Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Musings: The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet
Alan Bennett's novella The Uncommon Reader is one that I've had on my wish list for some time, and I was very happy to see that it is one of the audiobooks available for digital download from the library.  I am really getting much further along in both my mental and physical wish list of books to read by utilizing the library so much these days!  Particularly in the audiobook department- I feel so efficient!

The Uncommon Reader is a novella about Queen Elizabeth becoming an avid reader.  One fateful day, her beloved dogs start barking up a storm at a bookmobile and the Queen feels that she must borrow a book to make up for the disturbance.  She makes conversation with the other borrower, Norman, and chooses an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel for herself.  She finishes it and chooses another the next week.  And then another, and another, and another, until she finds herself with an insatiable thirst for reading.  She carries paperbacks in her handbags, reads while waving from the motorcades, hurries through official functions, and asks her subjects what they're reading.

In a regular person, this would not be a big deal.  But in a queen, it is.  What does it mean when a queen starts to read?  What is she implying about the state of the country?  What is she reading?  Does it have symbolic significance?

As a queen, Elizabeth does not have hobbies.  Choosing to read implies that the queen is choosing not to enjoy art or music or running or anything else - it expresses favoritism.  So does choosing one author over another.  And should she be allowed to read just for enjoyment, or should she be reading to make a statement?  One of her advisors recommends that she read books by minorities to gain popularity points.  The queen says that she is reading a book by Vikram Seth (so am I!), but that she is not reading it because he is a minority; she's reading it because she wants to read Vikram Seth.

The queen starts to neglect her duties so that she can read, begins to think more about other people and their places in the world as they relate to her.  Interestingly, she doesn't enjoy Jane Austen - the idea of a man and woman having so many hurdles to overcome just due to small differences in income or status doesn't seem real to her because the differences that exist between her and other people are so much wider.

This book is a gentle satire, but it really touches on so much of the magic that comes with being a reader.  The queen's perspective changes so drastically and has so many unforeseen consequences that one can't help but empathize with her position.  It was a lovely read, and I'm glad I finally got around to it.

26 comments:

  1. I read this a few years back and I really enjoyed it. It's funny that the dilemmas the Queen face are familiar ones that pop up with reading. Who to read, what topic to read, review copy or personal library.

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    1. Haha, you're so right! I just went through that difficult decision making process a couple of days ago.

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  2. Sounds adorable! I definitely need to get this -- I love the cover as well.

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    1. Yes, it's a great cover!

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  3. This one of those books that wanders on and off my radar. Thank you for the great review and for reminding me to give it some attention!

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    1. Might be just the fun read you want right now, Andi!

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  4. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed it. I thought it was hilarious and it had so many great passages about reading.

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    1. Yes, I thought it was particularly funny that the queen wanted to meet authors and then when she did, they weren't as great as she expected - I can imagine that!

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  5. This is one that I have been wanting to read for such a long time, and I can't wait to get to it. It sounds utterly charming, and I would love to think that the Queen is a secret book lover. Glad that the library is stocking such great reads for you!

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    1. I know, I haven't been able to physically go to the library for a while now, but I am using it for audiobooks, at least :-)

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  6. I feel like the lone hater for this book. Okay, not really hater. But I was definitely disappointed. Or just not in the right mood at the time.

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    1. I can see that for sure. I was wandering in and out of audiobook concentration for a bit of it, so I can't say it kept me COMPLETELY engaged the whole time. But I also just have a wandering mind.

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  7. I really enjoyed this one. It was just fun. Woo hoo for using your library mOre too!

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    1. Haha, I know, it's like a treasure trove!

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  8. I liked this one too.

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  9. I also liked this book a lot.

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    1. Can understand why :-)

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  10. I remember being charmed by this one too! I think that anyone who has ever lost an afternoon to a good book can relate to the desire to do more reading and less of the onerous tasks of life. :)

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    1. Especially if your tasks are cutting ribbon ;-)

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  11. I loved this book -- I was delighted to find a lovely hardcover copy for $1 at the library friends sale last year, and snatched it up. I've been kind of obsessed by British royalty lately and love the idea of the queen as a reader. But I can't imagine the Palace doesn't have some kind of library! I'm currently reading a biography of Queen Victoria and it mentions some royal moving into a palace with 50,000 books, which is my idea of heaven.

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    1. I am totally obsessed with British royalty/aristocracy of history! I also find it hard to imagine the palace not having a library, but I can see why the library on wheels would exist, as servants probably are intimidated to touch the palace books!

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  12. This is on my list, I love that Bennett wrote it about the real queen and not a fictional one, it makes it all the more appealing. Makes you wonder how much reading she really does do!

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  13. Hey, just wanted to say, I saw your post in my feed about the Sikh temple shootings. I completely agree with you. I was shocked at how little was said about it, and at how slowly people were willing to label it terrorism when that's clearly what it was. And that Mitt Romney doesn't know how to say "Sikh" and basically just everything about the whole thing. I don't tend to post about current events on Facebook myself, but it stunned me how few people posted about this as compared to the idiotic Chik-Fil-A non-issue issue.

    If you're having all second thoughts about posting the post (which btw I thought was great), you can delete this comment too, I won't mind. Just wanted to say I think you're completely right.

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  14. This sounds like a lovely little book.

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  15. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's one I've listened to a couple of times and I do love how the Queen changes over the span of the story.

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