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The Uncommon Reader

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Led by her yapping corgis to the Westminster traveling library outside Buckingham Palace, the Queen finds herself taking out a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett. Duff read though it is, the following week her choice proves more enjoyable and 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 Beckett, her equerries conspire to bring the Queen's literary odyssey to a close.

120 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2007

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About the author

Alan Bennett

197 books981 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Alan Bennett is an English author and Tony Award-winning playwright. Bennett's first stage play, Forty Years On, was produced in 1968. Many television, stage and radio plays followed, along with screenplays, short stories, novellas, a large body of non-fictional prose and broadcasting, and many appearances as an actor. Bennett's lugubrious yet expressive voice (which still bears a slight Leeds accent) and the sharp humour and evident humanity of his writing have made his readings of his own work (especially his autobiographical writing) very popular. His readings of the Winnie the Pooh stories are also widely enjoyed.

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5 stars
11,166 (23%)
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963 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,365 reviews
January 14, 2016
Utterly charming book about the Queen stumbling across a mobile library that visits Buckingham Palace regularly and being assisted to choose reading matter by the helpful Norman. It's unusual because it shows how limited the Queen is by her very proper job which might not look like one, christening ships, knighting people, opening hospitals, hosting dinner parties and being nice to foreign politicians, but it certainly would feel like one. She escapes not from reality with a book, but into it, into our reality, how we all live.

To say more about the story would spoil this absolute gem of a book. Each facet is a carefully-polished, succinct paragraph of the best of slightly-comic writing on the surface, but there are always glints of Bennett's attitudes, tastes and where he would like to influence the reader with his obviously socialist stance. (Note to Americans, this is quite acceptable, and might even be praiseworthy, in Europe).

Bennett says that the reader creates the character as much as the author, which is, of course, self-evident. It is the reason why films often disappoint - the director's vision has clashed with that of the readers. That said, I would still love to see a play, a small film of this book. No one has ever written about the Queen in quite this way before: someone who would deeply like to be human and explore herself rather than being some sort of demi-god in a gilded cage of utmost comfort and deepest isolation.

In real life the Queen is supposed to have plastic containers of cereals on her breakfast table (placed there by the butler or the footman) and for holidays in a cottage in Scotland actually cooks for and washes up after the family and wears exactly what she pleases. A holiday? Not for us, oh no, she's not like us at all.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,545 reviews24.6k followers
April 5, 2018
This is a wonderfully humorous, subversive and comic homage to literature penned by non other than the great and incomparable treasure that is Alan Bennett. I listened to the audio, charmed by the narration by the author himself. This is a short book, worth its weight in gold, which has Her Majesty, the Queen of England inadvertently discover the mobile library, so beginning her early faltering steps to becoming an avid reader and bookworm. A whole world opens up, in which she is guided by Norman, who works in the kitchens and comes to be the Queens confidant and book guide. However, not everyone is best pleased, her household staff and private secretary, New Zealander Sir Kevin are alarmed and go out of their way to dissuade the Queen from finding pleasure in reading. There is behind the scenes meddling and political machinations as they get rid of Norman. However, nothing will sway Her Majesty as by this stage the unwelcome thought enters her mind that she no longer needs Norman and sets forth her own path in the world of books. Her developments begin to terrify the political establishment as the Queen with a twinkle in her eye, has mischief on her mind. I strongly urge anyone who loves books to read this as Alan Bennett has the Queen reading an extraordinarily diverse range of authors that is bound to catch the interest of any reader. Bennett is an author of gentle wit and a subversive turn of mind. You are missing a treat if you do not read this. Simply Fantastic!
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
389 reviews3,180 followers
July 17, 2022
To be honest, I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and this book was a good choice.

The Uncommon Reader is a short, fantasy book about Queen Elizabeth. One day, she sees a traveling library, and this chance encounter ignites her love of reading.

For me personally, this book is highly relatable. First, not everyone is a fan of the Queen's reading. I have also faced my share of reading saboteurs, someone who does not want me reading. Second, there is one point in the book where Elizabeth wants to meet authors. However, unlike Elizabeth, I LOVE interacting with authors.

For this book, I practiced immersion reading (listening to the audiobook while following along in the text). In this case, I would highly recommend the audiobook. The author himself narrated the book, and he was quite enthusiastic about it and made the book come alive.
Profile Image for Adina.
800 reviews3,073 followers
October 28, 2021
One evening, while walking, The Queen encounters a mobile library and out of duty borrows a title without planning to actually read it. However, she ends up finishing the novel and returning to the library next week for more. With the help of Norman, a kitchen aide who is the only client of the library, she discovers the pleasure of the written word. She soon finds her tasks boring and tries to free more and more time for her new hobby which leads to some conflict with her advisors and Royal politics.

The novella was a short and funny, a very welcome break from what I’ve been reading recently.
Profile Image for Swrp.
561 reviews108 followers
November 24, 2021
The Queen happens to visit the mobile library at the Buckingham Palace, gets assisted to choose a book by the always eager-to-help Normal and thus, become The Uncommon Reader [‘and wonder why ma’am needed a travelling library when she had several of the stationary kind of her own’.]

When asked ‘How far did Your Majesty get?’
The Queen responds ‘Oh, to the end. Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter, mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate. That’s always been my philosophy.’
The Queen also says: ‘A book is a device to ignite the imagination.’

Alan Bennett`s The Uncommon Reader is totally delightful read. It so sensitively points out that the Queen, like any other ‘regular’ person, also needs an exit, an escape and a getaway from her day-to-day responsibilities [‘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.’]

A fascinating read for all!
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews180 followers
October 14, 2019
The Queen takes a stroll around the grounds of Buckingham Palace with her Corgis. She notices a van parked up outside the kitchens. On further investigation she finds that the vehicle is a mobile library. Intrigued, she enters the van and meets Hutchings the driver and Norman an awkward young kitchen worker and great book lover.
Realising that she virtually never reads books the queen picks up a title or two. So begins a love of reading and an obsession with literature.
This doesn’t go down well with all of her advisors and begins to cause problems as the book bug takes hold.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, one of our most distinguished playwrights and screenwriters, is a gently funny and wise fable ........ and very short.
I can almost hear Bennett’s cultured northern tones and see a twinkle in his eyes behind his glasses, a mischievous smile on his lips.
There’s a little light social comment and a gentle prod at the absurdity of monarchy but it’s all playful. I got the impression that Mr Bennett feels a lot of affection for the Queen and empathises with her singular experience of life.
This whimsical, amusing and beautifully written little book is a must for all book lovers.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,937 reviews427 followers
November 26, 2022
Alan Bennett brings to life what a world would be like if Queen Elizabeth II started reading voraciously after stumbling upon a travelling library...

“You don't put your life into your books, you find it there.”

Quaint and quiet I think can best describe this. Bennett's usual work is often quite in your face with it's definite humour, but the funny side of this book seems to boil away quietly underneath, rearing it's lovely little head every now and then like a little postage stamp on the edge of a letter.

We follow the Queen of England (and other countries beside) as she becomes a reader, a dedicated reader and finally a rather obtuse reader. I've never read a book about reading before, so can't comment on how this differs or remains similar, but it offers a great insight in to what readers go through as they begin-and continue-their reading journey.

“I think of literature," she wrote," as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.”

It's kind of like needing someone on the outside to point out that you've got a bit of gravy on your chin, because you can't see it yourself. It's a nice little look in to the world of the Monarchy, as well, without being overly trite and condescending (only the correct amount). It treats them with equal amounts of endearment and contempt, which is a nice way of looking at them. Not always upwards.

I didn't quite get the Bennettesque Wonder and Awe that I usually get with his works, though I can't figure out why. I feel like I need to not be English to like this book a bit more. It's funny and charming and a bit cheeky. It makes you think: about the monarchy, the world in general and yourself as a reader, but it never really went beyond that. It's lovely in it's own way but I feel (countless gay references aside) that if you go from this to any other Bennett work you might be in for a bit of a culture shock.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
709 reviews455 followers
December 12, 2022
Why I chose to listen to this audiobook:
1. I love to read anything about Queen Elizabeth II; and,
2. even though this audiobook doesn't quite go with my self-declared "Winter/Christmas Month", it was the only WTR audiobook available for me to borrow at this time.

1. Yay! The Queen joins us lovers of reading when she comes upon a travelling library parked on the grounds of Buckingham Palace and decides to borrow a book - and becomes hooked!
2. I love the Queen's interactions with her husband, her staff, with politicians, and with other lovers of reading. I especially love her thoughtful musings about books and their authors;
3. it has quite the eyebrow-raising ending; and,
4. listening to author Alan Bennett narrate this story was a double-treat! Audio is about 2 hours long, so a quick read/listen.

Overall Thoughts:
A charming story about the delights of reading!

Check this one out if you like fictional stories about Queen Elizabeth II and/or the joy of reading!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,923 reviews35.4k followers
January 14, 2015
"The Old Gal", (the Queen), is reading....'again'!!!!

"Reading is untidy discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up."

"With this dictionary always in hand, Norman read out: 'Opsimath: one who learns late in life'.
"It was a sense of making up for lost time that made her read with such rapidity and in the process now making more frequent (and more confident) comments of her own, bringing to what was in effect literary criticism the same forthrightness with which she tackled other departments of her life."

"Read ma'ma?"
'When I get a chance, ma'am. I never seem to find the time.
'That's what a lot of people say. One must make the time. Take this morning. You're going to be sitting outside the town hall waiting for me. You could read then.'

For my 'reader' friends her on Goodreads....I've a question: When you walk into Starbucks and see a person sitting quietly reading a book - rather than on their smart-phone or laptop - do you also get a little more 'excited'? Aren't you dying to ask them "what are you reading"? (and do you?)

This little gem about the Queen's awakening to reading late in life is a delicious treat! My own 'late-in-life-journey' only started 9 or 10 years ago.
Profile Image for Lori.
353 reviews422 followers
April 30, 2020
This is a loveable book about love of books It's a small volume (literally), originally a short story published in a British magazine. It starts when the corgis drag the Queen to a bookmobile on palace grounds and Her Majesty feels obligated to take one. In time this seed sown from her sense of duty blossoms into a love of reading for pleasure and which grows into an obsession. For the corgis, the books become objects of jealousy to steal and mangle whenever possible. For Prince Philip they're a target of believably snobby snarky one-liners. At times the changing Queen stumps her subjects and stymies her staff and government.

The transition is steady but not smooth. In her first encounter with Henry James the Queen orders the book to "get on with it." And then she's every avid reader, reluctant to stop even when duty calls. She's also all of us who relish reviewing. She says Proust is "really someone to whom one would have wanted to say, 'Oh, do pull your socks up.'" Towards the end her thoughts turn from reading to writing and Bennett focuses more on reactions to Queen Elizabeth 2.0;. From that point the story drags a bit until its great ending. Almost all of it is clever and witty. It's a most enjoyable book...and for this American, at this time, a great way to get her mind off a different head of state: one who detests reading and writes with a Sharpie.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,276 reviews2,213 followers
August 1, 2014
How can I not like a book about someone who loves to read? In this case that someone just happens to be the Queen of England .It was clever and really a pleasure to read. There is not too much to say about the plot; its a short read. However,like others,I'll mention a few of my favorite quotes.

"What she was finding also 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."

"Books are not about passing the time. They are about other lives. Other Worlds. "

"One reads for pleasure," said the Queen. "It is not a public duty."

"You don't put your life into your books. You find it there."

"Who is above literature? You might as well say one is above humanity."
Profile Image for The Book Maven.
496 reviews52 followers
February 20, 2015
Oh wow. If I could give this book six stars, or heck, even ten, I would. It is so great--there's a lot of subtlety in here that Readers' Advisory librarians will definitely clue into, especially in how society views readers, reading, and books.

A lot of us read, sure. A lot of us really enjoy books. But because we are average joes, commoners, small potatoes, this is nothing groundbreaking. It likely will not become upsetting if we take up reading as a hobby. But what if someone important takes up reading, at a late stage in life? What if that somebody is more than important--what if that person is a figurehead, an influential presence of tradition, or otherwise very powerful, in oblique ways? What if that person happened to be the Queen of England?

That's the premise of this romping little read that has a surprising amount of substance. Queen Elizabeth stumbles across a bookmobile by the palace, feels compelled by good manners to check out a book, struggles through it, returns it, and again feels compelled to take out another. This one she finds delightful, and so the die is cast. This is so completely out of character for the Queen--she allows herself few hobbies and interests that would indicate a preference for anything, and now here she is, preferring books, developing a love for them, and as she reads more and more, developing some pretty heavy ideas that influence the person she is and how she reigns and interacts with her subjects.

But not everyone likes this new habit, hobby, tendency, addiction, whatever. RA librarians will recognize some of the arguments that the Queen's politicians and such make: Reading is selfish. Reading isolates you. Reading will alienate others from you. It's one thing to read this in an RA textbook; it hits home a lot harder when you read it being discussed in a fiction book.

The book is mainly dialogue-driven, with a fair amount of character development being devoted to the Queen. It all gets resolved in a tidy, unexpected, funny, and completely ludicrous manner at the end, and the ending is suitably off-beat, just like the rest of the book.

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,498 followers
June 1, 2013
Reading this feels like putting a pot of water on to boil, forgetting about it, and coming back to find a delightful stew. The analogy relates to Queen Elizabeth wandering into a bookmobile, getting hooked on reading books, and the various consequences that ensue.

I have 14 or 16 GR friends now who rate this 4 or better. Must be the word "reader" in the title that inspires a grab. You can’t go wrong, as it’s a short pleasant read. Very subtle and understated, with humor that builds quietly until you have to burst out laughing. Nothing over-the-top. It’s very realistic for how reading changes your outlook and how one book leads to another.

I would like to convey enough from the book to hook you, but would not like to spoil any of your fun. I choose to share a sample of her reaction to one book, an example of resistance by others to her reading, and one distillation of the appeal of reading to her. Near the beginning the story, it was the second book the Queen read that got her hooked, a romance by Nancy Mitford:

The Pursuit of Love turned out to be a fortunate choice and in its way a momentous one. Had Her Majesty gone for another duff read, an early George Eliot, say, or a late Henry James, novice reader that she was, she might have been put off reading for good and there would be no story to tell. Books, she would have thought, were work.

As it was, with this one she soon became engrossed, and passing her bedroom that night clutching his hot-water bottle, the duke heard her laugh out loud. He put his head around the door. 'All right, old girl?'

'Of course, I'm reading.'

The Queen encounters diverse reactions to her reading and a bit of conspiracy led by her PR manager, Sir Kevin, to thwart her new passion:

‘To read is to withdraw. To make oneself unavailable. One would feel easier about it,’ said Sir Kevin, ‘if the pursuit itself were less …selfish.’
‘Perhaps I should say solipsistic.’
‘Perhaps you should.’

Here is one of the Queen’s insights about the power of reading for her:

The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books didn’t care who was reading them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.

So as you can see, we have a bit of a fable on the subversive power of reading. There are no specific cases of the content of a specific book inciting high passions or inspiring intellectual conclusions that alter critical political choices. The restraint on the part of Bennett in this way somehow makes it more compelling and moving to experience the impact of reading on the Queen’s daily life and empathy for people of different walks of life.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,862 reviews1,897 followers
May 27, 2013
Rating: 4.125* of five

Witty, irreverent, and completely charming, Bennett's novella is one I would sincerely hope that Her Majesty read and laughed at when it was published.

There are many reviews of this effervescent entertainment, so I will confine myself to noting that the book carries with it a none-too-subtle punch line which I can't imagine would have made Mr. Bennett more likely to be in line for a life peerage, but which I can imagine made him a popular figure around Highgrove.

A delightful bagatelle of a book. Recommended to anyone not connected with the Royal Family.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.5k followers
August 22, 2010
Several people had recommended The Uncommon Reader to me over the last year, but somehow I only got around to it this morning. Don't be as slow as I was! The idea is very simple - the Queen gets hooked on reading - but Bennett handles it perfectly. It's a delight, and takes about an hour to read.

Maybe a short extract will do the job:
'Exploded?' said the Queen. 'But it was Anita Brookner.'

The young man, who seemed remarkably undeferential, said security may have thought it was a device.

The Queen said: 'Yes. That is exactly what it is. A book is a device to ignite the imagination.'

The footman said: 'Yes, ma'am.'

It was as if he was talking to his grandmother, and not for the first time the Queen was made unpleasantly aware of the hostility her reading seemed to arouse.

'Very well,' she said. 'Then you should inform security that I shall expect to find another copy of the same book, vetted and explosive-free, waiting on my desk tomorrow morning. And another thing. The carriage cushions are filthy. Look at my gloves.' Her Majesty departed.

'Fuck,' said the footman, fishing out the book from where he had been told to hide it down the front of his breeches.

Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews398 followers
October 25, 2017
My first thought was, "I wonder what the Queen thought of this". She probably didn't read it, and if she did, I hope she thought it was funny because it was. In this story she becomes an avid reader after accidentally stumbling upon a mobile library outside the palace. I didn't count them, but Bennett mentions more book titles and authors names than any book I've read. The Queen, much to everyones dismay, spends all her time reading and begins to neglect her queenly duties. She takes on everything from Austen to Proust and her reactions to all this diversity is priceless. Just an all-around fun read.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
874 reviews
May 8, 2019
This is a humourous little book about the pleasures of reading. Queen Elizabeth comes across the mobile library while chasing her corgis. Feeling obliged, she borrows a book and Norman moves from the kitchen to become an amanuensis.
Yes, I learned two new words while reading this novella. I learned that an 'amanuensis' is "One who writes from dictation, copies manuscripts. A literary assistant." And the meaning of an 'opsimath' is "one who learns only late in life."
Rather than tell the plot, I will share a few of my favourite quotes.

"A book is a device to ignite the imagination."

"What she was finding also 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."

"Who is above literature? You might as well say one is above humanity."

4 Royal stars 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews502 followers
May 11, 2015
This was a delightful interlude.

Indeed, a mischievous wit is driving this novella about the Queen discovering reading and the consequences for the nation.

The opening incident in the book with the French president started me off with wicked giggles, and it continued with the subtle parody on staff and politicians gracing her majesty's world.

A perfect Sunday afternoon read. Great read for Mother's Day!
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,633 followers
December 1, 2019
A delightful novella about the hijinks that ensue when the Queen of England suddenly becomes an avid reader. Utterly charming!

Favorite Quotes
"The Pursuit of Love turned out to be a fortunate choice and in its way a momentous one. Had Her Majesty gone for another duff read, an early George Eliot, say, or a late Henry James, novice reader that she was she might have been put off reading for good and there would be no story to tell. Books, she would have thought, were work."

"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."

"[B]riefing is not reading. In fact it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up."

"You don't put your life into your books. You find it there."

Update November 2019
After finishing the third season of the TV show "The Crown," I remembered this lovely story and was pleased to see I still had a copy of it hiding in my bookshelves. I settled in for another read of it, and found it just as enjoyable as before. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Melindam.
612 reviews268 followers
March 4, 2021
‘One reads for pleasure,’ said the Queen. ‘It is not a public duty.’.

I loved this novella when reading it for the first time, but appreciated it even more on this re-read.
Love Alan Bennett's easy-flowing, tongue-in-cheek yet serious style/story.

An Uncommon Reading Experience altogether & highly recommended.
Profile Image for Emily B.
424 reviews416 followers
August 26, 2022
This was a joy! Charming, witty and brief as Alan Bennett’s work often is.
Profile Image for Mike.
59 reviews37 followers
August 18, 2022
Sometimes things can get heavy and a "light" book is almost like a comfort food for me.

For instance, I was recently enjoying a reading session with Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse. I kept having to restart paragraphs because I couldn't focus. I went to the Ram Dass memoir I've been enjoying. Same thing.

That's when I knew. It was time to go looking for something light.

Past examples: anything by Fredrik Bachman, Markus Zusak, Mitch Albom.

These are good writers. They all have enough hit books in their past that they often find themselves sitting around the fire, constantly throwing in 100's. "Light" in this sense is in no way pejorative. The stories flow so well that I can't help but focus.

It makes me feel better. It's like a big ice cream sundae. The pages fly by.

What does this have to do with The Uncommon Reader?


I totally lost my train of thought there. I'm genuinely curious how this got so disjointed.


SO - I went cruising around the library and I found this little book, just a bit over 100 pages. It was about a Queen who starts to read late in life.

"...And it occurred to her...that reading was, among other things, a muscle and one that she had seemingly developed. She could read the novel with ease and great pleasure, laughing at remarks , they were hardly jokes, that she had not even noticed before..."

Little gems about reading and writing are here & there, and the story maintains a good pace. Sure there was some fluff - but that was part of the pleasure.

All of the details about becoming a reader were pretty right on. I've heard it said that if you read alot, you will most likely start thinking about writing. The Queen touches on this idea and describes writing as a way to leave something behind. A way to be remembered.
Profile Image for Malacorda.
502 reviews311 followers
December 18, 2018

Niente di che, mi aspettavo un qualcosa di gran lunga più illuminante.
All'inizio risulta brillante con l'idea di analizzare la "fenomenologia" del lettore comune attraverso la figura di una protagonista che è la meno comune in assoluto, ossia la Regina d'Inghilterra. E in fin dei conti non può non piacermi almeno un po' visto che parla di tutti noi che ci ritroviamo qui su GR, o su a'coso o su piazze analoghe, per il bisogno di condividere le letture, parlarne, mettere per iscritto le impressioni e le note che a volte pur prendendo il via da una lettura recente poi proseguono per altre tangenti; e tra tutti questi, ancora più in particolare penso al sottoinsieme di "noi che in casa veniamo guardati storto per tutto il tempo che passiamo con i libri".

E tuttavia alla lunga (se di "lunga" si può parlare, in cento paginette scarse...) la corposa farcitura di luoghi comuni e ovvietà a proposito del leggere e a proposito del lettore, risulta un po' pedante e ridondante. Forse vorrebbe essere una farcitura istruttiva ma in realtà non ha modo alcuno di esserlo perché un non-lettore difficilmente si ritroverà quest'oggetto tra le mani, e anche se fosse non capirebbe quanto c'è di vero nella storia di una persona che inizia a leggere quasi per caso e inspiegabilmente non riesce a smettere e per di più riflette sui cambiamenti di abitudine e di comportamento indotti dal fatto di leggere. A paragone, il classicone di Pennac Come un romanzo risulta molto più efficace, convincente, più rubizzo e meno didascalico.

Tutto questo per dire che intendevo appioppargli due stelline e mezza: ne aggiungo un altro po' perché il guizzo del finale è - nella sua semplicità - suggestivo e smagliante.
Profile Image for Lea.
117 reviews301 followers
May 25, 2018
Short, witty and highly enjoyable book. I find immense unexplainable pleasure when I read about other people reading, and discover the beauty and freedom of literature. The story shows the tremendous impact that reading routine has on the person’s life, even if that person is the Queen. I loved how the reading ignited the Queen's passion for life and shifted her whole perspective. Before, she concentrated on duties, and she was conditioned to completely disregard herself and lose her interest in small pleasures in day to day endless obligations. This quote perfectly summarizes her life before books.

‘She’d never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did, but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby and it was in the nature of her job that she didn’t have hobbies. Jogging, growing roses, chess or rock climbing, cake decoration, model aeroplanes. No. Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people. One had no preferences. Her job was to take an interest, not to be interested herself. And besides, reading wasn’t doing. She was a doer.‘

Even to rationalize reading in the beginning, she has to look at it as a duty, because the system didn’t ever allow her to do something just for the sake of doing it or just to enjoy herself. I can’t even imagine that level of restraint. For someone who is a queen of the country, you would think that she has freedom of being in charge of her own life and time, which happen not to be the case.

'I read, I think,’ she said to Norman, ‘because one has a duty to find out what people are like,’ a trite enough remark of which Norman took not much notice, feeling himself under no such obligation and reading purely for pleasure not enlightenment, though part of the pleasure was the enlightenment, he could see that. But duty did not come into it. To someone with the background of the Queen, though, pleasure had always taken second place to duty. If she could feel she had a duty to read then she could set about it with a clear conscience, with the pleasure, if pleasure there was, incidental.

People can often look up to rulers, politicians, celebrities and think they have an ideal life, which I believe seldom is the case. Common people have much more freedom and a chance for happiness in my opinion. Books were portal to a queen to a normal life, to place where she isn’t the queen, but the real person, with her wishes, emotions and inner riches. I think it’s beautiful the way books connect all people, in whatever circumstances, social class, age, sex or color of the skin. This quote is gold.

‘The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its 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. Actually she had heard this phrase, the republic of letters, used before, at graduation ceremonies, honorary degrees and the like, though without knowing quite what it meant. At that time talk of a republic of any sort she had thought mildly insulting and in her actual presence tactless to say the least. It was only now she understood what it meant. Books did not defer. 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 unrecognised 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 these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognised.’

I think this is a book that all readers would enjoy, but never the less, if non-reader comes across this book, I believe it has the power to show the glance of indescribable beauty of life as a reader. The book emphasizes growth, empathy, and freedom and in the end the own personhood and power we find within pages.

'But then books, as I’m sure you know, seldom prompt a course of action. Books generally just confirm you in what you have, perhaps unwittingly, decided to do already. You go to a book to have your convictions confirmed. A book, as it were, closes the book.’

Profile Image for Alana.
110 reviews4 followers
August 16, 2008
I really didn't like this book at all. I picked it up because so many people seem to like it and I thought it would be probable that I would like it too. However, I found it to be extremely boring. This author is supposed to be a great wit and I just didn't "get" his humor in writing style or otherwise. This book seems to be an endless author and book review which I didn't like. The book moved along so slowly that I was surprised to find that I was halfway through the book still waiting for the plot to begin. There were also a few swear words and a disgusting comment that surprised me because they didn't need to be there. All in all, this book was dry and dull and not at all what I expected. I should make a new category and put it in the "I can't believe I finished this book!" section!
Profile Image for Dee.
200 reviews11 followers
February 3, 2023
4 stars for this amazing novella! Bittersweet reading with the Queen’s recent passing, but very enjoyable.
Profile Image for TK421.
554 reviews257 followers
January 27, 2012
What would happen if the Queen started to notice the little things in life? You know, the type of things that seem to only matter to the lower stations. Futhermore, what if she was only noticing these things because she started reading books? That is the premise to this very fast-paced novella from Alan Bennett.

Overall, this story has some wonderful insight in to the magic of reading, exploring new worlds and meeting new characters through the written word. Additionally, this slim story is also a warning: What happens to a person when they stop/never read? Both hysterically funny and poignatly sad, THE UNCOMMON READER fulfills every readers niche. I'm confident that as you read this story you will find yourself shaking your head in agreement, snickering, and/or relating to the many off-handed comments and glances the Queen Mother receives because of her newly found passion.

To say more would only spoil the story.

Profile Image for Melki.
5,676 reviews2,324 followers
June 3, 2013
There are already thousands of reviews of this delightful book about the Queen's new-found love of reading, so you don't need me to tell you how much fun it is. In lieu of a review, I'll list some of the best quotes about reading I have ever seen, all featured within the pages of this book.

'Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting.'

'A book is a device to ignite the imagination.'

'I think of literature,' she wrote, 'as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach.'

'Who is above literature? You might as well say one is above humanity.'

And this one, which I'm sure Goodreads members who have watched their "To-Read" lists grow staggeringly long will surely relate to:

What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for all the reading she wanted to do.
Profile Image for Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore.
745 reviews164 followers
October 6, 2017
A delightful (and slightly crazy) little novel about books and reading and the many worlds they take the reader into or rather the world they take us away from. When the Queen stumbles upon a mobile library outside one of the kitchen doors, and borrows an Ivy Compton-Burnett book just to be polite, little does she know that this is to be the beginning of a love affair with books. She is delighted, and soon lost as any of us readers are as she moves through Mitford and Ackerley, Dickens and Henry James, Sylvia Plath and Lauren Bacall, Compton-Burnett and Alice Munro, among countless others―no longer as interested in the real world, looking for any chance to escape into the new worlds that books open up to us, for once perhaps, doing something that isn’t her “duty”. With it also begins a “battle” of sorts with her advisors and staff who can’t quite understand what’s happening and try in every which way to get Her Majesty back to “normal”. A fun storyline with many many observations on reading and books (and authors) that one could relate to―a quick and highly enjoyable read. Loved this one!
[p.s. No prizes for guessing which book I'm reading next- hint: the author's name begins with a P (it helps that this was already on my TBR and part of a personal challenge)]
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