She may have just celebrated 60 years on the throne, but for me she is the star of my 28th book for 2012. I started reading Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith on June 19th, hit the 47% mark on June 30th, and finished the journey on July 8th—and what an interesting journey it was.
I began this journey knowing very little about Queen Elizabeth. Oh, I knew the public things that most Americans tend to know—mostly a bucketload of “gossip”; but I had no idea how the monarchy functioned, what any of them did beside smile and wave, nor had I ever cared. However, with the Internet comes the ability to read multinational news sites (where I can read a plethora of unwashed, unfiltered news about America), and the British sites have all had the Diamond Jubilee celebration first and foremost on their web pages. I admit to becoming more than curious about “the royals”, and in particular about Queen Elizabeth. I’ll also admit to actually being an admirer of hers at this point.
I adore that she’s showing her age, allowing her white hair to shine and her wrinkles to sag and shout, “This is me. I’m 86 and loving it!” No pinched face, no unnaturally dark hair against an obviously older body—just Queen Elizabeth. Oh, I’m sure she has her faults, but honestly, of all the so-called leaders and “famous ones” out there, this woman appears to be gracious, dignified, fun loving and natural.
I hadn’t planned it this way, but my timing was perfect. As I read about her life’s history, the Diamond Jubilee celebration was taking place and it made the history more interesting and clearer. The news would speak of an event in the past, and there I was either just reading that section, or just having read it.
I enjoyed reading about the houses, the travel, the pomp and the everyday routines. I enjoyed the stories about all the prime ministers, the dignitaries that she’s met, her relationship with the Reagan’s, and on and on. Of course, I came away with a few good quotes as well:
“…the Queen told the author [J.K. Rowling] that her extensive reading in childhood “stood me in good stead because I read quite quickly now. I have to read a lot.” [As an avid reader of books, how can you not like a woman who reads, reads, reads?]
“What one gets,” Callaghan said, “is friendliness but not friendship.” [Page 288—This reminded me of a “friendship” I had with a pastor’s wife, and made me feel a bit sad for Elizabeth and those who truly wanted to be her friends.]
“But as the movie ended, she simply turned, flashed a bright smile, and said, ‘Well, that was a bit gloomy, wasn’t it?'” [Page 279 – after watching Death In Venice at a fund raiser].
My all time favorite quote is this one:
The foursome dined on Tex-Mex fare including tacos, enchiladas, and refried beans. “Mr. Deaver,” the Queen said afterward. “That was so enjoyable, especially the used beans.” [Page 320 – and I think of this every time I enjoy “used beans”.]
I don’t expect that this book is the perfect tell-all book. I doubt that anyone will ever write that kind of biography (authorized or not) about Elizabeth II. Still I figure it’s a fairly decent glimpse into who she is, and how she’s managed to stay herself amidst all the trappings and stress of being Queen. I’m also sure that if she could do things over, there are a few things she would change, but I’m guessing that she’s comfortable with herself and the choices she has made in her life. I finished this book feeling satisfied that I’d read a well-written book about an interesting woman of my time.
Title: “Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch” by
Author: Sally Bedell Smith
Format: Kindle (library)