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What Is Stephen Harper Reading?

1 rating: 5.0
A collection of letters written by Yann Martel to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper which is an excellent reading list for book lovers everywhere
1 review about What Is Stephen Harper Reading?

What Is Stephen Harper Reading?: Yann Martel's Recommended Reading

  • Oct 21, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+5
First a word of explanation for all of you outside Canada: In April 2007 Yann Martel, the author of The Life of Pi, was a featured participant in celebrations honouring the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council for the Arts.  A wide variety of successful writers, playwrights, artists and other arts figures were on hand to laud the support the Canada Council had given them at decisive points in their careers. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was supposed to be also involved--and he was physicially, but not mentally.  Martel noted just how distracted Harper was and concluded that the PM needed a little more "stillness" in his life.  Martel's solution for this problem (proposed with tongue planted firmly in cheek) was to send a short book for Harper's bedtime reading.  Aside from a letter acknowledging the arrival of the first book--The Death of Ivan Ilytch by Leo Tolstoy--Martel has received  nothing  substantive from the PM. 

The books and the introductory letters have mounted up and Martel has been encouraged by the response from readers everywhere to collect them.  Last Monday Martel sent Harper Number 66 in his campaign:  What Is Stephen Harper Reading?: Yann Martel’s Recommended Reading for a Prime Minisiter and Book Lovers of All Stripes, a collection of the letters that have accompanied the books.

Each book in the very eclectic collection has come with a short essay explaining why Martel chose it. Sometimes—as with Jane Austen’s unfinished The Watsons—there’s an explicit political message. It was sent during a nationwide discussion about Canada’s continued involvement in Afghanistan, and Martel wrote pointedly that Austen let go of this book because of circumstances in her life. "In that, there is something instructive. There is so much we must leave unfinished. How hard it is to let go.” The message was lost on Harper: Canadian troops are still on the ground there.

At other times, the books were ones supposedly for children—most recently Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen—and poetry and plays also made the cut.

Like many others (although apparently not Harper who has never replied personally) I’ve read Martel's letters on his website with great pleasure, and often thought that the list of books would make a great plan for independent reading. Thousands of others have followed the evolving project on the web, but Martel says that he is glad the letters have been published in book form. The internet is ephemeral after all, but “books last.”

He closes this cover letter by mentioning Harper’s appearance a couple of weeks ago at a National Arts Centre benefit, where Harper played the piano and "sang poetry to the Canadian people. No one expected With a Little Help from My Friends from you. And look at the effect you had. People were amazed. You made the front page of newspaper after newspaper, and often with a big photo of you at the piano. It goes to show how art can amaze, connect and unify.”

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