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Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

I bought a few books in London this week and while packing for the flight back home I put The Uncommon Reader in my bag simply because it is a slim book. I was holding the book while walking down the aisle to my seat, and this man smiled widely at me from his seat, pointed to the book, and said (in Hebrew): “This is the funniest book in the world”. I told him I haven’t started reading it yet, and he said: “lucky you!”. So when I sat down in my spacious EL AL economy-class seat and opened the book, expectations were high.

uncommon Alan Bennett is the author of known West End plays, most recently “The History Boys”. In this book he weaves an exquisitely lovely and quintessentially British story about Queen Elizabeth II becoming an avid reader in her old age. Chasing her dogs on a walk through the palace grounds, she stumbles upon a travelling library van, where she meets Norman, who works in the royal kitchens. The young boy introduces Her Majesty to the world of books and becomes her confidante in the matter of reading, after the Queen promotes him from the kitchen to become her personal assistant. She struggles through the first book – which she borrowed from the library van only out of her “sense of duty” – but quickly enough she starts devouring books at a brisk rate.

Reading eventually interferes with her duties as Queen and people around her conspire to return things to normal. She embarrasses the Prime Minister and other dignitaries by asking them about their literary preferences, only to discover most of them do not read. The book builds to a crescendo when the Queen decides to dabble in writing herself and takes the necessary (and logical) step to allow her to do so.

This book is a love poem for reading, so any reader will love it. The humour is good and I did laugh out loud a couple of times (to the consternation of my fellow travellers). Even though I wouldn’t necessarily label it as “the funniest book in the world”, it is a book I recommend with all my heart.

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