The Uncommon Reader, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (25 ratings)


'Oh Norman,' said the Queen, 'the prime minister doesn't seem to have read any Hardy.

Perhaps you could find him one of our old paperbacks on his way out.' Had the dogs not taken exception to the strange van parked in the royal grounds, the Queen might never have learnt of the Westminster travelling library's weekly visits to the palace.

But finding herself at its steps, she goes up to apologise for all the yapping and ends up taking out a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett, last borrowed in 1989.

Duff read though it proves to be, upbringing demands she finish it and, so as not to appear rude, she withdraws another.

This second, more fortunate choice of book awakens in Her Majesty a passion for reading so great that her public duties begin to suffer. And so, as she devours work by everyone from Hardy to Brookner to Proust to Samuel Beckett, her equerries conspire to bring the Queen's literary odyssey to a close.

Subversive and highly enjoyable, The Uncommon Reader offers the perfect argument for reading, written by one of its great champions, Alan Bennett.


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Showing 1 - 5 of 25 reviews.

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Review by

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."

Review by

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

Review by

The accumulated reviews of this novella on LibraryThing are probably longer than the book itself, by now. Bennett has clearly taken over the role of national literary teddy bear once held by John Betjeman: teddy bears are a <i>good thing</i>, so all credit to him for doing that, and for sneakily getting thousands of people to read a little novella about the transformative power of reading by setting it in Buckingham Palace...

Review by

A quirky little book, certainly, about the Queen of England's late-in-life discovery of the joy of reading. You could easily read this in one sitting, or enjoy small pieces of it here &amp; there (as I did) &amp; gain a chuckle at the typical British humor throughout. I was quite curious how such a little novelette would end, and was pleasantly surprised at the rather abrupt, but appropriate, ending.

Review by

This, tiny as it is (just over 100 pages) was an utter delight. HM The Queen stumbles upon a mobile library in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and, not wishing to be rude, picks up an Ivy Compton-Burnett ("She's not a popular author, Ma'am." "Why, I wonder? I made her a Dame.") Soon she's addicted to literature, to which her advisers react with as much horror as if she'd taken up Satanism. Or fandom. I actually bought this for my dear mother when she was in hospital – a nice, light, easy read, I thought. Which it is but, alas, it is far too gay-friendly and, indeed, too literary for my dear mama, who probably didn't even get the title. My sister liked it though, and, having stolen it back, I loved it.

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