What a charming Easter read!
I read the novella The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett this afternoon. This tiny book takes an entertaining fictional look at the Queen of England and the subversive power of reading. One afternoon, the Queen follows her corgis around the courtyard and comes across a mobile library. She checks out a book (by Ivy Compton-Burnett) just to be polite, but as the days and weeks go by she finds herself reading more and more, memoirs and histories and novels. She is helped by Norman, a servant from the kitchens who she meets at the mobile library and later promotes to her amanuensis. (Norman looked it up in the dictionary the Queen now kept always on her desk. ‘One who writes from dictation; copies manuscripts. A literary assistant.’) They discuss books and create longer reading lists together, following rabbit trails from one work to another.
As the Queen becomes a Reader, she ponders why she is so caught up in reading at this stage in her life.
The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic.
The more she reads and thinks about reading, the more she questions the prescribed order of the world. I won’t reveal more than that, in case you’d like to read The Uncommon Reader for yourself, which I highly recommend!