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Friday, June 24, 2011

"The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett

This novella posits a reigning queen of England who comes to the pleasures of reading late in her life. One book leads her to another, and before long she has become an avid reader. Her course of reading enlightens, liberates, humanizes her; as she puts it in the book, 'tenderizes her.' For the first time she has sympathy for others, and learns to put herself in their shoes.

The story is pretty simple and straightforward. In reading it, I chiefly delighted in some of the descriptions of the reading experience.

"What she was finding also 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."

"...but briefing is not reading. In fact it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up."

"Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to just wishes one had more of it."

"Once she would have let this pass, but one effect of reading had been to diminish the Queen's tolerance for jargon."

"...and she felt about reading what some writers feel about writing: that it was impossible not to do it..."

"And it occurred to her (as next day she wrote down) that reading was, among other things, a muscle and one that she had seemingly developed. She could read the novel with ease and great pleasure, laughing at remarks, they were hardly jokes, that she had not even noticed before."