Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux,
ISBN: 9780374280963, 2007
Find this book at your local library

While visiting the mobile library one day, the Queen finds herself obliged to borrow one of the books resting on the selves. Although seemingly innocuous at first, this first book leads her to another, then another, causing quite the sensation amongst her staff. Even the queen finds herself questioning her role at the head of the monarchy.

Although the premise is enticing, and the book length is incredibly short, I found this book somewhat lacking. I never really attached to the queen and didn’t see her attachment for books develop in a natural way. In a way, this book felt like a rough draft of what could be a much longer book. At its simplest form, it’s a book about the love of reading and how easy it is to latch onto something so personal. Although we don’t really witness any growth in the Queen, we see lots of reactions to her latest hobby through her staff. It’s apparently in very poor taste for the Queen to take up a hobby such as reading. It pulls her away from her duties, it means that she has preferences, which are particularly bad for a monarch to have. The intense misunderstanding and distaste for her newfound passion was what was the most interesting thing about the book. It was never really clear why everyone took to it so poorly. I found it hard to believe that out of everyone in that building, everyone that she came across, only little Norman from the kitchen shared her love of reading and would have a discourse with her about the different books they’d discovered.

I would have liked to see more of the intermediary steps a reader goes through as the Queen experienced it, but I did like the idea of jotting down notes, quotes and ideas in a little journal. Its something I try to do, but I never have the journal with me when I’m reading. This book is really an ode to reading and the value of reading in our lives. It’s not necessarily about who the reader is. I think the Queen can be interchangeable with any other humanoid person for this book to still pass along the same message. It’s not really about royalty reading and shirking their duties. It’s about finding the right book and letting it lead us to wherever we may follow, trusting that the author will help us learn something new along the way.

About the author

Author photo. Courtesy of Allen and UnwinAlan Bennett has been one of England’s leading dramatists since the success of Beyond the Fringe in the 1960s. His work includes the Talking Heads television series, and the stage plays Forty Years On, The Lady in the Van, A Question of Attribution, and The Madness of King George III. His recent play, The History Boys (now a major motion picture), won six Tony Awards, including best play, in 2006. In the same year his memoir, Untold Stories, was a number-one bestseller in the United Kingdom. (

Books by the author: More than 100 titles!

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld This was originally posted on The Novel World on 8/06/2015

One response to “Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

  1. arabellabramble

    Interesting post. I have always liked this novella, it is a comment on the importance and joys of reading and is a really lovely little book. It is a nice companion to some of Bennet’s dramatic work, not the least The History Boys, which also exists as a film, check it out if you get the chance.

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