The following is a book review by WCN board member Colleen Hinton.
Alan Bennett: The Uncommon Reader. London Review of Books, 2006.
This is an ideal book to take on the trail. The paperback edition weighs only 3.5 ounces.
The reading, however? Not so light. It took me three years to read. Three years, that is, on the WCN Annual Backcountry Ski and Snow Camp trip. At 120 ½ pages, I averaged about 20 pages a night. It was all I could do to get through my allotment on the 2011 trip, and the book lay around for the rest of the year.
However, it was clearly irresistible. By the time March 2012 rolled around, it was still the lightest unread book I owned. Besides, Lionel Shriver’s review of it in the Daily Telegraph — “A beguiling bedtime story for grown-ups” — left me more than willing to give it another try: So it came with me again in 2012.
Nancy couldn’t believe it.
“You’re STILL reading that book??”
My retort, “But it’s so light!” had her snorting.
I think she even tolerated a page of being read to on that trip, before she began pointedly snoring.
When she saw the book for the third time in 2013, she almost buried it with her blue bag. (Editor’s note: I should have.)
I put it to her that a book had never had such a determined reader. It held so much promise, for its weight. Would Bennett be impressed, or horrified? The book had become a real conversation piece. (Editor’s note: It’s far more entertaining to talk about this book than to read it.)
Oh, my review? OK, OK. So the Queen (yes, the current one, as we find out only way into the book) gets incidentally led by her wayward corgis to the mobile library outside Buckingham Palace. She borrows a book and becomes hooked on reading. She becomes bored by public life and begins to neglect her public duties. By her 80th birthday (page 108, at which point we are very relieved that this must signal some kind of climax) she decides she wants to write a memoir. We discover that the only royal precedent for doing this was her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, and he had abdicated before he decided to do it. The story ends abruptly with the radical notion that the Queen is about to announce to her birthday party attendees, that she will abdicate in order to write.
This was not a gripping book. But, one thing is for sure: its weight can’t be beat. It certainly weighs a lot less than Nancy’s reading matter-of-choice for these trips, The New Yorker. Enough said. (Editor’s final note: The New Yorker only weighs more than The Uncommon Reader when wet.)
For next year’s trip, I’m going back to bringing Accidents in North American Mountaineering. Not as light, but man — is it gripping!