Will’s letter to the book club:

Alan Bennett, the Uncommon Reader

How tremendous that, in honor of the Royal Wedding, you’re all reading THE UNCOMMON READER by Alan Bennett!

This book was a favorite for Mom and for me. Mom had followed Bennett’s career avidly – they were almost exact contemporaries (born two months apart), and Mom had first seen him in BEYOND THE FRINGE, a comic review, when it was on stage in London and New York in the early 1960s. She was a big fan of his plays, most recently THE HISTORY BOYS. She’d loved the movie THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, which has a screenplay by Bennett adapted from his play THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III. Also, THE LADY IN THE VAN: a non-fiction piece that’s a total delight, and very moving, about a woman who lived in Bennett’s driveway. I could go on and on – but I’ll stop there. The point: There’s a lot of Alan Bennett to love.

Still, there’s something special about THE UNCOMMON READER, and that’s probably because it’s a book about reading, about falling in love with books, and about the worlds that book can open. If you love books, you’re pre-disposed to love this one. Mom and I both dog-eared pages to mark quotes we wanted to share with each other. So I’m ending this greeting with three of our favorites:

“Of course,” said the Queen, “but briefing is not reading. In fact it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting.”

“Pass the time?” said the Queen. “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. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.”

“The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.”


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