Have just finished a quick re-read of Alan Bennett’s “The Uncommon Reader”, the novel that presents itself as a love letter to the power of reading even for, arguably, the most powerful woman on earth: Queen Elizabeth II. This is a novella and a very short read, and yet so enjoyable at the same time. I was quite sad when I came to the end, and would have been rather happy for more. But perhaps that is the key to popularity – leave your audience wanting more…
This plot involves an accidental meeting of HRH The Queen* who, chasing her numerous Corgis across the palace terrace, comes across a small mobile library by the kitchen entrance. As she climbs in, more out of a sense of duty than anything, she randomly checks out a book and thinks that that will be the end of that. She feels that she has little time for reading, and besides, as her Private Secretary reminds her later, reading implies preference and Her Majesty has to be viewed by her subjects as widely democratic in her opinions and interests.
All to say that that coincidence opens doors for both her and some of her staff – it’s clear that Bennett loves reading and words as much as any avid booklover, and as the plot evolves, he demonstrates how widespread the ripples can be when one transforms from a non-reader to an avid reader.
This is ideal reading for both inexperienced readers and for those who have been addicted to it for years. It’s an absolutely gorgeous read and thoroughly enjoyable for a hot Sunday afternoon inside the A/C. (Well, it would also be a good read in a cold place, but I happened to be in a very hot place…)
One point that was raised in the book was that HRH wants to put on a literary soiree for some of the living authors that she has read and to show support for the literary arts. Things don’t go according to plan (as happens), and the whole experience changes the Queen’s mind about meeting living authors – “It’s generally best to meet authors through the characters of their books than in real life” and I smiled with recognition as this has been quite a bit of my own experience.
For some authors who I have met, modesty is not the first quality that comes to mind, and I don’t think I’m far off the mark if I suggest that a few authors should just be locked in a garret somewhere and left alone to write. There is always a mixed bag in any population, but generally speaking (and in my limited experience), some authors can be insufferable in person and make *you* suffer for *their* art.
However, I know there are lovely ones out there (see: Mary Roach) so perhaps I’ve just had bad luck. Also, I’ve only met quite minor authors though so perhaps that explains the phenomena…
So – it takes all kinds to put the world together and all kinds of books to make a good library. This title is an excellent addition to any library if you would like an enthusiastic endorsement of reading. Just loved it.
* Last Saturday was the Queen’s “official” birthday so I made scones to celebrate. Yum.