapting the title of one of our favorite Sherlock Holmes stories.
"I remember that part clearly," he continues, "because I never miss an opportunity to brag about what a good father I am. We were on the train to Boston, going up to see the sights for a weekend, and the woman next to us said how sweet it was that I was reading to you. I told her right away that we were on a streak, forty nights in! I was pleased with myself, absurdly pleased with myself, pleased as a peacock to have made it forty nights."
Excerpted from the book The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma Copyright 2011, Alice Ozma Published by Grand Central Publishing. All Rights Reserved