The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

uncommon readerThinking about the book, “The Uncommon Reader” always makes me smile.  Despite being a short 120 pages, the book is full of charm, gentle wit and a deep understanding of human nature that most books would struggle to achieve in ten times this length.  British author and playwright, Alan Bennett, is known for his humour and his honesty in exploring foibles that everyone possesses.  “The Uncommon Reader” is no exception.

The book begins one day when Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II is taking the corgis for a walk around the grounds of Buckingham Palace when they wander off. Looking for them, she comes upon a library bookmobile that regularly visits the palace and being ever the polite monarch, she decides to borrow a book.  Inside the bookmobile, she finds the driver and Norman, one of the palace kitchen boys.  Not being sure what to choose, she asks Norman for advice. With repeat visits to the bookmobile, and the advice of Norman (who treats her like a beloved but dottering grandmother), the Queen develops a passion for reading.

It’s in the act of reading, that the Queen begins to examine her life and look at the lives of others with a new empathy.  Her years as monarch, have given her a unique view of the world but its through her expansive reading that she finds “her voice”.

Bennett treats the royal family and the government with a slightly irreverent sense of fun. There are quips and digs here and there (especially at the quirks of the government), but they act like knowing asides to the reader rather than direct jabs at anyone.  The book is really about how we can experience an intimacy in reading that expands our experiences while discovering more about ourselves and that is never too late to develop a passion that fulfills us.  The tone ranges from sly smiles to full-blown laughter and I find myself giving copies to friends and acquaintances who need a bit of cheer.


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