Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

As much as I have read about the England and the monarchy, I really never thought about the reading habits of the Queen. Bennett explores this concept in a novella that is full of Briticisms and humor.  The Uncommon Reader is the Queen who, upon discovering a mobile library outside the palace grounds, chooses a book out of courtesy and becomes nearly obsessed with her new found literary pastime. She reads in her carriage on the way to the opening of Parliament and as she travels from palace to palace. She even feigns a "sick day" to be able to finish a book. Eventually, she and her staff realize how much time is being spent on the activity and try to find a new way for her to channel her energies.

This was a very quick read, only 120 pages. However, it was chalk full of great lines and situations. Bennett parades a number of authors and works through the Queen's library including Henry James, about whom she remarks, "Am I alone,' she confides in her notebook, 'in wanting to give Henry James a good talking-to?'" But The Uncommon Reader is more than a humorous look at the British. It is a testimonial to the power of reading: it changes lives, it allows one to expand horizons and to vicariously experience worlds far and near. A great read and perfect for a rainy afternoon. All one needs is a cup of tea to complete the experience.

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