Have you ever seen a photograph of the Queen carrying a book? Me neither. It's quite possible that the Queen has a dog-eared paperback or even an e-reader hidden in the bowels of her ever-present handbag, but it's just as likely she doesn't read at all. This depressing possibility was enough to inspire Alan Bennett's 2007 delightful novella, The Uncommon Reader, which imagined a her almost-accidentally borrowing a book from a mobile library and becoming a voracious reader, perfecting the art of waving from the royal coach while studying a book hidden just out of sight on her lap.
For Bennett's Queen, the gateway into reading is a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett. Although she finds it "a little dry", it opens the floodgates for Nancy Mitford, Mary Renault, Proust and Henry James.
But what does the real Queen read? The Daily Express imagines her taking the weight off her feet and curling up with "a whodunit, perhaps the latest by PD James, one of your favourite writers of detective fiction – your favourite genre." The biographer Sally Bedell disagrees, suggesting the Queen's tastes were shaped by "extensive reading in childhood", including "Stevenson, Austen, Kipling, the Brontës, Tennyson, Scott, Dickens, Trollope", making "her preference, then and as an adult … historical fiction".
And – more to the point – what should she be reading? Maybe Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting would give a little pep to a weekend stag-hunting in Balmoral. Perhaps the view from Buckingham Palace would be improved by a trip to Monica Ali's Brick Lane, or even Michael Moorcock's vast history of the capital, Mother London. That nice Mr Cameron is so worried about the nation's finances these days – perhaps Her Maj should do some swotting up by dipping into Martin Amis's Money.
Who knows, if we can come up with the perfect novel to sum up 60 glorious years, maybe we should wrap it up nicely and send it to her at the palace. The perfect jubilee present from all of us at Guardian books …
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