Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Is Stephen Harper Reading? by Yann Martel

"Every two weeks since April 16th, 2007, Yann Martel has mailed Prime Minister Stephen Harper a book along with a letter encouraging the politician to take time to discover the life-shaping marvel contained within books." (From the back cover.) What a bizarre -- and admirable -- project. I enjoyed Martel's letters very much.

Martel explains why he continues to mail books and letters to Harper, despite getting two paltry form letters in response. "If Stephen Harper hasn't read any of these, then what is his mind made of? How did he get his insights into the human condition? What materials went into the building of his sensibility? What is the colour, the pattern, the rhyme and reason of his imagination?"

I almost put the book down one-third of the way through because I wanted to read every single book Martel wrote about and my to-read list is already longer than I can keep up with! Making a quick tally at the end, I discovered that I had already read 20 out of the 55 books, plus different titles by another nine of the authors on his list. Whew! That's not so many still to be discovered after all. Also, the books are short ones, because Martel has acknowledged that Harper is a busy man who probably only has fifteen minutes here and there, perhaps at the end of his day, to read. The very first book, The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, is now on hold for me at the library, as is another recommendation, Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan. I look forward to reading those with Martel's comments in mind.

This monograph ends with the 55th letter and book sent, but the project continues. Check out all of the newer recommendations on Martel's What Is Stephen Harper Reading website.

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