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This title in other editions

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella


The Uncommon Reader: A Novella Cover

ISBN13: 9780312427641
ISBN10: 0312427646
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. Does your group meet regularly? If so, how do you think the queen, as fountain of honor, would appraise your list of reading so far?

2. The queen says that she reads because, "One has a duty to find out what people are like." Yet she begins by reading Nancy Mitford and Ivy Compton-Burnett, hardly a stretch for Her Royal Majesty. How did you begin your reading career? Was it Anne of Green Gables or Barbara Cartland? What treasured books on your groups list closely reflect your own world and background? Do you read to understand others? Is anyone present at this meeting a member of the titled aristocracy?

3. Early in The Uncommon Reader, the queen explains that she has resisted reading because it is a hobby, and therefore an expression of a preference—preferences exclude people and are to be avoided. Why does she fear that reading will exclude people - havent we been brought together today by reading? Is your reading group very exclusive? Have you ever denied membership to someone who wanted to join?

4. "Herself part of the panoply of the world, why now was she intrigued by books, which, whatever else they might be, were just a reflection of the world or a version of it? Books? She had seen the real thing." Do you believe there is a difference between reading and experiencing? Isnt the act of reading a form of experience, or is that vein of thinking distinctly privileged?

5. At first the queen says that her purpose in reading is not primarily literary: it is for analysis and reflection. Why exactly do you read; is it a lofty endeavor or a fundamentally human one?

6. What do you think of the queens values as a reader, for example her insistence upon reading a book all the way through to the end, regardless her level of engagement? Surely most of us would put a book down if within fifty pages it proved to be a tedious waste of time. Have you ever attempted to discuss a book you havent read?

7. Authors, the queen decides, were probably best met within the pages of their novels, left to the imagination like their characters. Have you met any famous writers? What were they like? Was your experience anything like the queens?

8. The appeal of books, according to the queen, lay in their indifference: there is something undeferring about literature, she says. Books do not care who reads them or whether one read them or not. All readers are equal, herself included. Do you agree? Have you ever felt unequal to a book? Superior to one?

9. When the queen first meets the man in the book mobile, she refers to herself as a pensioner - this is clearly a joke. Talk about how Alan Bennett gives voice to the queen and draws humor from her. How had your feelings for this seemingly inaccessible figure changed by books end?

10. Why is Norman fond of Cecil Beaton, David Hockney and J.R. Ackerley, what do these three people have in common, besides being British artists and writers?

11. Should our leaders spend more time engaged in the arts, particularly in reading literature (for what its worth, Bill Clinton said he loved Walter Mosely)? What would be the effect?

12. When the queen begins to ask her subjects what they are reading, she is usually met with a shrug (or the Bible, or Harry Potter). Are people intimidated by reading, or are they just lazy and dim?

13. As the queen reads, she grows less interested in her royal duties, and even her appearance (the "permutations" of her wardrobe) goes into decline. Is she becoming more normal, more common? How has reading endangered her ability to carry out her role as a focus for British identity and unity? Isnt that role just a little too much for anyone to shoulder?

14. The queen finds that one book often lead to another; that doors opened wherever she turned ("the days werent long enough for the reading she wanted to do"). Has The Uncommon Reader opened doors for you? Has it inspired or emboldened you to try a book youve been putting off. Proust, perhaps?

15. At first the queen does not like Henry Jamess Portrait of a Lady ("oh, do get on!"), but she finds that reading is like a muscle that needs to be developed, and later she changes her mind about James. Have you ever had a similar experience, upon revisiting a challenging book? Would you consider reading The Uncommon Reader again, in order to glean further nuance from its pages?

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Average customer rating based on 7 comments:

cblaker, November 8, 2014 (view all comments by cblaker)
I loved this book! I don't like using exclamation points, but this novella was great. For those who enjoy reading this book is a treat. The story begins when Queen Elizabeth II accidentally enters a mobile library. Out of politeness, she checks out a book. Prior to this, she had never read for pleasure.
The first book she reads is boring, but one book leads to another and it soon becomes an all consuming passion. Her new habit causes much consternation in the royal household from Prince Philip to the lowly pages. The book touches upon many of the same emotions and ideas that passionate readers have in a functionally illiterate world.
The ending is brilliant.
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Jonathan Kuzma, August 11, 2012 (view all comments by Jonathan Kuzma)
This was a very enjoyable book, in which are detailed the manifold joys and pains of being a reader. One reads and gains new understandings, wider horizons and heightened awareness, but becomes hopelessly unsettled in the real world: no pleasure without a price. Mr.Bennett shares my love for Proust, and the Frenchman's work has effects on the Queen, the Uncommon Reader herself, which I experienced myself. Merci, M. Bennett. The novella has a perfect little ending which I didn't expect.
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sjiwani, June 22, 2012 (view all comments by sjiwani)
This book will introduce you to other books to consider reading such as books by Proust, Sylvia Plath, Cowper, and others. That's what I really enjoyed about this book; it alluded to others books that just made me more curious. The ending of the book leaves us to question the purpose of our own reading habits. Is it simply for pleasure and enjoyment or does it lead us nowhere? At times the book is just plain funny. It also begs the question whether the current Queen Elizabeth has read this book since she's the primary character, and whether she does read on a regular basis. And if so, what does she read? For summer it's a quick read. Enjoy!
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Product Details

Bennett, Alan
Picador USA
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Single Author - British & Irish
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
September 2008
Grade Level:
8.25 x 5.5 in

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Humor » General
Featured Titles » General
Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.50 In Stock
Product details 224 pages Picador USA - English 9780312427641 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Bennett has fun with the proper behavior and protocol at the palace....There are lessons packed in here, but Bennett doesn't wallop readers with them. It's a fun little book."
"Review" by , "Hilarious and pointed....[A] lovely lesson in the redemptive and subversive power of reading and how one book can lead to another and another and another....But most of all, The Uncommon Reader is a lot of fun to read."
"Review" by , "Clever and entertaining....The Uncommon Reader is a celebration of both reading and its counterpart, independent thinking."
"Review" by , "Bennett poses a delicious and very funny what-if....Mr. Bennett has written a captivating fairy tale...a tale that showcases its author's customary èlan and keen but humane wit."
"Review" by , The Uncommon Reader takes us into those blended moods in which we don't know what to think....Bennett's queen, wonderfully, alights on books that make no sense at all and play with one's sense of possibility."
"Review" by , The Uncommon Reader, [Bennett's] new novella, is a kind of palace fairy tale for grown-ups. Once again he tells a story about an eccentric old lady, a character type he seems to enjoy....This time, his odd, isolated heroine is the queen of England. The story of her budding love affair with literature blends the comic and the poignant so smoothly it can only be by Bennett."
"Review" by , "The delights of Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader begin with its title, a gentle but deft play on words, and flow forth in easeful perfection for the 120 pages that follow. (The infallible Mr. Bennett is the Brit responsible for such wonderful imports as Beyond the Fringe, Talking Heads and The History Boys.) The Uncommon Reader is quite lovely in ambition: a little cameo that, if you look closely, is about a very public woman waking up, late in life, to the fact that she has seen everything but the world."
"Review" by , "In this charming novella Alan Bennett imagines what might occur if the sovereign of England, Queen Elizabeth herself, were suddenly to develop a ravenous passion for books. What might in less capable hands result in a labored exercise or an embarrassing instance of literary lèse-majesté here becomes a delicious light comedy, as well as a meditation on the power of print....You can finish The Uncommon Reader in an hour or two, but it is charming enough and wise enough that you will almost certainly want to keep it around for rereading — unless you decide to share it with friends. Either way, this little book offers what English readers would call very good value for money."
"Review" by , "The conceit offered here by Mr. Bennett, the beloved British author and dramatist, is that a woman of power can find and love the power in books. It is a simple equation and one that yields deep rewards. In what is a surprising and surprisingly touching novella, Mr. Bennett shows us why books matter to the queen, his 'uncommon reader' and why they matter so much to the rest of us....By the time the book reaches its hilarious and stunning conclusion, which I wont reveal here, a reader leaves wishing for more."
"Review" by , "What one wouldn't give to be a fly within Buckingham Palace walls. Only then could one witness the royal reaction to The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett's deliciously funny fantasia about Queen Elizabeth."
"Review" by , "[Bennett] dispenses his observations on the purpose of reading...with the light hand of true authority."
"Review" by , "Bennett has crafted a novella, of which the only complaint is that one wishes there were more, more, more of this charming, genteel, beguiling (and in one passage, gloriously bawdy) story."
"Review" by , "Bennett's absorption with royalty in works like A Question of Attribution and The Madness of King George III has sometimes seemed more cozy than critical, as if he were anxious to join the very establishment he purports to mock. Subtler than either of these in its playfulness, The Uncommon Reader improves delightfully on an otherwise depressing reality, while slyly arraigning the ambiguous British romance with the monarchy and its current avatar."
"Review" by , "A royal fable celebrating the transformative properties (and a few of the unsettling consequences) of reading as an obsession."
"Review" by , "British screenwriter, playwright, and novelist Bennett, author of the Tony Award-winning play The History Boys, has written a wry and unusual story about the subversive potential of reading."
"Synopsis" by , A deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading. When the Queen, in pursuit of her wandering corgis, stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, Bennett describes the Queen's transformation as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word.

With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England's best-loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader's life.

"Synopsis" by ,
The inimitable Alan Bennett selects and comments upon six favorite poets and the pleasures of their works

"Synopsis" by ,
The inimitable Alan Bennett selects and comments upon six favorite poets and the pleasures of their works


In this candid, thoroughly engaging book, Alan Bennett creates a unique anthology of works by six well-loved poets. Freely admitting his own youthful bafflement with poetry, Bennett reassures us that the poets and poems in this volume are not only accessible but also highly enjoyable. He then proceeds to prove irresistibly that this is so.


Bennett selects more than seventy poems by Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, John Betjeman, W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Philip Larkin. He peppers his discussion of these writers and their verse with anecdotes, shrewd appraisal, and telling biographical detail: Hardy lyrically recalls his first wife, Emma, in his poetry, although he treated her shabbily in real life. The fabled Auden was a formidable and off-putting figure at the lectern. Larkin, hoping to subvert snooping biographers, ordered personal papers shredded upon his death.


Simultaneously profound and entertaining, Bennett’s book is a paean to poetry and its creators, made all the more enjoyable for being told in his own particular voice. its creators, made all the more enjoyable for being told in his own particular voice.

"Synopsis" by ,

From one of England's most celebrated writers, the author of the award-winning The History Boys, a funny and superbly observed novella about the Queen of England and the subversive power of reading

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large. 

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