The Uncommon Reader by Alan BennettIn January, I read James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die—and Uncommon Reader was one of the thirty or so books that I flagged as something I’d like to read before I die. I’d already read almost 200 books on Mustich’s list plus many more that were related (same author, similar subject, etc.); and there were a lot more that I knew I’d never read.

I just started The Uncommon Reader today; it’s a slender novel (120 pages) that imagines Queen Elizabeth embarking on reading adventures in her later years—guided by Norman, a kitchen helper at Windsor Castle, whom she meets, by chance, at the traveling library van. I’ve already had to look up Cecil Beaton and J.R. Ackerley, from among the first books Norman recommends. (Norman’s reading is “determined by whether an author was gay or not.”) I didn’t know anything about either man: Beaton was a famous photographer of the Thirties, the era of the “Bright Young Things,” while Ackerley was an author/editor who worked at the BBC at its founding in 1927. (And, yes, both were gay.) I’ve learned some new things, and so has the Queen.

Here’s an early quote I like:

What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.

So very true.