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Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

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Five stars are just too paltry for this book. Awesome, bright, clever, droll, only begin the list of adjectives that could be assigned to it. The plot is a blatant, if delightful, vehicle for Alan Bennett’s philosophy of reading. The Queen, her very self, meets one of her pages in the traveling library. Norman takes her on a jolly trek to becoming “a reader.” She finds that the briefings from her staff in preparation for her tours and travels are “terse, factual and to the point.”

“Briefing closes down a subject, while reading opens it up.” Norman shows her how to read for pleasure, not just for enlightenment. When told that security had confiscated her current book from the carriage and likely exploded it, she is indignant. “Exploded? But it was Anita Brookner.” She muses, “A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”

Inevitably, her secretary Kevin, the Prime Minister, the household in general and even the Corgis find that the Queen’s reading is causing disruption. She’s tardy for luncheons and openings. She perfects reading in her coach, keeping the book below the window level so as to maintain the royal wave as she travels. She prefers discussing books with her tea party conversants rather than their method of travel and how far they came. Foreign dignitaries are unprepared as she discusses their nation’s authors. Walkies no longer include ball-throwing.

Perhaps, as Bennett shows the Queen becoming enamored with reading, the rest of the world will catch on. So, turn off the TV, put away the iphone, unplug the Wii and pick up a book -— or even a kindle. Be encouraged, the thumbwriters of the world may yet discover adjectives and adverbs. Alan Bennett is the quintessential Englishman. Read An Englishman Abroad or listed to the CD for even more of Bennett’s wonderful take on the psyche of the English. Most importantly, buy this book, save it, savor it, quote it, and realize for yourself what an extraordinary gift it is to be able to read.

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