Wednesday, 13 May 2009
An Uncommon Read
This is a delightful book but that's not what makes it uncommon; what makes it uncommon AND delightful is its originality and fabulous premise, fabulous in both senses of the word.
Synopsis (courtesy of Waterstones):
"The Uncommon Reader" is none other than HM the Queen who drifts accidentally into reading when her corgis stray into a mobile library parked at Buckingham Palace. She reads widely ( JR Ackerley, Jean Genet, Ivy Compton Burnett and the classics) and intelligently. Her reading naturally changes her world view and her relationship with people like the oleaginous prime minister and his repellent advisers. She comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with much that she has to do. In short, her reading is subversive. The consequence is, of course, surprising, mildly shocking and very funny.
I read this yesterday in one sitting. Its brevity is not lacking in wit and in amusing reflections upon reading. I wish there had been more about the books HM was reading, as I enjoyed what there was, but that is my only criticism. I admired how Bennett captured the love for reading and the addiction to books (and hilarity) that ensues. I also enjoyed the meditations on the act of reading, on why we do it, and whether it is a common (class-wise) or uncommon act, the double word-play of the title meaning this as well as unique/unusual/unorthodox.
I'll share a few of my favourite lines.
"She'd never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, one did, but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby and it was in the nature of her job that she didn't have hobbies... No. Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people."
"Indulged and bad-tempered though they were, the dogs were not unintelligent, so it was not surprising that in a short space of time they came to hate books as the spoil-sports they were (and always had been).
Buy, beg, or borrow this book (I borrowed it from the library but intend to buy it at some point as I would happily re-read). It also makes me want to start reading Proust, I won't tell you why.
One wonders what the Queen would think if she did borrow this book from her mobile library and read it, especially the last shocking line.