The story begins as the Queen of England is walking her corgis. Her adventuresome dogs pull her into a bookmobile parked outside the palace. Not wanting to be rude, she checks out a book--out of a sense of obligation rather than true interest. She returns that book and borrows another--Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love. This second book turns the Queen into a passionate reader--that is, a Reader--who seeks out more and more books.
At first, the Queen is guided in her reading by her young kitchen assistant who soon becomes her amanuensis. Because of his own interests, he steers her subtly to gay authors. Some of the palace staff question whether this is appropriate and are curious if she even recognizes what she is reading. Although some might feel this detail is little more than amusing, it highlights the disconnect between her vast experience of the world and her everyday sheltered life.
Although the Queen's life continues to be removed from the world around her, reading teaches her that this is not the whole story. She discovers that "books did not defer. All readers were equal." The Queen is finally able to imagine being normal: the experience of reading is available to all and therefore "it was anonymous; it was shared; it was common."
Soon she becomes as obsessed about reading as any book blogger could be. She neglects her duties and abandons her fastidiousness in order to cram in a few more pages. My favorite fictional image of the fictional Queen is her waving to the gathered throngs from her carriage, all the while looking down at the pages in her lap. Apparently the current Queen has not discovered that strategy yet.
|Not Reading But Waving|
The palace assistants become concerned about the Queen's new obsession and try to nip it in the bud. After she tucks her book under the carriage cushions while she attends a function, the assistants remove the book. When she asks where it is, the assistants respond that it was a matter of security: sniffer dogs had confiscated it and the book had probably been exploded.
"'Exploded?' said the Queen. 'But it was Anita Brookner.'"
Although the Queen's reading tastes are broad, she does have her limits. When people tell her they are reading Harry Potter, she responds in her beautifully superior way, "Yes. One is saving that for a rainy day."
Reading opens up a whole new perspective for the Queen on human nature, on relationships, and on emotion. The novels she consumes transform her and humanize her--and eventually give her a voice of her own. "Books have enriched my life in a way that one could never have expected. But books can only take one so far," says the Queen, "and now I think it is time that from being a reader I become, or try to become, a writer."
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I discovered this charming book after reading Thomas's review on My Porch. Check out his blog if you do not know it already. I especially love his discussion of whether or not there are American cozies. Thanks, Thomas! Also check out Teresa's post on Shelf Love. She listened to the audiobook, read by the author. I very much enjoyed the discussion in the comments after her post as well.