The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Queen has never had much time for reading but when she discovers a mobile library parked behind Buckingham Palace and decides to borrow a book, a whole new world is suddenly opened to her. With the help of her new friend Norman she reads one book after another and discovers that she has a real passion for literature. Unfortunately, not everyone shares her enthusiasm – and some people are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop Her Majesty from reading.

I have a feeling I’m one of the last people in the world to read this book (as usual) but I’m so glad I finally got round to it. Alan Bennett is one of my sister’s favourite writers and as we have such different reading tastes I never thought I would like him too. I’ve never been more pleased to have been proved wrong! This is a lovely, light-hearted, whimsical story that still contains a lot of witty observations, profound insights and wisdom.

In The Uncommon Reader, Bennett takes a humorous look at what it’s like to be the Queen and the pressure she’s under to conform to other people’s expectations. She is portrayed as an endearing character discovering the joys of reading for the first time and who just wants to be left alone with her books! It was interesting to watch the Queen progress as a reader, from being initially overwhelmed by the number of books available and relying on Norman to choose titles for her, to being able to make her own choices and develop her own tastes. Eventually, her reading begins to change the way she approaches her public duties and the way she views herself and the world around her.

There are some very funny moments, such as when the Queen perfects the art of waving from the royal carriage while holding a book in her other hand below the level of the window, and when one of her books is exploded because security think it’s a bomb.

Being a bookworm myself, I loved Bennett’s insights into the philosophy of reading and on almost every page there were quotes that every book lover will be able to identify with. I’ll leave you with a few of them…

‘I think of literature’, she wrote, ‘as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but cannot possibly reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.’

‘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 they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?’

‘Books are wonderful, aren’t they?’ she said to the vice-chancellor, who concurred.
‘At the risk of sounding like a piece of steak,’ she said, ‘they tenderise one.’

22 thoughts on “The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

  1. Karenlibrarian says:

    I loved this book! I’d forgotten how delightful it was. I think I may have to go back and reread it again. I want to write down all the books the Queen read — I’m sure I’ll have to add some of hers to my TBR list.

  2. The Book Whisperer says:

    Nope, you’re not the last person to read this book – I haven’t either. In fact, I had no idea what it was about and had no desire to find out until now (some books just stay completely off my radar for some reason). I am really curious now, especially as it’s about books and reading. Ahh, another one for Mt.TBR.

    • Helen says:

      Books often seem to somehow stay off my radar too, even when they are obviously very popular! I’m glad I could bring this one to your attention, because I think you would like it. 🙂

  3. givingreadingachance says:

    Don’t you worry, I have still not read it. I have read great reviews and your review adds up to the fact that I will definitely love this book as well. It is on my wishlist…

  4. Thomas at My Porch says:

    How funny. I just finished reading a review of this (audio) book on by Teresa on Shelf Love and the very next blog I clicked on was yours with your review of the book. I don’t mind reading two in a row because this is easily one of my favorite books of all time.

    • Helen says:

      What a coincidence, Thomas! I’m glad you didn’t mind seeing the same book reviewed twice in a row! I would like to hear the audio version of this sometime – I think it would probably be fun to listen to.

  5. Mae says:

    I read this only earlier this year and I was surprised at how GOOD it was! I remember it was the rage a few years ago so I ignored it. I laughed all through it when I read it and it’s such a nice little tribute to the idea of reading too which is typically regarded as ‘passive’.

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