the uncommon reader

Title :: The Uncommon Reader
Author :: Alan Bennett
Completed :: Apr 16 2008
Challenges :: Novella
Rating :: 5/5

Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. A book is a device to ignite the imagination.

If you haven't read this book yet... what are you waiting for? Especially since it will only take you an hour or so to complete. It is deliciously delightful! If Her Majesty were to read a book, what would she read? Does she have time to read?
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.
Bennett's novel introduces the Queen to a travelling library parked outside the gates of Buckingham Palace via her pesky barking dogs. In order to be polite the Queen feels that she must check out a book, and does so by selecting a book by Ivy Compton-Burnett that was last checked out in 1989. During the following week she gives the book a gander finding it slightly dull. She uses it as an excuse to skip out on a meeting because the book must be returned. Intending only to hand the book over and be on her way she walks away with Nancy Mitford's novel The Pursuit of Love (so totally bizarre since I myself had just checked this book out the week before this one). She immediately becomes enraptured by Mitford's novel (as I hope I will):
The truth was she didn't really want a book at all and certainly not another Ivy Compton-Burnett, which was too hard going altogether. So it was lucky that this time her eye happened to fall on a reissued volume of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love. She picked it up. 'Now. Didn't her sister marry the Mosley man?"

'Then of course there was the rather sad sister who had the fling with Hitler. And one became a Communist. And I think there was another besides. But this is Nancy?"

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.
Having finished the Nancy Mitford sequel, Love in a Cold Climate, the Queen was delighted to see she had written others, and though some of them seemed to be history she put them on her (newly started) reading list, which she kept in her desk.
While her passion for books grows her queenly duties fall to the wayside. What is to become of her public? What does that matter when the Queen feels obligated to catch up with all the good reading she's missed?
'I think of literature', she wrote, 'as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but cannot possibly reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.'
Books begin to follow her everywhere, she lives and breathes the written word and even hires an "amanuensis" (one who writes from dictation, copies manuscripts, a literary assistant) - I need me one of these! I think the Queen would seriously be interested in perusing and then tackling the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

When she finally had to give in and pay some attention to her public she looked for any chance she could to discuss literature. And it would appear Her Majesty is none too fond of the likes of Harry Potter...
... one of her subjects confessed to a fondness of Virgina Woolf or Dickens, both of which provoked a lively (and lengthy) discussion. There were many who hoped for a similar meeting of minds by saying they were reading Harry Potter, but to this the Queen (who had no time for fantasy) invariably said briskly, 'Yes. One is saving that for a rainy day,' and passed swiftly on.
I really enjoyed this little gem of a book and will definitely be adding it to my collection if and when I ever have a semi-permanent residence. Just a few last quotes that I could really sympathize with:
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.

Can there be any greater pleasure than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?

At it occurred to her (as next day she wrote down) that reading was, among other things, a muscle and one that she had seemingly developed.

Other Thoughts ::
: 1 more chapter
: a striped armchair
: books please
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . disconnected (out of touch) . trapt . someone in control .


posted by Ashleigh @ 21:00,


At 30 April 2008 at 16:19, Blogger Andi said...

Thanks for the reminder. I've seen some good reviews of this book on other blogs, too, and I must add it to my wishlist.

At 6 May 2008 at 07:05, Blogger BooksPlease said...

I enjoyed this book too - my post on it is here


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random field notes

    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
    1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
    2: literary; reading to escape reality, to improve conversation, for inspiration.
    3: crafter; crocheting and needlework, creating heirlooms, keeping the world warm.
    4: dreamer; head in the clouds, full of fantasies, wishing to be someone else, somewhere else.
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:: reading ::
: Ivanhoe . Walter Scott
: Schindler's Ark . Thomas Keneally
: The Amber Spyglass . Philip Pullman
: The Red Queen . Margaret Drabble
: Un Lun Dun . China Miéville
: A Handful of Dust . Evelyn Waugh
: Adjunct: An Undigest . Peter Manson
: A Kestral for a Knave . Barry Hines

:: recently finished ::
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: The Subtle Knife . Philip Pullman

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