Every book lover should read The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007; also available as an audio book). It’s a delightfully charming little novella about reading. Sounds boring? Well, it’s not. In addition to its charm, it’s also very funny; you won’t guffaw, but you will keep smiling as you read.
In the story, the Queen of England by happenstance becomes an avid reader, mentored at first by a common houseboy. Her reading transforms her life. Her advisers and courtesans, of course, fret that she’s wasting her time on frivolous nonsense and ignoring her bureaucratic duties. But she is so caught up in the joys of reading that she ignores them.
As we follow the Queen through her adventures in reading, we are exposed to lots of wise, but very mundane, observations about the reasons for reading and the consequences of doing so. So even as we are highly entertained, we are also nudged to think more carefully—but not at all academically—about why we read. I only wish that I had taken a cue from the practice the Queen developed of reading with a notebook at her side, so that I could have recorded some of her wise and witty observations. Eventually, her life of reading is supplemented, as it well should be, by a life of writing.
Spend a few hours with this charming book. You’ll be glad you did.