A couple of years before turning 80, The Queen discovers the pleasure of reading. She falls in love with it so much that she begins detesting her royal duties. Her corgis are ignored. She doesn’t care about her appearance. (She repeats her dress twice in a fortnight. What a cardinal sin!) Instead of waving at the folks gathered at parades, she buries her nose into a book, much to the chagrin of the Duke.
Her Majesty, who used to employ her usual pack of questions like, “Did you travel far? How’s the weather? Was the traffic bad?” which always kept the conversations going, is now curious of what her visitors are currently reading. The Prime Minister dreads his rendezvous with her, for she shoves books in his hands every time, and to his dismay, she asks questions from the books when he visits next time, only to ensure that he read it.
Everyone, including her personal secretary Sir Kevin and her equerries, reckon that the Queen’s newly-acquired love is not becoming, and they begin to believe that her tendency to ignore her duties must be the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Bennett observes, “Thus it was that the dawn of sensibility was mistaken for the onset of senility.” They try to steer her attention towards royal duties, and their futile attempt makes her realise her love for writing. Ah, how beautiful, heartwarming, this book was!
Alan Bennett, in his charming way, makes one understand the benefits of reading. The Queen becomes more patient and empathetic. She pays attention to others’ expressions. Above all, Bennett kindly highlights how much she has missed despite having the biggest share of the world.
Reading does that to us, doesn’t it? It make us content and greedy; all at the same time.
I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Her Majesty and her amanuensis, Norman Seakins. The young man, who’s deployed in the kitchen, is promoted by the Queen herself after she finds him borrowing books from a mobile library. From recommending her next read to packing her travel reading-suitcase to frequenting the London Library to borrow books for her, he does everything to quench the Queen’s literary-thirst.
I envy Norman Seakins. I have finally found my calling. Seakins’s is the kind of job that I want to do. 🙂 How wonderful life would be when I sit in a corner and read all day, and pick up more books for somebody! If you are willing to offer that sort of job, please consider this my personal application. 😉
The Queen and I have something in common. That’s really saying something, but I am trying hard to be modest. 🙂 Our love for reading flowered late. If she married reading in her late seventies, I met the right books when I was 21. In Her Majesty’s words, we are opsimaths. And, she is certainly an adorable one at that.
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.
‘I can understand,’ he said, ‘Your Majesty’s need to pass the time.’ ‘Pass the time?’ said the Queen. ‘Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it…’
Had she been asked if reading had enriched her life she would have had to say yes, undoubtedly, though adding with equal certainty that it had at the same time drainer her life of all purpose.
You go to a book to have your convictions corroborated.
‘You don’t put your life into your books. You find it there.’