~by Alan Bennett
A version of The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett initially appeared in the London Review of Books before being printed as a book in Great Britain in 2007. It wasn't until the end of 2008 that the novella made its way to the United States. I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers, making it the sixth book I've received through the program and among the ones that I've enjoyed the most.
It began with a single book borrowed out of politeness. Her Majesty the Queen had wandered into a traveling library to apologize for the racket her corgis were making. Much to the chagrin and frustration of her advisors and family members, the first book is followed by another and then another until the Queen is consumed by the need to read. This newly formed habit is met with differing levels of non-support, but as the Queen she has the freedom to ignore this to some extent despite the multiple attempts made to reign in her addiction. While her reading becomes somewhat problematic for her responsibilities regarding matters of state, the Queen discovers that her mind has become more open and her sensitivity towards others has increased.
The plot of the book is really more of an excuse to expound and ruminate on readers and the act of reading than it is to tell a story. Regardless, the Queen's tale is delightful and Bennett even manages to work in a few amusingly clever twists by the end of the slim volume. The pacing was a bit uneven, moving along in fits and starts, but the book is short enough that this isn't terribly troublesome. Quite a few literary references are dropped throughout, and even though I didn't recognize them all I appreciated the ones that I did (there's even a dig at Harry Potter, which amused me greatly).
Overall, I found that I enjoyed The Uncommon Reader very much, although I was left with a feeling of wanting something more after I finished it. Generally delightful, the novella seemed empty at times and occasionally a little full of its own cleverness. As a novella, the book is easily and probably best read in one sitting. The story will be most appreciated by those who are themselves already avid readers and who understand the addictive and often subversive power of books and reading.