Read by Alan Bennett
This was amongst one of the last batches of books I picked up back when the last Borders in my area closed; it has remained untouched since then–and still, because I ended up listening to it instead of reading it. As usual, I knew nothing about this and got it just because I liked The History Boys. I enjoyed the film way back when I watched films with any kind of regularity. Not knowing anything and scarcely giving a cover anymore than a quick glance has done well for me and I’m really glad that this occasional haphazardness has held up.
The Uncommon Reader is a story about how borrowing a book out of politeness from a mobile library sets the Queen on a path down a reader’s rabbit hole. The book keenly observes how becoming an avid reader changes the Queen. She grows to loath her duties that interfere with her reading–she develops both a new kind of patience and an intolerance for lengthy undertakings. Her manner of interacting with people and what she takes notice of or is affected by morphs into that of a reader’s–more specific and informed by preferences (which the monarchy should not be known to have). And while her intelligence level and wealth of knowledge cannot be debated, she comes to feel that there is so much she doesn’t know.
I was delighted by this story from beginning to end. I’ve been at the bottom of that rabbit hole all of my life, so it was interesting to witness the journey of a person who hasn’t, especially when that person is the Queen of England. I think one of my favorite part is the whole chapter involving Sir Clyde, a man who has served the Royal Family since before she was in power–that is to say, he was old. At the behest of someone else, the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Kevin, tasked Sir Clyde with steering her back on the right path as the Royal Household and the Monarchy as a whole had been merely tolerating her new interest at best. And while that part was interesting in its own right, it was the things about Sir Clyde that were commented on that were both sad and shamefully hilarious. Then there was the narrative of the guy she met when she first encountered the mobile library, Norman, and, of course, the ending!
This is definitely one I’ll listen to again.