Skip to main content

Book 34 of 52: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

If you're American and heard of Alan Bennett, you'll know that he is author of The History Boys a smashing Broadway success and then movie. If you're British and heard of Alan Bennett, you'll more likely know of him as an extraordinary playwright, novelist and all around comedic guy.

I studied Bennett's plays while abroad at Oxford. He was a key author in my course about modern British playrights, along with Joe Orton and Tom Stoppard. Where Orton's humor is preverse with his humor, and Stoppard is clever when slotted into his dramas (Stoppard also wrote Shakespeare in Love), I found Bennett's comedy the most clever.

Which is why I was delighted when I picked up a copy of The Uncommon Reader at last year's Book Expo America, and I'm berating myself for waiting to read this fun, slim novel when I've had it since June.

The uncommon reader is the Queen of England who, one day finds a mobile library outside her door (a mobile library is a bus loaded up with books that drives from town to town for people who can't get to the library -- Ian Sansom has a whole series around this concept, which I also recommend). Obviously, this book is made up -- a mobile library would never get close enough to the palace grounds that the Queen and her dogs could just walk outside and take a book. But it happens, and it changes the Queen's life. She becomes a voracious reader, which changes how she sees her job, her self, and other people, mostly for the better even if her staff sees her reading habit as dangerous.

Not only is this a fun farce, but it also seems to be Bennett's love letter to books: "What she was finding also was how one book lead to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do." Anyone who's ever gotten wrapped up in a book knows that feeling. In fact, I put work aside for 20 minutes this morning to finish The Uncommon Reader and write about it here before delving into a lengthy article I'm writing about tax debt. Blick.

This issue of how you pick books, and how one leads to another was something we talked about at last night's National Book Critics Circle panel. So here's my question to you: what book have you found by accident? How did you get there? And where did it take you?


This looks like a lot of fun.

Kaza Kingsley
Author of the Erec Rex series

Popular posts from this blog

Welcome Back to Book a Week with Jen!

Hello hello! Yes, the rumors (that I started) are true. On New Year's Day, I fired up the old Book a Week with Jen blog, gave it a new domain, and I'm going to be writing about my reading habits once again. If you don't know me, my name is Jen A. Miller , and I'm a freelance writer and author. I've been freelancing now for 17 years, and in that time, have written hundreds of articles, three books ( two about the Jersey Shore and one about running ), and two ebooks ( both about freelance writing ). If you're not new around here, wow a lot has changed. I wrote a memoir , picked up a regular running column for the New York Times , and put that back down again. I ran a lot of marathons, and got into ultra marathoning, which lead me to run my first 24 hour race on New Year's Eve/New Year's Day 2020/2021 . My first dog, Emily, died in 2017 . I sold my first home, lived out of my car for a year traveling the country , scooped up a scruffy cattle dog mix in Ida

Book 5 of 52: Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen

I don't always try to match my reading to what I'm doing, but when I go to Florida, I try to pack at least one Florida weird book. There was no better novel to bring with me to read on a ferry from Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park , than Carl Hiaasen's Stormy Weather . Hiaasen was writing about #floridaman before #floridaman was a thing (and when this - # - was the pound sign).  Stormy Weather is set in 1992 in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, which is still the most destructive hurricane to have ever hit Florida, and only one of four hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. still at Category 5 strength. According to the Miami Herald , Hurricane Andrew destroyed 63,000 homes and damaged another 101,241. Such disasters bring out the best in humanity but also the worst. F raud flowed into South Florida in Andrew's wake . That's where  Stormy Weather comes in. From an advertising executive who yanks his new wife away from their Walt Disney World honeymoon to r

Book 11 of 52: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

In my travels, I've accumulated photos in what I call the "Plants Where They Shouldn't Be" series. They're of weeds, flowers and trees growing in places that look uncomfortable: poking out of lava that's OK to walk on but warm enough to generate steam, growing around a mile marker on the road, sprouting on the back of a parking sign - that kind of thing. On the cheesy side, they're reminders that we can flourish in the most unlikely circumstances. On a more realistic end, they show that humans are constantly battling back nature, and that someday we'll probably lose the fight. I thought about those photos when I read  book 8 of 52 Station Eleven  (and watched  the HBO Max adaptation ), which show a world without 99.99 percent of our current human population. The story focuses on people, of course, but set them in a world where the things humans have created - electricity, internet, buildings, bridges, roads - are being taken back by nature. A Jersey Sh