Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Title: The Uncommon Reader
Author: Alan Bennett
ISBN: 9781846681332, Profile Books, 2008
Genre: Fiction, Humor
Rating: A+

First Line: At Windsor it was the evening of the state banquet and as the president of France took his place beside Her Majesty, the royal family formed up behind and the procession slowly moved off and through into the Waterloo Chamber.

This little 121-page novella is a comic jewel in which Alan Bennett speculates what might happen if a very well-known person were to read a book...and actually enjoy the experience.

If Queen Elizabeth II hadn't chased her Corgis 'round the back of Windsor Castle and stumbled across the bookmobile parked outside the kitchens, none of this would've happened. But the Corgis did, and she did, and the Queen checked out a book-- just to be polite. Who'da thunk she'd actually read it and go back for another?

Books did not defer. All readers were equal, and this took her back to the beginning of her life. As a girl, one of her greatest thrills had been on VE night, when she and her sister had slipped out of the gates and mingled unrecognized with the crowds. There was something of that, she felt, to reading. It was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. And she who had led a life apart now found that she craved it. Here in these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognized.

Turning such a world figure into a reading fiend is a stroke of comic genius as the reader rides along in the state carriage while Her Majesty learns how to wave and read at the same time or watches the servants learn to cope with a formerly punctual monarch who now wants to wait until she's finished the chapter she's reading.

The Uncommon Reader isn't all fun and games. On a deeper level, Bennett shows how the world opens up to anyone who chooses to read for both enlightenment and enjoyment. Whether we realize it or not, reading transforms us.

Read it for the humor. Read it because you're a fan of the royals. Read it because of the truths it contains. For whatever the reason... it!


  1. Hi Cathy
    I'm so pleased you liked the book - I think it is an absolute gem - clever and funny and thought-provoking, as you say - a must-read!

  2. I love Alan Bennett but haven't read this.

    I will now. Great review!

  3. I loved this book too! I could totally relate to the Queen's feelings as a reader.

  4. This sounds like a very charming book. Thanks for the review!

  5. I've only just found your blog through Lesa Holstine, but am enjoying it. Bennett sounds like a find and a kindred spirit, so I'm already grateful for a good recommendation. Thank you!

  6. Great review and it sure sounds like an interesting book. I live in a monarchy and have a very hard time with this anacronism in a modern society, and I am definitely not fond of royals. Its not that I have anything against the persons of royalty in Denmark, not at all, they are more or less all nice enough people, but I cannot stand the thought of the institution! Okay, I am babbling and digressing. Sorry ;o)

  7. I LOVED this book. It may not be the "best" I've read this year, but it's probably my favorite so far - it was a joy to read. So glad you loved it too!

  8. I think I'd better finally pick this one up.

  9. This sounds like a reader's book. I like what you said - "Whether we realize it or not, reading transforms us." So true. I can't even count the ways reading has changed me. Thanks for this good recommendation.

  10. I LOVED this book, too, and wanted to read more of Bennett's work. I got The Clothes They Stood Up In on CD and am enjoying it almost as much.

  11. I really enjoyed The Uncommon Reader, too, and should look for something else by Bennett. I like JoAnn's idea of listening to The Clothes They Stood Up In on CD!

  12. Kate--It's one of those books you want to share with everyone in hopes that they'll love it just as much.

    Kit--I'm on the ferry headed in the opposite direction. This is the only book by Bennett that I've read, now I must look for others!

    Kathy--To see her grow as a reader was a delight.

    rhapsody--You're welcome!

    Clea--Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you enjoy the book!

    Louise--I didn't think you were babbling at all. I have friends who keep track of the UK royals. Me? As far as I'm concerned, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like all the rest of us, so it takes more than cutting a ribbon for me to become interested. :)

    Florinda--I'm beginning to see just how popular this little jewel is. It's one to keep...and to buy copies to share!

    Beth--The time has come. At least it reads very quickly...even though you'll probably wish that it didn't.

    Margot--You're welcome!

    JoAnn--Ooooh! Thanks for the recommendation!

    Jenclair--I like JoAnn's idea, too!


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!