I’ve gotten several emails, and read some reviews, saying that my book was not what people thought it would be. Sometimes they say it as a good thing, and when they’re not directly emailing me it’s sometimes a bad thing, but it does often come up, and it usually goes like this:
I thought your book would be all about books. I thought it would include in-depth discussions, and lengthy debates, and character analysis. But really, it’s less about the books and more about the people who read them. What gives?
If this is your accusation, I have to admit: I stand guilty as charged.
This was a very deliberate decision. If I’d written a book about discussions with my father, getting into detail on many of the books we’d read, who could relate to that? Only people who’d read those books. The title is The Reading Promise – it’s about making a Reading Promise. If you’ve already read every book I discuss and you’re hankering for fleshed-out insights or a detailed trip down memory lane, chances are pretty darn good that you’ve made a Reading Promise. And that’s awesome. But you’re not my target audience.
My target was the parent who is just a little unsure, or the teenager who is ashamed to admit he misses bedtime stories. I reached out to those who’d never been read to, and therefore lacked the courage to read to others. I offered connections, human and real, to those who always found books unfamiliar and daunting. As much as possible, I tried to write a book about reading for non-readers.
Not just for non-readers, of course: I’ve gotten countless emails from librarians, teachers, and parents like my dad. Those are absolutely wonderful to receive. But you were already on my side. For us, my book is more of a club meeting – a pow wow with our peers and a reunion with old friends. “Oh, there’s Piglet! And Tiny Tim! And oh wow, Encyclopedia Brown! I haven’t seen him in ages!” For us, it was more of a photo album: brief snapshots into a world we could have otherwise forgotten, different in the hands of each holder as it is our own memories that make it come to life.
But that album has to mean something when I hand it to someone who hasn’t read Winnie the Pooh, or A Christmas Carol, or Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case. Otherwise, it’s not a book about making a Reading Promise; it’s a book about reminding ourselves why we already did so, so many years ago. And while that could make for a great book – and is, for many still the purpose of my book – it would not quite be enough on its own.
Sandra Cisneros says, indirectly, that she wrote The House on Mango Street “for those who cannot out” – for the people who cannot escape their circumstances. For the people who feel trapped and alone. If you had parents who read to you, or if you are a parent who has time to read to your children on a daily basis, you are quite lucky, and this book is, in part, for you. But if you did not or cannot, The Reading Promise is a book for those who cannot out.
It may not be what you expected. But I hope it might be what someone needs.