In The Uncommon Reader,
Alan Benneft shows how the seductiveness of books can subvert the most
well-ordered lives — even that of the queen of England.
Discovering a mobile library van on the palace grounds as she pursues
her escaped corgis, Queen Elizabeth II checks out a novel to be polite.
The next week she checks out another one, and soon the queen is hooked
on reading. She has Norman, a kitchen hand whom she'd met in the
traveling library, moved to her floor of the palace so they can discuss
her newfound interest. Books intrude on her official duties. The
formerly punctual monarch arrives late for the opening of Parliament
because she sent for the book she'd forgotten to take for the coach
ride. Instead of the usual safe questions, she is likely to ask her
subjects, "What are you reading at the moment?" Her attendants become
alarmed by what they judge as eccentric and perhaps senile behavior.
Behind her back, Norman is sent off to school — but the queen
The undercurrent of this comedic fable is a serious reflection on reading and what books can do to a person. It is also about the limits of reading. In her 80th year, Elizabeth decides that reading can take her only so far — and so her next pursuit will be writing. Her attendants are doubly alarmed.
The author of this short, clever book is a leading British playwright whose successes include The Madness of King George III and The History Boys, which won six Tony Awards, including Best Play, in 2006.
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