By Victoria Arbiter| 4 hours ago
Last year, at the height of the pandemic, the Duchess of Cornwall shared two personally curated reading lists in an effort to offer a little "comfort" to those struggling with isolation. "Ernest Hemingway, famously, once said, 'There is no friend as loyal as a book,'" she said at the time. "With that in mind, here is a list of my dearest 'friends'."
Inspired by the public's warm reaction, she subsequently launched The Reading Room on January 15. Billed as "a hub for literary communities around the world," the immensely popular venture, published exclusively on Instagram, has since provided book lovers a place to convene and it's given the duchess a perfect platform on which to promote the importance of literacy.
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An avid reader herself, she's patron of multiple organisations committed to supporting reading and writing and her valuable contribution to charities such as The National Literary Trust, First Story and BookTrust have helped ensure children and adults across the UK have the literacy skills they need for "a happier, healthier and more prosperous life."
Describing stories as "magical" at an event for 500 Words in 2015, Camilla said, "Like climbing through the wardrobe into Narnia, stories open doors into different worlds. They stretch our imagination and get our brains buzzing. We fall in love with heroes and heroines and can't turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens… Whether exotic or every-day, heart-warming or heart-stopping, stories help us to understand our world and the people in it."
The duchess's appreciation for books has undeniably served her well and it's informed a significant part of her working royal life. A regular visitor to schools and libraries, she's often on hand to present literary awards and prizes and, a huge proponent of International Literacy Day and World Book Day, she frequently attends book festivals around the nation. Just last month she cheerfully greeted a kilt-wearing Stormtrooper at one such gathering in Nairn, Scotland.
A stalwart champion of authors from across the Commonwealth, Camilla's lent her talents to narrating children's classics and she's donated personal funds in order to help further literacy campaigns.
During a speech in 2013 she said, "I firmly believe in the importance of igniting a passion for reading in the next generation. I was lucky enough to have a father who was a fervent bibliophile and a brilliant storyteller too. In a world where the written word competes with so many other calls on our attention, we need more literacy heroes to keep inspiring young people to find the pleasure and power of reading for themselves."
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A "literacy hero" throughout her childhood, Camilla's father, Major Bruce Shand, was instrumental in terms of instilling his daughter's enthusiasm for literature. In a video released earlier this year, she said, "He was probably the best-read man I've come across, anywhere. I mean he devoured books. And so, he read to us, as children. He chose the books, and we listened. And I think it was the love of books, was ingrained in us, because you know, it was there from such an early age."
Keen to pass the joy of reading on to her own children, Camilla started them young. "I read to my children and now I read to my grandchildren," she revealed in March. "I love it. I read to them when they were absolutely tiny. And they've got older and older and older, and now they actually read to me."
Known as "Gaga" to her five grandchildren, Camilla's also step-grandmother to five on Prince Charles's side. Praising him for leaving the youngsters "spellbound" with his dramatic readings of Harry Potter, she once said, "He does all the voices, because he's a brilliant mimic… He's extremely good with children. They love it."
Reading from an early age is, according to Camilla, "so important" and it's one of the many reasons she's been actively involved with Coram Beanstalk, a charity intent on equipping volunteers with the tools they need to help children struggling in school "become confident, independent readers."
Beyond her immediate family, Camilla's penchant for reading extends to her husband and royal in-laws.
A fan of the classics, the Duchess of Cambridge owns several Penguin Clothbound Classics including Sense and Sensibility and Wuthering Heights. Previously spotted buying The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and When God was a Rabbit, she also reportedly enjoyed The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
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An author in his own right, Prince Charles shared five of his favourite titles with The Reading Room back in June. After declaring The Battle of the Atlantic by Jonathan Dimbleby "gripping" and "unputdownable" he expressed his admiration for Along the Enchanted Way, Lustrum, Travels with Myself and Napoleon: A Life. Drawn to books on gardening and the environment, his shelves boast an impressive collection of poetry, as well as thrillers by Dick Francis.
An equally prolific reader, Prince Philip's personal library was nothing short of a bibliophile's dream. From political memoirs and biographies to tomes about wildlife, birds, cooking, World War II, royalty and more, the Duke – who authored fourteen books – had an insatiable appetite for literature. In a recent documentary for the BBC, Royal Archivist Alexandra McCreary said he liked to read "a lot" so he could "converse with other people." In the wake of his death, Camilla dedicated season two of The Reading Room to his memory, calling her late father-in-law, "A great fellow reader."
Being able to converse with like-minded people is a huge part of The Reading Room's appeal, and with season four on the horizon followers are no doubt eagerly anticipating the duchess's latest picks.
In the interim she's enlisted her son and author of seven cookbooks, Tom Parker Bowles, to introduce a variety of food writers handpicked by the pair. Having said, "Food is the most ephemeral of subjects" given "the evidence disappears once it goes in your mouth," he's spent the last two weeks providing insight into a culinary world I know very little about. Even so, his infectious and lively energy has made for thoroughly engaging viewing.
Tom joined his mother on BBC Radio 5 Live for her first-ever radio guest edit in July 2020. During the show, the duo argued amicably about spicy food, blunt knives and chilies. "He loves everything very, very hot," said Camilla, "And he adores chillies and I'm afraid I don't, so I guess we agree to differ."
Where they chime, however, is in their fondness for roast chicken – Tom says he rolls out his mother's recipe any time someone asks if she's a good cook – and their mutual attachment to books. As such, Camilla will have invited Tom to contribute to The Reading Room because of his respect for writers and his gastronomic expertise, but, aware of the benefits of reading on one's mental health, it's possible she also hoped to offer her son a momentary respite following a particularly tough year.
In March, Tom lost his girlfriend, journalist Alice Procope, to cancer only seven months after she was diagnosed. Devastated by her death, friends of the couple said she and Tom were "blissfully happy" together.
Still, there's something to be said for the healing balm associated with being immersed in one's passions and joys. As Camilla rightly said, "You can escape and you can travel and you can laugh and you can cry. There's every kind of emotion that humans experience in a book."
Having described reading as "a great adventure," Camilla says her idea of perfection is "sitting in a garden on a lovely evening with a book." Nineteen months into the pandemic, I suspect there are many who can relate which is why she's using her royal book club — the very first of its kind — to ease loneliness, encourage new hobbies and relieve the enduring challenges faced by her fellow ardent readers both near and far.
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By Victoria Arbiter| 4 hours ago