The Uncommon Reader happens to be the Queen herself, Elizabeth II. The Queen has never cared much for reading, and didn’t even know that the local bookvan visited her palace grounds. But one day her Corgis take off on a run and lead the Queen straight to the bookvan’s doors. She collects her dogs, but she feels obligated to visit with the librarian and the sole patron in the bookvan. Appearances dictate that she should borrow a book, just to be polite.
“The Queen hesitated, because to tell the truth she wasn’t sure. 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. It was a hobby and it was in the nature of her job that she didn’t have hobbies. Jogging, growing roses, chess or rock climbing, cake decoration, model aeroplanes. No. Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people. One had no preferences. Her job was to take an interest, not to be interested herself. And besides, reading wasn’t doing. She was a doer. So she gazed round the book-lined van and played for time. ‘Is one allowed to borrow a book? One doesn’t have a ticket?”
Once her eyes are opened to books, she attacks reading with the same determination she has shown in her queenly obligations. Soon her prime minister and even the Duke notice that Her Majesty’s nose is always in a book, even while performing the obligatory parade-waving, ship-christening and building-dedicating. Bennett makes some droll observations about politics and history through the Queen’s character. For those of us who always have our noses in a book, this is a fun read, with an unexpected ending.