The Uncommon Reader
- Profile Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 03 July 2008
- Modern & Contemporary
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A great book about the power of reading. I really enjoyed and was sad when I got to the end, which had a great twist.
What a neat little book about reading! I was skeptical when I found a lead characte in the book is gay, but I gave the book a chance and it didn't disappoint me. The gayness of the character in question only came up initially and then gradually faded away, sort of politely overlooked by the Queen, as one might expect.At the beginning of the book the Queen and her annoying little barking Corgis have set out for a walk and happen upon the City of Westminster traveling library by mistake. She had never seen the traveling library on-site before. She decided to step inside and apologize for her dogs' rudeness and ended up borrowing a book simply out of kindness to the driver/librarian.The queen ends up falling in love with the act of reading and apopints herself an amanuensis. (to run errands, exchange her library books, look up awkward words for her and find her quotations...the true meaning of the word is manual labourer but now is often used to mean a secretary or scribe)Eventually the queen finds herself reading while traveling and not minding the actual travel anymore, however, she finds all the engagements as bothers now because her book is pulled from her hand, and hidden, so that she must focus on the event at hand. What a bother. She often has 2 or 3 books going at once. Those around her, excepting her amanuensis, are increasingly annoyed by the amount of time she is spending reading and hence this incredible sentence in the book:"Thus it was that the dawn of sensibility was mistaken for the onset of sinility."Reading continues to transform her. Eventually she feels that all the authors she has read have had "a voice" but that she, even as Queen, truly has no voice, no freedom. That brings on the surprising little twist at the end of the book! I was very happy with the way the author chose to end (or begin, depends on how one looks at it) his story.I found that I wanted to highlight sections of this book as I read it. I am going to give a few of those examples here:"Pass the time?" said the Queen. "Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand." (Sir Kevin is from New Zealand and is embarrassed by the fact.)"The appeal of reading , she thought, lay in its indifference: ther was something lofty about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. ... All readers were equal, and this took her back to the beginning of her life. As a girl, one of her greatest thrills had been on VE night, when she and her sister had slipped out of the gates and mingled unrecognized with the crowds. There was something of that, she felt, to reading. It was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. And she who had led a life apart now found that she craved it. Here in thses pages and between these covers she could go unrecognized." (I find myself wishing to know if, indeed Queen Elizabeth and her sister were allowed to mingle with the celebrating crowds on VE night...I read in another book recently that they actually experienced the same rations as the commoners and I find that very interesting.)"These doubts and self-questionings, though, were just the beginning. Once she got into her stride it ceased to seem strange to her that she wanted to read, and books, to which she had taken so cautionsly, gradually came to be her element.""Had she been asked if reading had enriched her life she would have had to say yes, undoubtedly, though adding with equal certainty that it had at the same time drained her life of purpose. Once she had been a self-assured single-minded woman knowing where her duty lay and intent on doing it for as long as she was able. Now all too often she was in two minds. Reading was not doing, that had always been the trouble. And old though she was she was still a doer.""Above literature? said the Queen,. "Who is above literature? You might as well say one was above humanity."
I ADORE this book! Well, I adore Alan Bennett in general, but as I'm a fan of HM Queen Elizabeth II as well, this book covered a lot of goodies for me. I don't normally go for novellas or short stories, but I waited seemingly forever for this one to go on sale in paperback [I don't have shelf-space for hardbacks) -- and it was worth the wait. The Queen is portrayed in a "homey" sort of light -- we get to know her as a real person who READS, although Americans have been given the impression that the British Royals are a bunch of inbred, not-terribly-bright, upper-class twits. The Elizabeth II of this story is nothing like that; but the best part about her is that she is no snob, either. She befriends the man who runs the bookmobile and gets to know a bit about "life on the outside." The ending came as a COMPLETE shock to me [I won't ruin it] and I found myself shouting "NO! ALAN, NO!" as if the author could hear me -- and as if that ending were likely anyway. But what a burst of adrenaline!
Absolutely glorious novella. QEII takes up reading in a big way. Stories based on real people don't usually work for me but Bennett's HM rings true and the outcome of story is completely plausible. Beautifully, elegantly and sparsely written, it could have been padded out to much longer but that would have been a shame, the lenght is perfect.Best book I have read in months
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