Who is Above Literature? {Book Club}

who is above literature

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)

Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash

8 Comments

  1. Michele May 27, 2019

    Oh wow, such a great idea to just discuss the next book after a couple weeks! I’m among those who would have found it hard to join in otherwise!
    This current book sounds like great, though I haven’t been able to join this read. College is so long ago I’d forgotten, but I think I also pretty much gave up reading for pleasure except vacations in those years. Then in my late twenties or so I stopped reading fiction for quite a while, thinking (sadly, I know) that I should use my time on more ‘edifying’ reads. When I was teaching English at a level that included literature I remembered the value of story, watching what it awakened in my students, and when I stopped teaching I realized how much I missed and maybe needed it, so that these days I read both.

    1. Rachel Kahindi June 1, 2019

      That’s so interesting how you rediscovered the value of story. I used to compare my reading list work people who mostly read non-fiction and feel that I should be more like them. I don’t do that anymore (I also read both types of books now, too). I don’t remember what made me realize that fiction is good for us, too, but I’m a big believer in that!

  2. Bayta Schwarz May 28, 2019

    I think for me it’s been mostly the worlds that books have opened up. I would love to travel to soooo many different places (and times!) but at least books can take me to the places I might never get to otherwise. Also, as a more reflective person, books give me the space to contemplate and to sit with thoughts and ideas. No need to react in the moment which is great for me! Lastly, the sheer beauty of a well written book fills me with joy! I just love words 🙂

    1. Rachel Kahindi June 1, 2019

      These are such great thoughts. I can relate to all of this!

  3. Phyllis May 29, 2019

    As I read this book, I thought about how it’s pretty unique: I don’t think I’ve read other books of fiction about real-life modern people! Historical fiction is one thing. This was different. I kept wondering if the Queen of English is really like that. 🙂

    1. Rachel Kahindi June 1, 2019

      That is an interesting point, Phyllis. I wonder what it would be like to have fiction written about me. I would definitely read it to see what I’m like, but I don’t imagine the Queen reads fiction written about her.

  4. Sarah Hilkemann May 29, 2019

    This book definitely didn’t end the way I expected it to! Coming from a family where reading was so encouraged, I found it so strange that the Queen’s reading habits were looked down upon by so many people. For some reason, her choosing to abdicate and write felt like giving in.

    Last year shortly after I returned to the US for home assignment, the library in my home town was undergoing a major remodel. If you checked out books before May 1, you could have them until the library opened back up again the 1st of June. My sister and I went to the library and wandered the aisles- it was our first trip to the library since we both had been overseas. We checked out an entire stack, and I remember that month being one of the best I can remember, just sitting and reading in the sunshine, knowing I had space and didn’t have to hurry through them. After a really crazy end to the term in Asia it absolutely fed my soul! That’s what reading does for me. It’s like a splash of cold water to my weary soul. 🙂

  5. Rachel Kahindi June 1, 2019

    That month is my idea of a vacation! Sounds amazing.

    I imagine non-readers who feel threatened by readers think they are missing out on something by not reading books, but they don’t want to put forth the effort of picking up a book to see what they’re missing. So they’d rather no one else did, either.

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