The Uncommon Reader

Some weeks ago, I recommended Alan Bennett’s novella. To encourage you to read, it I am printing some excerpts. If you have read or seen his The History Boys, you will recognize his insights into education. When you read the book these excerpts will be much more engaging, funnier and more ironic because you will know the identity of The Uncommon Reader. I think you will get more excitement from discovering the identity rather than being told.
In replay to her aide who suggests that reading is good for passing the time, The Uncommon Reader says, “Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds . . .. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.” Which was the aide’s country of origin.
“The appeal of reading, she (The Uncommon Reader) thought, lay in its indifference . . .. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.”
When a security agent took a book she had left in her car because he thought it might have been “a device” she says, “That is exactly what it is. A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”
As she devoted more and more time to reading, one aide suggests she issue ideas about the improvement of reading standards or increasing the literacy rate. To which she replied, “One reads for pleasure; it is not a public duty!”
Bennett has this to say about her reading habits: “For her, there was no such thing as an improving book. Books were uncharted country and, to begin with at any rate, she made no distinction between them . . .. Nobody told her what to read, and what not. Lauren Bacall, Winifred Holtby, Sylvia Plath—who were they? Only by reading could she find out . . .. She was not a gentle reader and often wished authors were around so that she could take them to task . . .. It was exciting to be with writers she had come to think of as her friends and whom she longed to know. But now when she was aching to declare her fellow-feeling with those whose books she had read and admired, she found she had nothing to say.”
I think you will find more insights about how we can engage students in reading from Bennett’s novella than from most articles about the teaching of reading. And given the reading level, many intermediate ESOL students would be able to learn a lot from it as well. Enjoy.

Grade Level 6.7 Flesch Reading Ease 72%