The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Uncommon Reader’s book-flap commentary includes praise after praise of author Alan Bennett: his style, his humor, his popularity, even his, well, Englishness. What is sadly missing, in my humble opinion, is praise of the story itself. The story, which centers around the Queen’s journey of discovery through the world of books, is to me more than just a vehicle for Bennett’s wit. As the Queen sinks deeper and deeper into the world of literature, she accordingly begins to see the world differently and to question role within it.

This book tugged some strings for me personally (which I’ll explain below), but if it hadn’t, the question is, would the much-praised Alan Bennett have appealed to me, the average, book-reading, 20-something American? I enjoyed the dry humor and the dead-pan delivery, but I stress dry. I enjoyed it quite a bit, because the dry, deadpan approach is something I appreciate, but for those who crave a more involved, action-packed plot line, this is not the book for you. I also found it frustrating when my enjoyment of the story was snagged by an British acronym I didn’t understand, and I have to say, it took me longer than I appreciated to figure out that “dolly” means attractive or appealing or something like it.

Bennett’s story is about a Queen, but following her journey made me realize my own. As I read, I couldn’t help but reflect on the role of reading in my life. I’ve been surrounded by readers since I was a baby. My parents are both readers. Some of my fondest childhood memories include trips to the children’s section of the local public library, with its puppets, games and, of course, books. The smell of a library or a bookstore is a smell that says to me I’m home. In other words, I can’t imagine a life without books. So to follow the Queen’s growth from book-tolerator to book-devourer, and to see the effect it had on her job, on the opinion of those around her who serve her, made me question, maybe for the first time, how reading has changed me in similar aspects. (Not, mind you, that I have anybody who serves ME!) It brought me into an experience I have always taken for granted.

So bottom line: Would I recommend this to my friends? If you are in for a humorous, dry, witty little 120-page story (of fiction) about a public figure you will never meet, which might just get you thinking about things you never thought about before, then yes. Give it a shot.

PS – There’s even a surprise at the end.

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