In his fictional account of Queen Elizabeth II becoming addicted to reading, the masterful Alan Bennett describes the allure of the written word thusly:
…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.
“The Uncommon Reader” is a jewel of a novella in which Bennett imagines the private life of the monarch behind the pomp and circumstance, away from the responsibilities and receptions. In this behind-the-curtain glimpse, we find Elizabeth estranging herself from her onerous role and secluding herself increasingly in books. But it’s not escapism for her as much as the unexpected unveiling of the many worlds of the head and the heart which writers have created both fictional and non-fictional versions.
In an endearing touch, Alan Bennett places a young gay man as the conduit for the Queen’s marvelous discovery of the joy of reading.
And back to Bennett’s point about the sense of calling—there is indeed pleasure that Elizabeth derives from her newly found passion but it is overlaid with a thirst or a need that can only be met as she sits quietly, book in hand, lost in the words.
I resonate with this sense of compulsion.
As an author, I felt compelled to write a memoir “August Farewell” and then a novel “Searching for Gilead” as a way to help make sense of my world that had been shattered by a series of tragedies. I had to write. I could do nothing else. And I wrote almost non-stop for eighteen months until both books were finished.
Now, I feel the same compulsion to read. It’s as if the intense writing period left me parched with an insatiable thirst that can only be slaked by immersing myself in other people’s writings.
What a joyful imperative to envelop ourselves in the brilliantly crafted stories of talented writers, like those of a certain Alan Bennett.
I commend “The Uncommon Reader” to those who create books and those who consume them.
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For information on Alan Bennett’s “The Uncommon Reader” see: http://amzn.to/Qkhkfc
For information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead”, see my website: http://DavidGHallman.com