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The Uncommon Reader: A Novella Hardcover – September 18, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Briskly original and subversively funny, this novella from popular British writer Bennett (Untold Stories; Tony-winning play The History Boys) sends Queen Elizabeth II into a mobile library van in pursuit of her runaway corgis and into the reflective, observant life of an avid reader. Guided by Norman, a former kitchen boy and enthusiast of gay authors, the queen gradually loses interest in her endless succession of official duties and learns the pleasure of such a common activity. With the dawn of her sensibility... mistaken for the onset of senility, plots are hatched by the prime minister and the queen's staff to dispatch Norman and discourage the queen's preoccupation with books. Ultimately, it is her own growing self-awareness that leads her away from reading and toward writing, with astonishing results. Bennett has fun with the proper behavior and protocol at the palace, and the few instances of mild coarseness seem almost scandalous. There are lessons packed in here, but Bennett doesn't wallop readers with them. It's a fun little book. (Sept.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Any common reader will enjoy a good laugh from British playwright Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, which can be consumed in a few spare hours. But readers expecting a work as brilliant and scathing as Bennett’s plays The History Boys (2004) and The Madness of King George (1991), or even his other short stories, should expect something completely different. A political and literary satire, it pokes fun at the British monarchy while revealing the lasting power of literature. Reviews suggest that The Uncommon Reader should be enjoyed like the sort of reading it espouses: casually, but with a sensitivity to serious things as well.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374280967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374280963
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (329 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Bennett is a renowned playwright and essayist, a succession of whose plays have been staged at the Royal National Theatre and whose screenplay for The Madness of King George was nominated for an Academy Award. He made his first stage appearance with Beyond the Fringe and his latest play was The Lady in the Van with Maggie Smith. Episodes from his award-winning Talking Heads series have been shown on PBS. His first novel, The Clothes They Stood Up In, was published in 2000. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Funny, charming and just a fun read.
Since reading this book, I have purchased 3 copies to give to friends.
Edna Shattuck
Alan Bennett is a wonderful, charming writer.
Trudy Zimmerman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

140 of 147 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In chasing after her rowdy dog-pack one day, the Queen discovers them barking at a bookmobile, parked outside the kitchen at Windsor. Entering to apologize for the din, the Queen meets Norman Seakins, a young man from the kitchen whose primary interest is in gay books and photography. Feeling obligated to borrow a book, the Queen selects a novel, intending to return it the following week. Almost immediately, palace life changes. That night, with the president of France seated beside her at dinner, the Queen abandons her usual safe conversation and remarks, "I've been longing to ask you about Jean Genet...Homosexual and jailbird, was he nevertheless, as bad as he was painted?"

As the Queen expands her reading under the direction of Norman, she becomes less interested in day-to-day activities, even arriving late to the opening of Parliament because she forgot her book for the coach ride and had to have it brought to her. She no longer keeps to tried and true conversational subjects (the traffic on the road to the palace), as she converses with the public and meets honored guests, and she finds people becoming confused and tongue-tied. Dinner conversations no longer have the pleasant, easy-going atmosphere that once made invitations to the palace so memorable. When these issues continue for over a year, the Prime Minister determines to take action.

In this delightful novella, Alan Bennett (Beyond the Fringe, Talking Heads, and most recently, The History Boys), explores reading, writing, and their effects on our lives as he develops this imaginative and warmly humorous scenario.
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58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Linda Bulger VINE VOICE on April 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's good to be Queen, but it does have its drawbacks -- long periods of tedium in slow-moving vehicles, a relentless round of ceremonial duties, and a bird's eye view of everyday life. What better solution to these drawbacks than the pages of a good book?

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella is a quirky little book about Queen Elizabeth II and her discovery of the joys of reading. Pursuing her yapping corgis through the grounds of Windsor Castle, she ends up in the library bookmobile and checks out a book to be polite. From this beginning, guided by kitchen hand-turned-equerry Norman Seakins, she is soon deep in the world of books.

This new habit of hers is unpopular with the people around her. She's becoming too "remote," they say; Alzheimer's is suggested. Her punctuality and attention to formal routine are slipping. Norman is spirited away from her staff but she keeps reading.

Author Alan Bennett packs a lot into this compact book. Through all the palace intrigue, Mad Hatter's tea parties, and hilarious references to writers old and new, the queen keeps reading. Her point of view widens exponentially and she begins making notes -- and then writing more seriously.

There's a little treasure around every corner in this wry book. The final scene is pure theater of the absurd, and the final paragraph will probably make you laugh out loud. Highly recommended.

Linda Bulger, 2008
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on October 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
For such a slim novella, "The Uncommon Reader" operates on many levels. Most obviously, it is a charming, comedic story. But it's also a meditation on the merits ... and the limits ... of books and reading as a means of opening one's eyes (as the book's subject might say) and softening one's sensibilities. It's about what an awakening familiarity with literature can do to a person, and also the havoc it can create for people who expect life to be led in certain familiar pattern. That's a lot to fit into a hundred-and-some pages, but Alan Bennett does it extremely well. Though I'd been somewhat familiar with him for some time, this is the first time I've really explored his writing. No wonder he's thought of so highly.

One of the things that most pleased me about this book was the sympathetic and affectionate portrayal of Her Majesty. With so many people evidently taking it for granted that the Windsors are all a bunch of cold-hearted nitwits, Bennett's Queen is -- if admittedly somewhat limited in the breadth of her education -- thoughtful, self-aware, eager to learn, and on the whole a most memorable personality.

I think anyone who enjoys reading and appreciates the power of books will enjoy watching The Queen's royal progress in these pages. But beware: the realization she eventually reaches (about writing as well as reading) is one I believe Bennett wants to lead every reader to, common or otherwise.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lesley Zampatti on October 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'd so like to have Alan Bennett sitting in an armchair in the corner of my sitting room, chatting away in his Yorkshire accent, filling the room with his finely-tuned observations of life ...
This is such a perfect gem, a novella you can whiz through in an afternoon.
Mr Bennett plays with the notion of what would happen to Queen and country should Her Majesty become a serious reader. And what would she read?
He's captured her personality and voice to a T, and you can hear those regal, brittle vowels in her conversations with Prince Philip, her New Zealander private secretary Sir Kevin, and her friend and sole fellow reader, Norman, whom she whisks upstairs from the Buckingham Palace kitchens to be her 'amanuensis'.
There's much that will make you laugh, but also more wistful passages in which HM regrets, in her old age, the decades of opportunities she has wasted in meeting so many famous and important writers, without having had the faintest interest in them or their work.
As he did so skilfully in Talking Heads, Mr Bennett pokes gentle fun at his characters and their opinions, and shoots barbs at the bizarre social mores of the British class system. But the wit is sharp rather than acerbic, born of intelligence and affection rather than any desire to be cruel.
I loved it - there has to be a movie. They should get Helen Mirren to play this Queen, she'd eat it up!
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