samedi 14 juin 2008

Sometimes you come across a small gem of a book that hits all the right notes. Alan Bennett’s novella The Uncommon Reader is one such book. It takes as a premise the idea of the Queen of England discovering a travelling library within the grounds of the Palace. From such an inauspicious beginning start a surprising love affair with books and its often unwanted consequences for those around her. For her this appetite for reading is all the more powerful because she discovers it a bit late in the day, so to speak.
Much like everyone else, what I know of the Queen depends on what’s in the news or movies, notably the Queen (where Helen Mirren played the role to eerie perfection). Reading this book however one gets a real sense of her character. This is perhaps attributable to Bennett’s skills as a writer or it could be because he really does know the Queen. But what is marvelous about this book is the sheer unalloyed joy it conveys about the pleasures of reading and the universality of the reading experience. To paraphrase, books don’t care who’s reading them, whether it is a great personage or a person like you or I. And more importantly, it is not about passing time, but about discovering other lives and other worlds. That to my mind has to be one of the greatest things about spending your time with a good book in hand.

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