“What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.”
In “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett, the queen of England is meandering about her grounds one day following her corgis as they bark up an awful racket. Turning the corner to see what has alarmed them, she comes upon a traveling library.
The queen, never having visited the traveling library, goes inside out of a sense of duty more than interest, but she checks out a book anyway. Through this chance encounter when she is 79 years old, a late in life love of reading is born.
The only other visitor on her forays to the traveling library is a young man named Norman, who works in the kitchens. The queen decides she likes his knowledge of books and frank manner, so she promotes him to be her amanuensis, a literary adviser and assistant.
Thereafter, he sits outside her door (often reading) in case she needs him to advise her on books or authors she may enjoy, to fetch volumes for her or return a book to its home.
The queen’s growing obsession with books begins to annoy her husband, her staff and her visitors.
She used to be a part of dedications and state affairs with a proud sense of duty and willingness but now resents the time they take from her books.
She used to wave enthusiastically from her coach to the crowds; now, she waves with one hand while reading a book (out of sight) in the other.
Her interest in literature opens up the world to her in a way she has never experienced but causes concern and strife among her attendants.
She no longer cares if a pair of shoes is worn twice a week – only that the next Plath book she wants to check out is available.
Instead of talking about traffic or the weather with visiting dignitaries, she asks about their interest in Proust or Dickinson.
The voracious reader the queen becomes creates a humorous account of how books can envelop a person and become an all-consuming passion.
This lovely novella is for anyone who has ever stayed up late in bed reading by flashlight, anyone who has curled up on a couch for the evening with a novel instead of going out on the town and anyone who has ever put off all real obligations until the next book in a series was finished.
Whether you are just discovering your love of reading or have had a lifelong affair with literature, this cheerful, feel-good novel about books is a must read for bibliophiles everywhere.