The Novel Cure: Literary presciptions for feeling like you don't read enough


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Read enough, feeling like you don't

Cure: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Yes, we suffer from it too. Part guilt, part yearning, the feeling is perhaps an inevitable part of being a reader, unless you have acres of spare time, or live alone, or with someone who doesn't mind your mental absence (eg, a dog). We have often wondered if there was a cure. And then along came Alan Bennett's witty novella, The Uncommon Reader, and we knew there was.

When a travelling library parks behind Buckingham Palace one day, the Queen only goes in to apologise for her barking corgis. And even then, she only borrows a book (an Ivy Compton-Burnett) out of politeness.

The truth is, she's never had an interest in reading. But brought up to finish "what's on one's plate", she reads the Compton-Burnett, and then a Nancy Mitford. Soon there's no stopping her, and she takes off on a delightfully random reading extravaganza, devouring everything from Jean Genet to Anita Brookner – and wishing she'd started earlier.

Through books, the Queen discovers what it's like to be ordinary. Books do not 'defer' to her, like everyone else does; to books, all readers are equal. And in a lovely example of bibliotherapy at work, she expands her understanding of human nature and learns to empathise. None of which goes down well with her equerry, Sir Kevin, who is all too aware that books are distracting her from her public duties (she gets very good at waving while reading).

And, in fact, Sir Kevin's concerns are not misplaced. For the more she reads, the more the Queen starts to question what she is doing with her life – and of course, when you're the Queen, such thoughts are problematic. Read this novel to reassure yourself that you're reading just the right amount. Any more, and you may inadvertently turn your life upside down.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);