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The Uncommon Reader Hardcover – 6 Sep 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 322 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 124 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; 1st edition (6 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846680492
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846680496
  • Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 1.4 x 17.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (322 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 58,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


An exquisitely produced jewel of a book ... [but] beneath the tasteful gilt-and-beige cover seethes a savagely Swiftian indignation against stupidity, Philistinism and arrogance in public places, and a passionate argument for the civilising power of art. (Jane Shilling The Times)

...a masterpiece of comic brevity. (Robert McCrum The Observer)

Book Description

A co-publication between Faber and Profile, as with the bestselling Untold Stories.

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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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8 Comments 154 of 160 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Oh, such a fabulous premise for a book: Walking her corgis one night the Queen stumbles upon a mobile library. Not wanting to seem rude she borrows a book, and then another. Soon she has been bitten by the bug and finds herself reading whenever she gets a moment. She becomes adroit at reading in the car while waving with her free hand and seems to be neglecting her once impeccably performed duties. She reads capriciously and diversely, everything from Proust to Vikram Seth and soon the seditious world of literature has her questioning her life and the political world around her.

This is a devilishly funny book, an absolute joy for any lover of reading who wonders what the world would be like if more people in power read for themselves. In his portrayal of the Queen, Alan Bennett has traversed a minefield skilfully and created a character who is both eminently believable and endearingly lovable. If the Queen lives vicariously then this delightful portrayal of her joyous rebellion could even persuade her to take up reading in reality!

There is absolutely nothing to dislike in this humorous and well conceived novella. It is a short and enjoyable read, crammed with little anecdotes and facts which will be of interest to anyone fascinated by the world of books. Indeed, if you have already fallen for the vast world of literature then you will be rubbing your hands with glee at this celebration of reading in all its forms.

I cannot think of a better way to spend a couple of hours than devouring The Uncommon Reader. It is a book which everyone should read.
4 Comments 241 of 251 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
This charming and witty little book (just 121 small pages) imagines the Queen, some fifty years into her reign, coming upon a travelling library parked next to the royal kitchens. Out of politeness, she borrows a book at random. She has never had any time or inclination for reading anything other than state papers, though she has met many famous authors with whom she had exchanged small talk. The first book, by Ivy Compton-Burnett, is hard going, but she has known since childhood that it is her duty to finish what she has started. Then she borrows another book, and soon she is hooked on reading, initially quite undiscriminatingly, to the incomprehension of the Duke and the active hostility of the palace officials. She feels she is doing her duty to find out "what people are like", and she is not shocked by anything she finds. There is an innocence about her, but also a shrewd and down-to-earth intelligence in her appraisals of literature. It appeals to her that books address the highly and the lowly placed alike, for "she was a genuine democrat, perhaps the only one in the country". What had been seen as a duty becomes a pleasure, and then a passion. It makes her impatient of small talk and of the clichés she has to utter in the speeches that are written for her. Soon she has a sense of history which her prime minister sadly lacks - but by that time the prime minister has been in office long enough no longer to listen to what the Queen has to say at his weekly audience with her.

Around this affectionate portrait of the Queen, Alan Bennett's imagination has woven a number of delicious incidents, gently satirical, and all in his crystalline prose and unmistakable voice.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I highly enjoyed the Uncommon Reader (an enticing title, full of old memories) where Her Majesty the Queen becomes a reading addict, a situation full of most comic consequences. But this delightful novel goes deeper than a mere entertainment: it also tells of the decay of reading, which can be seen in all social classes. It is also charmingly ambiguous (as was the film the Queen) for even if we know what fiction means, we cannot help confusing the queen in the novel and the real one, asking ourselves questions about the latter. We can also draw a personnal benefit from this brilliant novel: for my part,I completed a list of the books the queen devoures and I have just started reading Rose Tremain's novels thanks to the Uncommon Reader; with apologies for my clumsy english, not my home language.
3 Comments 29 of 31 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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