In The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, the Queen discovers the joys of reading. As I read about the Queen’s reading journey, I found many similarities to my own reading journey. The Queen voiced my own thoughts about reading, and I loved relating to her.
But while The Uncommon Reader was a funny, easy read, it had unnecessary crudity, and therefore I can’t whole-heartedly recommend it.
The Queen, a non-reader, follows her dog outside of the Royal Kitchens and onto the local library’s traveling Bookmobile that is parked on the lawns. There, she feels obligated to check out a library book. But to her surprise, she actually enjoys reading it! Thus begins a love affair with the written word. As we watched her progress from reading popular fiction to reading classics new and old, we, the readers, are reminded of our own journeys of how we have made reading a part of our lives.
As the Queen begins to read more, people are shocked that she has time to read; she points out time and again that everyone has time to read if it is made a priority. Granted, in this novella, the Queen fails to learn how to balance her time properly, and that adds to the humor.
I don’t believe anyone doesn’t have time to read. For someone who tells me that, I say: “Take every minute you spend watching TV of any kind and replace that with an audiobook, a book, or a magazine. Add a book to your purse or car and read wherever you go. You have time to read; you choose not to!”
A few memorable quotes:
[Said the Queen], ‘[B]ut briefing is not reading. In fact it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untied, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up.’ (page 21-22)
[Said the Queen], ‘Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it.’ (page 29)
The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic. (page 30)
To begin with, it’s true, she read with trepidation and some unease. The sheer endlessness of books outfaced her and she had no idea how to go on; there was no system to her reading, with one book leading to another, and often she had two or three on the go at the same time. The next stage had been when she started to make notes, after which she always read with a pencil in hand, not summarizing what she read but simply transcribing passages that struck her. It was only after a year or so of reading and making notes that she tentatively ventured on the occasional thought of her own. (page 47)
There are so many more memorable lines, but you have to read the novella to discover them.
I found myself making a reading journey about ten months ago. While I’ve always been a reader, I started being more critical of what I picked up; reading one book encouraged me to pick up a different, related novel or nonfiction work, and I found myself devouring that as well. I started a blog where I can write about what I’ve learned. I’ve learned to make reading a part of my life, even while caring for my little child. And I love the journey!
Great, Except for One Part
The writing in this novella is fine: it’s a quick, fun read. The plot is very universal, and I kept thinking I could recommend it to book groups everywhere. I could share my copy with my family. It would be a great book for discussion of reading as a process, as a pastime, as a lifestyle.
But then there was some sexually crude dialog between the queen’s assistants.
I know most people won’t care. I suppose some people will find it funny. Most people probably won’t even notice it. But I did notice it, and it ruins this novella for me. Why, oh why, do authors add crude sexual language to an otherwise clean, delightful book? I fail to see how it was integral to the development of the plot. I fail to see the humor.
It means I can’t recommend this book.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett was delightful and easy to read. I could relate to the Queen’s own personal development as a reader. But in the end, “modern fiction” disappointed me again with irrelevant crudity.
I won The Uncommon Reader from Booking Mama. Thank you very much for an entertaining read!
- The Bluestocking Society
- books i done read
- things mean a lot
- The Hidden Side of a Leaf
- Just Add Books
- Page After Page
- The Written World
- Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
- Bermuda Onion
- Reading Adventures
- A Striped Armchair
- Blogging ‘Bout Books
- It’s All About Books
- The Book Zombie
- Care’s Online Book Club
If you have reviewed The Uncommon Reader on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.
For the rest of October, I’ll donate 10 cents to World Food Programme for every (non-spam) comment I receive on any post of Rebecca Reads. See most post on Blog Action Day 2008 here. I’m also donating any proceeds (4%) from my Amazon Store.