Reading is a way to expand your mind, grow as a person and learn about the surrounding world. But what if you were the Queen of England, whose mind is expanded beyond that of the "commoner," whose world is the world? What can reading do for the Queen?
In The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett supposes that very thing.
Queen Elizabeth is a pleasant enough woman, not terribly self-aware and not really all that interested in becoming that way. She refers to herself in the third person, as "one." (Which makes sense — she is rather singular, isn't she?)
Then she has a chance encounter with a bookmobile.
Perusing the bookshelves with the Queen of England is fun and interesting. Her selection process is very unique. She knows many authors, but not as much from their books as from their encounters with her: who was knighted, who had an audience, who had brushes with other members of the Royal Family (famous, infamous or private). Like other heads of state, she has a library herself — and her musings on her own library are wonderful.
Reading makes people think. So, what would reading make the Queen Elizabeth II think about?
Reading makes people wonder. What do monarchs wonder about?
Monarchs have power. How does reading affect someone in that very precarious spot?
Monarchs, as a rule, do not change; they're in it for life, and most people assume that what they see is what they get — forever. However, reading does change people. Can a monarch be changed by a novel, a book of poetry? What does one learn about one's self in someone else's memoir? What does that mean?
Reading is fun. Can a woman who has been leader of part of the free world for five decades enjoy this activity? Will she be allowed?
Finally, many people wonder what Queen Elizabeth II carries in her handbag. I always wondered what was on her nightstand. This gives us a (fictitious) glance.
This lovely little book was a quick and delicious bite of fancy. One learns about personality, power, control, manipulation, appearances, heads of state and more. The progress is solid and logical, but not at all plodding or without surprises. Frankly, it's worth it all for the final scene, even the final sentence.
The author shows a kindness and affection for this fictitious monarch. There is no judgment (which I wonder would be possible for an American author writing about the sitting U.S. President). The perspective is third-person, so one has a glimpse of more than the mind of the monarch — which is like bonus after bonus. Bennett shows us how those closest to the Queen interact with her on a personal and professional level. How does one manage her? How does one converse with her — or do they? What goes through the mind of those who encounter the Queen? Read Bennett's book to find out.
I gladly recommend this novella. It will make readers think to themselves exactly what reading means to them — and will allow them to wonder what reading could mean to others, a delight in itself.