The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.





Wow! Just LOVED this book. After reading this and some of his short stories, and the fact that he wrote not only the stage play but also the screenplay for its big screen translation of one of my favorite films, The History Boys, Alan Bennett is now officially on my list of favorite writers. 


The Uncommon Reader is a simple novella with a ton of heart. It's the story of Queen Elizabeth II losing control of her corgis one day when they won't stop barking at a traveling library van. To be polite, she boards the van, converses with the driver and a patron, Norman, who she discovers is one of her palace kitchen employees. Once she's there, she figures it would be impolite not to borrow a book, so she picks out one of an author she remembers meeting once. This one book spurs a sudden love of reading and before you know it, she has a TBR list a mile long. {Been there!}.


What she was finding was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do. 




As she discovers (or re-discovers) all these writers new to her, all the reading begins to affect the Queen as a person. Her family and palace staff begin to see her "lightening up" in demeanor, laughing and joking more, grumbling less. She becomes more philosophical about life and more empathetic to people around her. At one point, she goes so far as to call in a sick day so she can finish her book!  X-D I just found the idea of a queen "calling out of the office" hysterical.


Understandably, her family loves the change but her palace staff, as well as Parliament members, can't help but find it a little unsettling. To them, it somehow seems wrong to have their monarch be anything less than emotionally distanced, stoic. 


This little story points out so much that hardcore booknerds will find relatable -- the frustration at not having time to read all the time, not being able to read everything, the importance of that first book that sets you off on your reading life, how reading betters you as a person. Highly, highly recommend this to all the booknerds out there. Plus there's a bit of a twist in the ending that I didn't see coming at all but I was really amused by! 


Note For Sensitive Readers: There is one line of dialogue in this book where a character references fellatio. Within the context of the story, this part had me laughing out loud, but I thought I would mention it to readers who do not like sexual or violent material referenced in their readings.