four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
By: 
Alan Bennett
user_rating: 
0

A-The Uncommon ReaderAmerican presidents maintain a certain degree of faux literacy: these days a published book, however manufactured, is nearly a prerequisite for the office. Not so for the British monarch, who can remain decidedly irrelevant to the republic of letters. In The Uncommon Reader, a sort of literary regime change erupts when a fictionalized Queen Elizabeth II, never much of a reader, stumbles upon a bookmobile at Buckingham Palace's back door. As she progresses from beach-novel fare through the classics, Her Majesty develops the quirks and eccentricities any zealous reader knows, and before long those pesky books start to put some funny ideas into the head of the head of state.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 128 pages. $15. ISBN: 0374280967

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Uncommon Reader is a celebration of both reading and its counterpart, independent thinking. In this age of corporate politics, Bennett suggests, even a monarch may have greater potential for empathy with her fellow man than does the machine of democratic government." Maud Newton

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"The glorious thing about The Uncommon Reader is that the queen is the world's best champion for this activity. ... Perfectly silly, The Uncommon Reader is the ultimate advert for storytelling and the fellowship of real readers." Kerry Fried

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"The Uncommon Reader is a political and literary satire. But it's also a lovely lesson in the redemptive and subversive power of reading and how one book can lead to another and another and another." Bob Minzesheimer

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"You can finish The Uncommon Reader in an hour or two, but it is charming enough and wise enough that you will almost certainly want to keep it around for rereading-unless you decide to share it with friends. Either way, this little book offers what English readers would call very good value for money." Michael Dirda

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"It's not his very best work, but it distills his virtues well enough to suggest how such a distinctive style might have arisen." Jeremy McCarter

Critical Summary

Any common reader will enjoy a good laugh from British playwright Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, which can be consumed in a few spare hours. But readers expecting a work as brilliant and scathing as Bennett's plays The History Boys (2004) and The Madness of King George (1991), or even his other short stories, should expect something completely different. A political and literary satire, it pokes fun at the British monarchy while revealing the lasting power of literature. Reviews suggest that The Uncommon Reader should be enjoyed like the sort of reading it espouses: casually, but with a sensitivity to serious things as well.