Book Review: The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella
Published By: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date:  September, 18th 2007
Page Count: 120

Buy it at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or IndieBound
Source: owned by reviewer

Many of us have had those times when we have become utterly obsessed with what we were reading.  Dishes became mountainous heaps in the sink, laundry piled up around the washer, and kids may (possibly) have eaten cold cereal for dinner.  But what if someone "uncommon" became obsessed with books?  What if that person were Queen Elizabeth?

While retrieving her escapist corgis from a book mobile parked on the palace grounds, the Queen checks out a book as a simple, polite gesture.  From there, one loan leads to another, and another; pastime becoming hobby becoming obsession.  As she reads more and more broadly, the way the Queen sees the world and herself in it changes, and begins to upset the functioning of both her household and her government.

I adored every word of The Uncommon Reader.  Alan Bennett writes lovingly and with great humor about the power of literature to transform the willing reader.  He deals with the complex interaction between of the isolation of the act of reading and the simultaneous way it allows us to connect with the experiences of others.  This charming little book has something for everybody: hilarious scenes, keen observations, and thoughtful reflection.  In fact, I loved it enough to purchase my own copy after having borrowed it from the library!

The Uncommon Reader is a perfect read for anyone who loves books. 


When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England's best loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader's life.