THE BLOG
10/26/2012 02:32 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader

"To begin with, it's true, she read with trepidation and some unease. The sheer endlessness of books outfaced her and she had no idea how to go on; there was no system to her reading, with one book leading to another and often she had two or three on the go at the same time. The next stage had been when she started to make notes, after which she always read with a pencil in hand, not summarizing what she read but simply transcribing passages that struck her. It was only after a year or so of reading and making notes that she tentatively ventured on the occasional thought of her own. 'I think of literature,' she wrote, 'as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.' Then (an unrelated thought): 'Etiquette may be bad but embarrassment is worse.'" Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader

The uncommon reader in this novel, in case you don't already know, is the Queen of England, who develops a passion for reading, almost accidentally, at quite a mature age. All hell breaks loose in the palace, though always in the most understated and proper way. Any reader, I think, will relate to this sudden love affair with books -- the hunger for reading, its satisfactions and frustrations, the way a good book (or a bad one) can make the mind race in all sorts of unexpected directions, and, finally, that unavoidable sense that there are so many good books to read and none of us can ever manage, as the queen says, to catch up.