I had a friend in college who did not read for leisure. Of course, there was a lot of reading for class, and even I might go months without finding time to pick up something to read by choice. This friend explicitly avoided leisure reading, and I couldn’t understand it at first. Finally she explained that, when she read a good book, she couldn’t care about anything else. Yes, I could relate to that. Being caught up in a story would not be wise when there were so many other things we needed to attend to in order to get our degrees. One of my joys after graduating was getting a public library card and spending my evenings reading whatever I wanted.
The first half of The Uncommon Reader ended with the Queen almost wishing she had never started reading in the first place because, “though reading absorbed her, what the Queen had not expected was the degree to which it had drained her of enthusiasm for anything else.” The Queen’s highest virtue has always been to do her duty. And now that she loves reading, she dreads fulfilling her royal duties.
Do you ever get caught up in reading, to the neglect of responsibilities? To me, there is something delicious about being so absorbed in fiction that I don’t even realize hours (and a few hundred pages) have passed. I have to save such times for my days off. Thank God for days of rest!
One night, the Queen was having a hard time sleeping. She came across a book she had read before, which at the time had been a tough read and put her to sleep. But now, she was able to read the book easily and enjoy it for what it was. She realizes that “reading was, among other things, a muscle and one that she had seemingly developed.” Have you re-read a book and had a completely different experience with it the second time around?
Somehow, reading begins to lose its charm for her, though. “A reader was next door to being a spectator, whereas when she was writing she was doing, and doing was her duty.” In a few years, the Queen goes from being completely devoted to her duty as a monarch, to being totally absorbed by reading and dreading her duties, to seeing writing as her new duty and abdicating the throne.
Books have the power to change us. As a book lover, I see a lot of significance in the fact that God’s message to us is in the form of a book. But other books can also be life changing! Sometimes, I read books that so drastically and convincingly challenge my previous perspective that I can’t be the same after reading them. Other times, the change is more subtle, resulting in understanding a different way of life or developing empathy for situations I’ve never been close to before.
What’s fascinating about the Queen’s experience is that it isn’t a particular book that changes her, but reading in general. It reminds me of Gaston’s line in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, “It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas…thinking…” In the end, the Queen says that she wants to write almost exactly for the reason Gaston was against Belle’s reading: because her life of 80 years bears “analysis and reflection.” Ideas and thinking. Still, she doesn’t intend to write a memoir. She says that she may even stray into literature.
“’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 was above humanity.’”
In the final lines, the Queen reveals/hints that she has called everyone to her birthday party so that she can abdicate and devote her time to writing. I’m not sure how I expected the book to end, but this was surprising to me. What about you?
Join me in the comments. How has reading changed you? Was it a specific book or reading in general?
P.S. from Sarah: Next month, we’ll be reading The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery! We’ll be doing things a little different- we know June can be busy with lots of transitions and that can make even reading for fun more difficult. So instead of spreading out the reading and discussion between four weeks, I’ll introduce the book with a post next week and then we’ll spend the next few weeks just reading and enjoying the book. We’ll join back together on Tuesday, June 25th to chat all about it! So there will be only 2 posts related to the book next month.
The Kindle version of The Blue Castle is only $0.99! Here’s a quick summary of the book.
“Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, The Blue Castle is filled with humour and romance.” (from Amazon.com)