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Monday, September 14, 2015

Queen Elizabeth II's Literary Odyssey - "The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett

Queen Elizabeth II is now Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.  What does this have to do with books and reading?  Well, The Guardian printed a short article entitled “The Queen of Arts: Elizabeth II in Fiction”: http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/sep/11/queen-arts-elizabeth-second-fiction?CMP=twt_books_b-gdnbooks.

That got me thinking about Alan Bennett’s book The Uncommon Reader which imagines the queen’s literary odyssey.  One of the highlights of the novella is the observations about literature and reading.  Here’s my baker’s dozen of favourites:

“What she was finding 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.”

“Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting.”

“Books are not about passing the time.  They’re about other lives.  Other worlds.  Far from wanting time to pass, . . . one just wishes one had more of it.”

“The appeal of reading . . . 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.”

“I think of literature . . . as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but cannot possibly reach.”

“Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met within the pages of their novels, and were as much creatures of the reader’s imagination as the characters in their books.”

“Can there be any greater pleasure . . . than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?”

“. . . reading was, among other things, a muscle that [can be] developed.”

“Books are wonderful, aren’t they? . . . At the risk of sounding like a piece of steak, . . . they tenderize one.”

“Who is above literature?  You might as well say one was above humanity.”

“A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”

“You don't put your life into your books.  You find it there.”

“...to her all books were the same and, as with her subjects, she felt a duty to approach them without prejudice.”