Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

When they arrived at the palace she had a word with Grant, the young footman in charge, who said it was security and that while ma'am had been in the Lords the sniffer dogs had been round and security had confiscated the book.  He thought it had probably been exploded.

'Exploded?' said the Queen.  'But it was Anita Brookner.'

The young man, who seemed remarkably undeferential, said security may have thought it was a device.

The Queen said:  'Yes.  That is exactly what it is.  A book is a device to ignite the imagination.'  (from The Uncommon Reader, page 34)

The Uncommon Reader is a delightful novella by Alan Bennett that all book lovers should read.  If you're like me and books have taken over your home and life, then you'll understand the plight of the Queen of England.  The Queen, while chasing after her dogs, finds herself in a mobile library, and she borrows a book.  This simple act completely changes her life, and she soon learns that reading is a lot more interesting than carrying out her royal duties.
The next morning she had a sniffle and, having no engagements, stayed in bed saying she felt she might be getting flu.  This was uncharacteristic and also not true; it was actually so that she could get on with her book.  (pages 13-14)
I nodded and laughed my way through this short book, finding myself here and there between its pages.  The Queen moves Norman -- the young man whom she met in the mobile library -- out of the kitchen and into her office, and she turns to him for book discussions and recommendations, much to the chagrin of her personal secretary, Sir Kevin.  The way she and Norman talked about books and authors reminded me why I enjoy reading book blogs:  partly for book recommendations and partly for the companionship of fellow book lovers.  I found it hilarious when the Queen would meet with her subjects, and instead of asking them about their travels or other trivial questions, she'd ask them what they were reading and even pull out her current book to show them.  However, the novella is a bit depressing in that the Queen's love of the written word is not shared by Sir Kevin, the prime minister, and other close contacts, and they do what they can to keep her away from books.

The Uncommon Reader made me remember exactly why I love reading so much.  Reading takes you on adventures to places you normally wouldn't travel, allows you to experience things you normally wouldn't experience, and lets you escape the stresses of your life for a little while.  But The Uncommon Reader is about so much more than an obsession with books; it's about finding yourself and broadening your horizons, no matter your age.  The fact that it's all about books is just icing on the cake.

Disclosure: I purchased my copy of The Uncommon Reader.

28 comments:

Serena said...

I'm glad you finally got around to reading this delightful book! I adored it.

Tricia said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Such a fun book!

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book, too. I think most readers will.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Oh, I love the sound of this one! Great quote you shared in your review.

Suko said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts about reading in this book about reading and more! Sounds like a book I'd truly enjoy.

Stephanie said...

This sounds wonderful, and I loved your thoughts on why you love books and why you enjoy book blogs so much. I feel exactly the same way.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this. I had seen it in other reviews and thought it sounded great and then completely forgotten about it. But now, I'm writing it down! :--)

fleurfisher said...

Isn't it lovely! And you've made me think that maybe the Queen is blogging under a different name...

Aarti said...

I've had this book on my wish list for so long! Really want to read it, but have to find it first :-)

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm not really sure why I've waiting this long to read this book. It sounds totally charming, and relatable!

Melody said...

I loved this book! This is definitely one of those books that all booklovers have to read! ;)

Jeanne said...

What Rhapsodyinbooks said...I'm going to write this down now.

Charley said...

I so hope to read this book this year. It's such a slim one, and yet I keep putting it off.

Dana said...

I LOVE that last sentence in the first quote - so true, and so well stated :) This is definitely going on my TBR list!

Staci said...

I adored this book!! I liked that the Queen and I had something in common!!

Lisa said...

This was one of my favorite books last year. And one of the rare occasions that I wished a book were longer!

Janel said...

Oh, I am so mad at myself for passing this book up when I found it at a used bookstore last year! It sounds delightful.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

One of my favorite reads of 2009! I'm always so happy to hear that someone else discovered the joy of reading it!

Jo said...

I can't imagine there's a reader out there that doesn't love this. It made me laugh too, which is always a good thing!

Alyce said...

I loved this book too!

Suko said...

(P.S. Please stop by my blog because I have an award for you, Anna.)

Dar said...

Oh gosh, you just reminded me how much I still want to read this book. lol.

Andi said...

I'm going to put this one on my wishlist for one of those times when I need a shortish, delightful book. It's always been a big talking point on various blogs around the 'sphere, but it seems to be making an even bigger comeback lately. It keeps popping up in my reader today. Guess that's the universe telling me to hurry up and read it.

wisteria said...

Awww...now I am going to have to read this. What a fun story. I think we can all relate to the Queen. My family used to make me feel so odd because I read so much. It's on my wishlist now. Thanks for your post. :)

Iliana said...

I just read that passage you quoted last night! This is such a delightful book. I am hoping to finish it today. Glad you enjoyed it!

mjmbecky said...

I know. I really loved this book too. It's just so great to see someone else fall in love with the written page! :)

Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I really want to read this one now. It sounds great. I'll add it to my TBR list. Great review!

Anna said...

Thanks for all of your comments. Sounds like this book really resonates with book lovers. I am so glad I read it, and if you haven't read it yet, you really should. I don't think you'll be disappointed.