Feb 24, 2009

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is a witty look at how the Queen of England's love of reading impinges on her duties and helps her evolve as a human being. There is a great deal to love about this small volume, which I first heard about on Dewey's Hidden Side of a Leaf. I couldn't commit full force to the Dewey's Book Challenge, but I wanted to make mention of her and the challenge with this post since Dewey highly recommended this book when she read and bought it.

At first, the Queen of England isn't sure what to make of the traveling library that she runs across at the palace. Once she begins reading, she can't stop and takes it upon herself to appoint a kitchen boy as her amanuensis, a writing assistant to conduct research and perform secretarial duties, named Norman. He helps her select books from the traveling library and from the London Library.

"[Norman] came back full of wonder and excitement at how old-fashioned it was, saying it was the sort of library he had only read about in books and had thought confined to the past. He wandered through its labyrinthine stacks marvelling that these were all books that he (or rather She) could borrow at will. So infectious was his enthusiasm that next time, the Queen thought, she might accompany him." (page 19)

She becomes so engrossed in her reading that she begins carrying books with her in the carriages and to official functions and begins to look upon her normal daily activities, like being briefed on the events of the government and world, as the "antithesis of reading" (page 21). Her speeches before Parliament became tedious and "demeaned the very act of reading itself" (page 33).

It's interesting to watch how certain members of the staff react to her reading habit and how they conspire to eliminate it. Despite all of the government's machinations, however, the Queen perseveres. Readers will adore the end of the novel and how it turns the rest of it upside down.

Also Reviewed By:
Hidden Side of a Leaf
Tea Leaves
A Novel Menagerie
Things Mean a Lot
Library Queue
It's All About Books
Bloggin' 'bout Books
Books on the Brain
Page After Page
Books of Mee
paper diet books
just add books...
The Bluestocking Society
Melody's Reading Corner
Reader for Life
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Rebecca Reads
Bermudaonion's Weblog
Book Chase
A Reader's Respite
Shelf Life
Reading and Ruminations
Confessions of a Bibliophile
Lesa's Book Critiques
Outlandish Dreaming
The Family With Three Last Names
Under a Blood Red Sky
Linus's Blanket
Behold, the thing that reads a lot
A Comfy Chair and a Good Book
One Literature Nut
Literate Housewife


Ladytink_534 said...

I plan on reading this eventually. It sounds like such a good story!

Serena said...

LadyTink: I loved this book. I gobbled it up in just a few hours.

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book, too. I didn't want it to end.

Serena said...

Bermuda: I really loved the ending here. I thought it was fantastic!

Ti said...

I've seen this in the stores and it's such an itty bitty thing! I will get to it eventually but for some reason I am drawn to these epic, 800+ page novels lately.

Serena said...

Ti: This helped break up the 800 page novel thing for me.

Alyce said...

I enjoyed this one too!

Sandra said...

I enjoyed this story too. Glad you liked it.

Anna said...

I've had my eye on this one for awhile. It sounds so good!

Diary of an Eccentric

Lenore said...

This does look really good!

I got my shelves at IKEA, but I don't remember seeing them in black.

Iliana said...

This one is definitely on my list. Sounds really fun.

Serena said...

Alyce: I really enjoyed this one.

Sandra: dewey really inspired me to read it.

Anna: you should read it.

Lenore: thanks for letting me know about the shelves.

Iliana: I can't recommend this one enough.

S. Krishna said...

I read this for Dewey's challenge as well and enjoyed it.

Serena said...

Krishna: This book was fantastic.

Red lady-Bonnie said...

This sounds great. I have it on my wishlist and look forward to reading it.

Trish said...

I've been on a book buying ban lately, but when it lifts, this on the top of my list. I first heard about it from Dewey also, and I'm glad you liked it.

Serena said...

Trish: I need to put myself on a ban after last week!

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

I have this on my wish list.

I remember Dewey's post about *The Uncommon Reader*. It was when they were stuck overnight somewhere, right?

naida said...

Great review, I have heard good things about this book. I do remember dewey recommending it.

Serena said...

Dawn: yes, that's the post exactly and she started reading it in the bookstore and had to buy it to finish the book. I loved picturing her in the store sitting down waiting and reading that book.

Naida: I have to join the Dewey chorus.

Stephanie said...

Great review! I really need to read this one!

Amy said...

intersting, i'll have to check it out!

Shana said...

I really want to read this one, Serena. In all the reviews I've read, I've never heard that about the twist at the end!

Serena said...

Shana: I'm not sure people wanted to give it away, but I wanted to talk about it without revealing it...it was fantastic!