Wednesday, January 6, 2010

41. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I know that I read about this book somewhere and noted the title, but I can't for the life of me remember where. It took awhile to get to the top of the requests list at library, which I think is a good sign. I have found that if a book is in demand at my library, there's a chance that it'll be pretty good. This one was no exception.

The titular character of The Uncommon Reader is Queen Elizabeth II, who stumbles upon a mobile library van outside the palace while in pursuit of her runaway corgis. Trying to be polite, she checks out a book and, with a weighty sense of duty to follow through on her folly, reads it from start to finish. In her continuing attempts to be polite, she checks out another book and another. She takes a liking to Norman, a kitchen worker who also frequents the mobile library, and promotes him to be one of her assistants. The Queen and Norman begin a "to be read" list and set out on a journey of discovery. This ruffles the feathers of many higher-ups at the palace and in government, who are confounded by the Queen's new passion and suspect senility.

This is a very clever novella that I got quite the kick out of. Bennett pokes fun at the proper behavior and protocol at the palace, and the results are subversively funny. But I sense a fondness for the Queen in his writing, and it stops short of being unkind. I think I would have appreciated some of the humor more if I had read more of the books that the Queen was reading, but that didn't take away from my enjoyment. The message that reading opens one up to new worlds in a delightful way is expressed loudly and clearly, but Bennett wasn't superior or pedantic about it. I highly recommend this one; it's short, clever and fun, even if you're already aware of the many benefits of reading for pleasure.

No comments: