Book Review: The Uncommon Reader

uncommonreaderWhat happens when the leader of a country takes a sincere interest in reading? That’s the question that Alan Bennett plays with in his new little book, The Uncommon Reader

The Queen of England (Elizabeth II) happens upon a travelling library, the kind that lives in a bus and makes regular stops at scheduled locations. This time, the library stopped at Buckingham palace, and she borrows a book, more out of duty than anything else.

The rest of the book chronicles her development as an avid reader, to the ultimate dereliction of her other duties. She is constantly sneaking away and stealing time for her new pastime while paying less attention to her state duties that once took priority.

The book paints an extreme picture of what happens when someone becomes an involved reader.  However, I don’t think you need to escape from the rest of your life to enjoy reading, at least to this extent.  The book also ends up at a conclusion that I’m not fond of either, but I won’t spoil that for you, surprise as it is. 

Instead, I want to discuss the books finer points about the merits of reading, how it can benefit anyone’s life.  This is especially helpful since I’m busily preparing for a summer course entitled Survey of Fiction, where I’ll be teaching 15 college students why they should care about reading, when they have a lot of other concerns in their lives (including the summer sunshine).

Here are a few gems about the value of reading, via Bennett’s queen:

“Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting.  Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up.” (21-22)

“Books are not about passing the time.  They’re about other lives.  Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass…one just wishes one had more of it.  If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand” (29).

“I read, I think…because one has a duty to find out what people are like” (30).

“A book is a device to ignite the imagination” (34).

What about you? Why do you read? How has it improved your life?

If I recommend any books that you’d like to purchase, consider buying them through Amazon using the links on my site, so I get a percent of the purchase price back to buy more books to review!


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You are one of many who have enjoyed this book. You can see my blog post at!.

    I don’t think the book is a cautionary tale about the perils of reading but a pleasant fantasy about how reading can free a person who otherwise experiences a very restricted life.

    AL: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your review. You’re right, I don’t think it’s about the “perils of reading,” but I think that the author has an annoying conclusion at the end that I can’t explain without sort of ruining it. Basically, it just says that reading leads to something else, which isn’t a bad thing at all, its just not necessarily what I think is true for everyone. Aside from that, it’s got some great little points about why reading can enrich someone’s life.

  2. Hey Amy. Good effort. You have covered a wide range of books. Can you suggest me a couple of your favorite.


    AL: Check out the bookshelf section of my blog for my faves and the books that I’ve listed on shelfari. It kind of depends on your tastes, but you can see which ones I’ve rated with stars on shelfari. Happy reading!

  3. I read for reason #2 in your list above…those other worlds. I’ve been traveling widely (very widely!) in books for five decades and never grow tired of it.

    AL: I love that! I do love to travel…and I wonder if that’s one of the reasons I love to read so much too, because it feeds that desire in me.

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