Guilty as Charged

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.

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 9:00 am  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “It may not be what you expected. But I hope it might be what someone needs.”

    Good words. Sums up my thoughts perfectly. It was not what I’d thought. It was actually better! I could relate to the love of literature, I could see glimpses of my Dad in your dad, and I understood better a single dad in my own life.
    It’s rated as one of the best books I’ve read this summer.
    And I read alot!

  2. I have always loved to read, and I fondly remember when my dad used to read to me. I was the oldest of 7 children, and only got this treat for a short time, but the memories stuck. I am now 62 years old, and have enjoyed reading to our children and 6 grandchildren, and at my job teaching Head Start children. I too have a wonderful collection of favorite books, and I felt so overwhelmingly sad when I read what was happening to your dear father in his library. I was afraid it would be the death of him, but I’m glad to hear he had the spunk to go back at it. Did he get elected to school board, and did they listen to him? I have had run-ins with our school board on various things like fresh air and healthy food, and find myself staring in disbelief when they don’t agree with my common sense. He must be so proud of you, growing up so remarkably well. Thank you for sharing your story. I just finished it, and will pass it on to my daughter, because she loves to read to her boys.

  3. I have recommended this book to many people. As someone who works in a library, I speak with parents, children and those who are neither. Since this book spoke to me of a time in my life, and one I would wish for many more people, I tell them to read the book, read to their children and keep the written word alive.

  4. I loved your book and i didn’t have any prior expectations. It brought back many memories of my childhood when my dad would take the time at the end of a tiring day to read to us. I’m a member of you pow-wow and hope to remain so. I’m now reading all those children’s books i haven’t read for years and i’m hoping to add a few new ones to the list. My only question is – what are you going to write next?

    ps i don’t have a word press account, i dont do twitter and i rarely do facebook, you really could do with a ‘follow me’ button.

  5. I too might say it wasn’t exactly what I expected, however I could NOT put it down. I loved it!!! I’m a teacher, have taught preschool and elementary grades 2-4 and always dreamed of being a librarian. I had looked into getting my certification for it and realized it would not be worth it right now. An actual librarian is pretty nonexistent in schools around here now. However, like most things in education, someone will FINALLY realize this HUGE mistake and it will come back. And I’ll be here ready!!!
    Thanks for your book! I LOVED it!!!

  6. I am about to write a review (or a piece online at least) about your book and was certainly going to mention that it wasn’t what I expected at all. I think if I’m honest partly what I was hoping for from it was some new ideas for books for my daughter and I to read together (I’m always on the look out for things we haven’t tried). I think I was even hoping your book might be something we would read together too… and we still might do that.
    So yes, for the first few chapters I was a bit distracted with it (oh come on, talk about some books!) but then as the chapters went by and I learned to love your Dad (I too had a devoted, never stopped working for me single parent) the book had won me over.
    Being something unexpected is not a bad thing!

  7. I just finished your book and I absolutly LOVED it. I had no ideas on what it would be like before I read it, and it surpassed all I could have thought of. It really inspired me, and when I have kids (in a very long time)I will definately start a streak with them. My father also read to my sister and I as kids, and thanks to that we both love reading. 🙂 thanks for writing such a wonderful book and giving me a great idea so I can raise imaginative, creative, vivacious (jfk-phobic :)) children when i’m older!

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