The Washington Post

The perfect summer read — about reading

I don’t usually recommend books, but while on vacation, I smiled all the way through 117 pages of a novella about the unadulterated joy of reading.

The Uncommon Reader,” by English dramatist Alan Bennett, first published in 2007, is an uncommonly enjoyable and funny read, a flight of imagination about what would happen if the Queen of England suddenly became an avid reader (and then a writer).

The queen falls into reading a book when she chases her dogs and runs into the City of Westminster’s traveling library parked near a palace kitchen door. She feels she must borrow a book so as not to insult the library’s driver, and that opens her up to a new passion. One book leads to another and to another and then to many more — novels, books of poetry and more.

The peculiar life of the monarch is seen in Bennett’s description of the palace library:

…when she started to read she thought perhaps she ought to do some of it at least in the place set aside for the purpose, namely the palace library. But though it was called the library and was indeed lined with books, a book was seldom  if ever read there. Ultimatums were delivered there, lines drawn, prayer books compiled and marriages decided upon, but should one want to curl up with a book the library was not the place…. No, if reading was to be done it was better done in a place not set aside for it.

There is a surprise ending which I won’t reveal. Read it yourself.


Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · July 9, 2013

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