Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

imagedbcgi2The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett surprised me.  At 120 pages, it’s a novella, a bookish snack with an English twist.  Does that make it a scone, a biscuit, or a crimpet?  In any case, it was a tasty little morsel of a book that I thoroughly enjoyed (try it with tea!)  If I’d read this a couple of years ago, I don’t think I would have had the same appreciation for it.  I wasn’t the same kind of reader then and wouldn’t have been ready for it.  I was still munching on more common, undignified fare.   

The book is about how the Queen of England becomes a reader, accidentally.  On a romp with her dogs she stumbles upon a mobile library that makes weekly visits to Buckingham Palace.  She asks the startled librarian,  “Is one allowed to borrow a book?  One doesn’t have a ticket?”  and is told she may borrow up to six books.  “Six? Heavens!” she replies, and borrows one out of sheer politeness.  Inside the library she also meets a palace employee from the kitchen, the young Norman. 

One book leads to another, and another, and some more, and reading soon becomes a royal obsession.  The Queen brings Norman up from the kitchen to be her reading accomplice, suggesting books for her and going to great lengths to get them.  Everything changes for The Queen through her reading.  She feels as if she has wasted so much time, time that could have been spent with books.  She regretfully remembers meeting great authors at various functions but, having never read their work, realizes these were missed opportunities.  

The Queen’s newfound passion for the written word causes quite a stir and makes others uncomfortable.  Her people are up in arms because she’d rather read than carry out her duties.  When meeting her subjects out in public she no longer asks them the usual questions, such as where they are from, or if they have come from a great distance to be there; instead she asks what they are reading, and some people are embarrassed when they admit they aren’t reading anything. When she does encounter a fellow reader, the conversation is lengthy, causing long lines.  Soon people are giving her books out in public, and her ladies in waiting have to bring totes to carry these gifts.  It’s all becoming a bit tiresome for her attendants.  

Her private secretary, Sir Kevin, is especially upset.  “It’s important,” said Sir Kevin, “that Your Majesty should stay focused.”, however he concedes that he can understand Her Majesty’s need to pass the time.  The Queen replies, “Pass the time?  Books are not about passing the time.  They’re about other lives.  Other worlds.  Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it.”  At least her family is happy, because she is distracted and not so nit-picky and focused on them.  

Sir Kevin and the Prime Minister’s secretary conspire to end the Queen’s bothersome pastime that is making others so uncomfortable.  Norman is sent away under mysterious circumstances, and the books she packs for travel never arrive at their destination.  And yet, the Queen and her books continue to be a royal pain.  

Along with reading, the Queen begins having new ideas and feelings.  She starts to keep a notebook handy to copy down interesting passages, and soon starts writing down opinions and critiques of her own.  After a time she discovers reading isn’t enough.

“And it came to her again that she did not want simply to be a reader.  A reader was next door to being a spectator, whereas when she was writing she was doing, and doing was her duty.”

With writing, a new obsession is born..

I loved this tiny book and would highly recommend it to anyone who is passionate for the written word.  You will recognize yourself in Her Majesty and are sure to have a good laugh!

Hachette Book Group Giveaway: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

godsSummary: Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse-and none too happy about it. And they’ve had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ.


Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees–a favorite pastime of Apollo’s–is sapping their vital reserves of strength.

Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world? — Back Bay Books

What a unique premise for a book.  I can honestly say I’ve never read anything even remotely like THAT before.  It sounds a little bizarro to me- definitely different!  Thanks to Valerie Russo from Hachette Book Group USA, I have up to five copies of GODS BEHAVING BADLY by Marie Phillips to give away here at Books on the Brain.  Not sure if you’re interested?  I was sold on it by watching the author talking about her book on this youtube video.. check it out:


I’ve been authorized by Hachette to give one copy away for every 15 entries I receive (up to five copies.)  All you have to do is leave a comment telling me why you want to win a copy of this book.  Have you always been interested in Greek Gods, do you enjoy wacky, funny books, or do you just find that cover oddly stimulating??  Tell me!

Gods Behaving Badly will be released by Back Bay Books on December 9th.  At 320 pages, it sounds like a quick read and a fun romantic comedy of sorts.  Click HERE for discussion questions and more info on the book and author. 

For a chance to win, leave a comment by November 29th.  Winners announced November 30th.  So sorry, this contest is open to U.S. mailing addresses only — no P.O. boxes.  Good Luck!