A lovely novella about all of the things that fly from Pandora’s box when an uncommon reader (Her Majesty the Queen of England) finds joy and purpose in reading. As the Queen reads her ideas about her position and the importance of reading change dramatically. Just like Pandora’s box, her mind has flown open. She spends so much time reading that those around her begin to think the worst and attempt to discourage her.
The Queen marvels as she discovers new things, places, and people that she has never heard of. How can she, a woman who has traveled throughout the world and met with the most dignified and interesting of people possibly learn so much from a book? This propels her to take a look at how she interacts with her public, her servants, and her advisors. She begins making changes, shoving books into people’s hands and spending a great deal of time reading. She feels that she has to make up for lost time, for all of the books that she has missed. I think when anyone discovers something that is new and good they feel this way. Is it a bit like hoarding? We have to rush about to collect all that exists. The Queen also felt like she was too old to begin a new hobby such as reading. But she soon realizes that this is not the case. What is the case is something that I often find so pleasing about books-they will be there when you’re ready, unchanged and just the same as if you’d picked them up years before.
As the Queen saw herself opening and becoming more aware of the world and more apt to change, her court saw her as retreating, changing up the normal, and eventually as senile and in a stage of decline.
There were so many layers in this book about the purpose of reading, what reading does for us and what our reading does to others, what reading says about us and the world we live and and about those around us. I wish I’d had a pencil with me (at an outdoor concert this weekend) to mark all of the interesting passages. It’s a book I’ll want to read again. What didn’t come up though that I expected was the exploration of why the Queen was so discouraged to read. Yes, it was a new and unheard of venture for Her Majesty possibly compromising the Queen’s duty and image. But a teeny part of me also wondered if it was because she was a woman. I wondered about this from the start but it came back again toward then end when the Queen says to herself “I have no voice”. One person thinks she means that her throat is dry, another says ” Well, if you don’t dear I don’t know who does”. How is it possible that the Queen of all people is without a voice? The Queen attributes her realization to the fact that Mozart’s music is still enjoyed years after his death. In her death, where will Her Majesty’s voice live-not in reading but in writing which she sees as doing something more active than reading. Even if this is the conclusion she comes to I still wonder if this is a nod toward finding her voice as a woman. I might also be very sensitive to any hints of feminism. So I acknowledge my bias.