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Browsing royal bookshelves with The Queen’s Reading Room

This podcast is confusing: there often isn’t is a link between the book Queen Camilla graciously highlights and the author invited onto the show.

By Rachel Cunliffe

It’s been over a year since the coronation and I am still not used to the phrase “the Queen” referring to Camilla Parker Bowles, the wife of King Charles III, rather than the late Queen Elizabeth II. So there is already something surreal about tuning in to The Queen’s Reading Room. But this is Camilla’s book club – and, before you get too excited, Her Majesty is not interviewing authors herself, either. It’s more that she’s given her royal blessing to this endeavour, as part of the charity she has established to “foster in adults and children alike a lifelong love of literature and connect more people with that special magic that can only be found in the leaves of a book”.

The privilege of presenting the show goes to the charity’s chief executive, Vicki Perrin. So it’s fair to ask: what it is that makes this “the Queen’s” reading room in the first place? At the start of each episode, before the guest author of the day is introduced, we are invited to “take a brief detour into the reading room of Her Majesty the Queen”, where “in front of a crackling fire” she discusses her own literary favourites. And yes, there are crackling-fire sound effects. What there often isn’t is a link between the book Camilla graciously chooses to highlight and the author invited on the podcast. The crime writer Peter James is beloved enough in the royal household for the Queen to mention him, but he’s an anomaly so far. Her Majesty has nothing to say about the works of fantasy superstar Neil Gaiman, and the episode with Mel Giedroyc starts with a treatise on Dickens vs Tolstoy. Forgive me if I don’t see the connection.

Perhaps I am being unfair. There’s nothing wrong with a(nother) podcast that invites best-name authors to talk about the delights of their own bookshelves. It’s a gentle, calming listen. No controversy here, just celebrated personalities of the book world waxing literarily about the joys of reading. If it encourages Britain’s non-bibliophiles to head to the library, who could oppose it? As a bonus, I suspect despairing insomniacs may find The Queen’s Reading Room functions as an inadvertent soporific.

The Queen’s Reading Room
Spotify/Apple Podcasts

[See also: Inside the strange story of the Midwest FurFest attack]

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This article appears in the 19 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, How to Fix a Nation