The Uncommon Reader

A book is a device to ignite the imagination.

Above literature?' said the Queen. 'Who is above literature? You might as well say one was above humanity.

And it occurred to her 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.

Archbishop. Why do I never read the lesson?”

“I beg your pardon, ma’am?”

“In church. Everybody else gets to read and one never does. It’s not laid down, is it? It’s not off-limits?”

“Not that I’m aware, ma’am.”

“Good. Well in that case I’m going to start. Leviticus, here I come. Goodnight.”

The archbishop shook his head and went back to Strictly Come Dancing.

Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met within the pages of their novels, and were as much creatures of the reader's imagination as the characters in their books. Nor did they seem to think one had done them a kindness by reading their writings. Rather they had done one the kindness by writing them.

Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds.

Books are not about passing time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.

[B]riefing 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.

[...] But then books, as I'm sure you know, seldom prompt a course of actions. Books generally just confirm you in what you have, perhaps unwittingly, decided to do already. You go to a book to have your convictions corroborated. A book, as it were, closes the book.

Can there be any greater pleasure than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?

I have to seem like a human being all the time, but I seldom have to be one. I have people to do that for me.

I libri non sono un passatempo. Parlano di altre vite. Di altri mondi. Altro che far passare il tempo, Sir Kevin; non so cosa darei per averne di più.

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 to late. I will never catch up.

It was the kind of library
he had only read about in books.

I would have thought," said the prime minister, "that Your Majesty was above literature."
"Above literature?" said the Queen. "Who is above literature? You might as well say one is above humanity.

... Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter, mashed potato - one finishes what's on one's plate. That's always been my philosophy.

One reads for pleasure...it is not a public duty.

One recipe for happiness is to have to sense of entitlement.' To this she added a star and noted at the bottom of the page: 'This is not a lesson I have ever been in a position to learn.

Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting.

She‘d never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did, but liking books was something she left to other people.

...she felt about reading what some writers felt about writing: that it was impossible not to do it and that at this late stage of her life she had been chosen to read as others were chosen to write.

Still, though reading absorbed her, what the Queen had not expected was the degree to which it drained her of enthusiasm for anything else.

The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic.

The days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do.

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.

...to her all books were the same and, as with her subjects, she felt a duty to approach them without prejudice...Lauren Bacall, Winifred Holtby, Sylvia Plath - who were they? Only be reading could she find out.

To her, though, nothing could have been more serious, and she felt about reading what some writers felt about writing: that it was impossible not to do it and that at this late stage of her life she had been chosen to read as others were chosen to write.

To read is to withdraw.To make oneself unavailable. One would feel easier about it if the pursuit inself were less...selfish.

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.

You don't put your life into your books, you find it there.