Alan Bennett: The Uncommon Reader

“I read… because one has a duty to find out what people are like.”

There is no travel companion like a book. This is especially true for delayed inter-island flights and boat trips, and long waits at the airport.

The final pages of the books I’ve read this month, so far, were closed just as the plane touched the runway: Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, Aciman’s Alibis, Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader

Only Yourcenar has been reviewed properly in writing. The last couple of weeks have been spent with reading people, and it’s lovely how conversations naturally turned into in-depth book reviews entwined with life experiences that we otherwise would not have written for all social media to see. And I would not have exchanged these communions for anything post-able. My first line has to be rephrased: There is no travel companion like a book that leads you to people, places, and experiences.

Out of the four, it was The Uncommon Reader that surprised me. I have to admit that the British monarchy has not been of much interest to me, but I’ve been shelving this book for the reason that I felt it was the kind that would not stand in the way of real life and vice versa. And so, I reserved it for traveling. 

The insights about reading are more profound than I expected! From Proust to Ancient Ur, to Iran, it mentions things I find delightful! It is true, it did not stand in the way of real life, but it is apparently the kind that enhances life — especially a reader’s life — in a warm, hilarious, and light-hearted way.

‘Books are wonderful, aren’t they?’ she said to the vice-chancellor, who concurred. ‘At the risk of sounding like a piece of steak,’ she said, ‘they tenderize one.’

Is there anything we need more these days than to be “tenderized”?

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