"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Uncommon Reader --- And a wonderful book club meeting

Last night our book club met to discuss Alan Bennett's "deliciously funny novella" about reading. It begins when the Queen of England stumbles upon a book mobile and feels duty-bound to check out a book. This begins a whole new chapter in her life which revolves around reading.
With The Uncommon Reader, Bennett brings us a playful homage to the written word, imagining a world in which literature becomes a subversive bridge between power-brokers and commoners. By turns cheeky and charming, the novella features the Queen herself as its protagonist. When her yapping corgis lead her to a mobile library, Her Majesty develops a new obsession with reading. She finds herself devouring works by a tantalizing range of authors. With a young member of the palace kitchen staff guiding her choices, it’s not long before the Queen begins to develop a new perspective on the world - one that alarms her closest advisers and tempts her to make bold new decisions. Brimming with the mischievous wit ...The Uncommon Reader is a delightful celebration of books and writers, and the readers who sustain them (Goodreads).
Published in 2007, I'd read The Uncommon Readers years ago so I thought a re-read was best since I was also leading the book club discussion at my house this month. It is such a short book, 120 pages, and quite straight-forward. I worried we would run out of things to talk about long before the end of the club meeting. As I re-read the book several quotes really jumped out at me and I made note of them to include in the discussion. But how to get the other gals involved in the discussion? It hit me that I could use the quotes and create different questions from them. I did it and the book club was a success. (See the questions below.)

Our meeting was last night and I handed each participant a card with a question on it. I asked them to take a few minutes to complete their homework by looking up their quote or to prepare their response. Each question was asked in order, 1-16. Each participant was directed to answer her question first before opening it up for the group to jump in if anyone had anything to add. I summed up the discussion with ten things I had found our about Alan Bennett from my research of the author. It was not necessary for the discussion but a bit eye-opening. For example, he has been an extremely prolific writer during his career; He turned down knighthood because he didn't want to feel like a suit-and-tie sort of guy; And he was pick-pocketed of £1,500 which he admits has made him less trusting of people. 

My lesson worked beautifully. Everyone talked and participated, which is rare. Everyone had something to say about their own question and quite a few of the questions generated a full discussion among the group members. By the end of the evening everyone was buzzing and to a person came up to me to talk about how much they enjoyed the book and our "lesson." Now I am not saying that your book club will have as much success as ours did, but it is worth a try. I am often given a lot of latitude in club because I am a retired teacher. When it is my turn to lead the book discussions, usually about once a year, people expect me to do something sort of "schoolish". But I honestly think this would work for other clubs, even if you aren't a teacher.

Here are the question cards and a link to the page where I found the ten facts about Alan Bennett. Hopefully you can just cut and paste the questions and print them out for your use. I hope you have fun!
1. The use of the word “ONE” in the book.
2. React to this quote: “But though it was called a library and it was indeed lined with books, a book was seldom if ever read there.” (18)
3. What were the excuses people gave the Queen for not reading? Why do you think most people don’t enjoy reading /take time to read?
4. React to this quote from Sir Kevin: “I feel, ma-am, that while not exactly elitist it [reading] sends the wrong message. It excludes.” (27)
5. React to this quote: “The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books do not care who was reading them…” (30)
6. Once the Queen started reading, she took books with her everywhere, even in the coach going to official events. (32) How does this compare to you?
7. React to this quote: “What the Queen had not expected was the degree to which it [reading] drained her of enthusiasm for anything else.” (59)
8. The royal family was relieved by the Queen’s reading because it meant she left them alone more. (45) How do/did your family members react to your reading habits?
9. React to this quote: “There was a sadness to her reading, too, and for the first time in her life she felt there was a good deal she had missed.” (47)
10. Even the Queen felt awkward around authors and couldn’t think of anything clever to say to them. Have you ever met any authors? How did you react to them?
11. Who are the “Normans” in your life or the people who you trust when it comes to book recommendations?
12. Why did the Queen have trouble with Jane Austen’s works? (74)
13. After Princess Di was killed, the Queen was required to show her feelings, which is not easy for her. Because of this when she found this quote from Shakespeare’s Cordelia, she jotted it in her notebook, “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.” Do you do the same thing, jotting down notes from books you are reading? (90?)
14. Sir Claude was tasked with talking the Queen out of reading. He did. But what did he talk her into? (95) Talk about what the Queen wanted to do with his suggestion.
15. The ending. Were you prepared?
16. Alan Bennett is a playwright. Can you imagine this book as a play? Why/Why not?


  1. Teacher mode usually works well in book clubs when you want to direct the conversation. It sounds like it worked well with this one!

  2. Sounds like a good way to run a book club meeting; sadly my book club dissolved a couple years ago - but I should look for a new one. I enjoyed this book when I read it years ago. It's a wonderful little book.

  3. Great idea! I like the way this organizes the discussion. We teachers like our lesson plans! :)


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