When her Corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J.R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Comptom-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.
While walking about one night, the Queen’s dogs, who it would seem are disliked by almost everyone, see a mobile library and go at it barking and yapping. The Queen goes to the driver to apologize for her pets obnoxious behaviour and discovers the purpose of the van filled with books. But after hearing about the library service she feels as though she should probably borrow a book. So begins her journey into reading.
I enjoyed reading about the Queen of England discovering books, changing her perceptions of the world and coming to the realization that she had missed out on so much by not reading beforehand. But the main thing I enjoyed about The Uncommon Reader was that you could very easily replace the Queen’s character with any other person and still receive the same message from this novella.
The basic idea here seems to be the importance of reading, not just to be seen as worldly, but for personal satisfaction. Although the Queen has been to every corner of the globe, she comes to see that by reading about the world she discovers many things she never knew. This is also the case, when she reads memoirs and biographies of certain people she had met. I really like that The Uncommon Reader has an underlying message that words in a book can sometimes explain things or represent experiences in a whole new way.
The Uncommon Reader is a very short, but very fun book that I recommend to anyone who enjoys hearing of a person’s introduction to the world of reading. Below is one of my favourite passages from the book:
It happened, though, at a reception for the Canadian cultural notables the Queen got talking to Alice Munro and, learning that she was a novelist and short-story writer, requested one of her books, which she greatly enjoyed. Even better, it turned out there were many more where that came from and which Ms. Munro readily supplied.
‘Can there be any greater pleasure,’ she confided in her neighbour, the Canadian minister for overseas trade, ‘than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find out they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen.’
About The Author
Alan Bennett has been one of England’s leading dramatists since the success of Beyond The Fringe in the 1960s. His work includes the Talking Heads television series, and the stage plays Forty Years On, The Lady In The Van, A Question Of Attribution, and The Madness Of King George III. His most recent play, The History Boys, now a major motion picture, won six Tony awards, including best play, in 2006. In the same year his memoir, Untold Stories, was a number one bestseller in the United Kingdom.
Published by Picador
Things Mean A Lot
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