The literary education of Stephen Harper

by DaniGirl on April 24, 2007 · 28 comments

in Uncategorized

I love this.

Canadian author Yann Martel, perhaps best known for his book Life of Pi, has taken on a project of sorts. He has appointed himself literary tutor of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an attempt to make Harper “a more arts-friendly prime minister.” Part of that campaign is to mail Harper a new book every two weeks as long as Harper is prime minister. Not only a new book, but a book inscribed by Martel and introduced with a personalized letter explaining why a particular book was chosen. Martel is chronicling the experience on his Web site called What is Stephen Harper Reading.

Martel writes on his Web site:

Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares not a jot for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness. For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness.

That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any esponse I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.

The first book is Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych. I haven’t read it, but I’m thinking about it now. Here’s what Martel said about why he recommended it in the introduction to his letter:

The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy, is the first book I am sending you. I thought at first I should send you a Canadian work—an appropriate symbol since we are both Canadians—but I don’t want to be directed by political considerations of any sort, and, more importantly, I can’t think of a work of such brevity, hardly 60 pages, that shows so convincingly the power and depth of great literature. Ivan Ilych is an indubitable masterpiece. There is nothing showy here, no vulgarity, no pretence, no falseness, nothing that doesn’t work, not a moment of dullness, yet no cheap rush of plot either. It is the story, simple and utterly compelling, of one man and his ordinary end.

He goes on for quite a bit longer; you can see the full text of Martel’s first letter to Harper on the Web site. But I loved the concluding paragraph and wanted to share that, too:

I know you’re very busy, Mr. Harper. We’re all busy. Meditating monks in their cells are busy. That’s adult life, filled to the ceiling with things that need doing. (It seems only children and the elderly aren’t plagued by lack of time—and notice how they enjoy their books, how their lives fill their eyes.) But every person has a space next to where they sleep, whether a patch of pavement or a fine bedside table. In that space, at night, a book can glow. And in those moments of docile wakefulness, when we begin to let go of the day, then is the perfect time to pick up a book and be someone else, somewhere else, for a few minutes, a few pages, before we fall asleep. And there are other possibilities, too. Sherwood Anderson, the American writer best known for his collection of stories Winesburg, Ohio, wrote his first stories while commuting by train to work. Stephen King apparently never goes to his beloved baseball games without a book that he reads during breaks. So it’s a question of choice.

It’s a question of choice. I’m tempted, so tempted, to turn this into my own personal book club and read along, but I acknowledge that there are simply too many other priorities competing for my time right now and I choose to delay reading these books until some future date when my life is a little bit less full of the joys of life with preschoolers.

But I do love the idea. If you could recommend a book, any book, to send to Stephen Harper – or, for our American cousins, George Bush – or to any national leader, for that matter; if you could choose a single book to send to your prime minister or president, what book would you choose?


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 suze April 24, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Oh my god, this is brilliant. Now, how to get Yan Martell to send me the books every two weeks too….

2 suze April 24, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Oh my god, this is brilliant. Now, how to get Yan Martell to send me the books every two weeks too….

3 suze April 24, 2007 at 2:28 pm

Wait! I forgot to a: sign in with my new domain (changing blog spaces is like changing houses – you must remember to update your forwarding address…)
and b: what book would I recommend?…oh my that’s hard, especially since as of late I’m only reading fluff (too much going on in the head to read something that might make it even noisier up there…)
If we’re trying to help him develop an appreciation of the arts, perhaps I would send the Griffin and Sabine series – illustrated letters and postcards sent between two fictional characters that live neither in the same space nor time. Both the letters and the illustrations are stunning.

4 suze April 24, 2007 at 2:28 pm

Wait! I forgot to a: sign in with my new domain (changing blog spaces is like changing houses – you must remember to update your forwarding address…)
and b: what book would I recommend?…oh my that’s hard, especially since as of late I’m only reading fluff (too much going on in the head to read something that might make it even noisier up there…)
If we’re trying to help him develop an appreciation of the arts, perhaps I would send the Griffin and Sabine series – illustrated letters and postcards sent between two fictional characters that live neither in the same space nor time. Both the letters and the illustrations are stunning.

5 Sue April 24, 2007 at 2:39 pm

What a grand idea! I think Ivan Ilych is a brilliant first choice. I read in during my undergrad years and loved it. Perhaps Harper will start a book review blog!!

6 Sue April 24, 2007 at 2:39 pm

What a grand idea! I think Ivan Ilych is a brilliant first choice. I read in during my undergrad years and loved it. Perhaps Harper will start a book review blog!!

7 Amanda Stillie April 24, 2007 at 2:40 pm

My friend’s Dad just had his book release for Harper’s New Clothes. You can get it at most book store including chapters and coles, check it out!!!! His name is Walter Belsito.

8 Amanda Stillie April 24, 2007 at 2:40 pm

My friend’s Dad just had his book release for Harper’s New Clothes. You can get it at most book store including chapters and coles, check it out!!!! His name is Walter Belsito.

9 Amanda Stillie April 24, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Sorry, here is the link to the other place you can buy it.
http://www.dreamcatcherpublishing.ca/

10 Amanda Stillie April 24, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Sorry, here is the link to the other place you can buy it.
http://www.dreamcatcherpublishing.ca/

11 Kathleen April 24, 2007 at 2:41 pm

(And, Suze, I love your suggestion, and it is written by a Canadian, too)
I was all excited, I actually heard Yan Martel interviewed on the CBC about this, on the way to the library. I requested The Death of Ivan Ilych (sorry, haven’t figured out italics here) immediatately. When I picked it up, last night, I had a devil of a time remembering whose suggestion I had followed! Surprisingly, I actually did recall eventually (in the middle of last night). I’m determined to make my bus reading a little more “important” and this was just the push I needed.
10 pages in, I can assure you the book is a fascinating view of a life both utterly different and yet full of the same characters as life today. If anyone wants to join in, I do recommend it. Thanks Andrea and Yan!
What would I have our leaders read? What I just finished: Runaway by Alice Munro – because its Canadian, fabulous and heart-wrenching, so it might give the jet-stting folks who run our country a taste of real lives and issues. Plus I want to talk to someone about it!

12 Kathleen April 24, 2007 at 2:41 pm

(And, Suze, I love your suggestion, and it is written by a Canadian, too)
I was all excited, I actually heard Yan Martel interviewed on the CBC about this, on the way to the library. I requested The Death of Ivan Ilych (sorry, haven’t figured out italics here) immediatately. When I picked it up, last night, I had a devil of a time remembering whose suggestion I had followed! Surprisingly, I actually did recall eventually (in the middle of last night). I’m determined to make my bus reading a little more “important” and this was just the push I needed.
10 pages in, I can assure you the book is a fascinating view of a life both utterly different and yet full of the same characters as life today. If anyone wants to join in, I do recommend it. Thanks Andrea and Yan!
What would I have our leaders read? What I just finished: Runaway by Alice Munro – because its Canadian, fabulous and heart-wrenching, so it might give the jet-stting folks who run our country a taste of real lives and issues. Plus I want to talk to someone about it!

13 dean dad April 24, 2007 at 3:07 pm

For Bush?
Career Changes for Dummies.

14 dean dad April 24, 2007 at 3:07 pm

For Bush?
Career Changes for Dummies.

15 Loukia April 24, 2007 at 3:32 pm

Sorry nothing to do with your post, but thought you might like this:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/themotherlode
A new mom blog on the globe and mail.

16 Loukia April 24, 2007 at 3:32 pm

Sorry nothing to do with your post, but thought you might like this:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/themotherlode
A new mom blog on the globe and mail.

17 BeachMama April 24, 2007 at 5:05 pm

I think Yann Martel is brillant. What a way to encourage reading. Hopefully Mr. Harper will actually receive the books and use this opportunity to not only have a little more Arts in his life, but to encourage reading for all the kids out there. Reading is so important.
I would love to recommend a brilliant book, but sadly I can’t think of any one in particular that might be a good one to send to him, something Canadian for sure.

18 BeachMama April 24, 2007 at 5:05 pm

I think Yann Martel is brillant. What a way to encourage reading. Hopefully Mr. Harper will actually receive the books and use this opportunity to not only have a little more Arts in his life, but to encourage reading for all the kids out there. Reading is so important.
I would love to recommend a brilliant book, but sadly I can’t think of any one in particular that might be a good one to send to him, something Canadian for sure.

19 Karen April 24, 2007 at 5:21 pm

I love this and I’m going to go to the library and pick up Ivan Ilych in the next couple of days. There is no way I’ll get it read in two weeks, but doesn’t matter.
I would suggest John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. One of my favourite books of all time – in moments you laugh, cry, shudder. Sometimes all at once. It’s brillant.

20 Karen April 24, 2007 at 5:21 pm

I love this and I’m going to go to the library and pick up Ivan Ilych in the next couple of days. There is no way I’ll get it read in two weeks, but doesn’t matter.
I would suggest John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. One of my favourite books of all time – in moments you laugh, cry, shudder. Sometimes all at once. It’s brillant.

21 Barbara April 24, 2007 at 5:24 pm

I want to have ideas like this and (and it is a big “and”) I want to act on them. Then, I’ll send a note to you and you can blog about it so that people will read what I am up to. I think I would send Harper the book “I’ll Always Come Back” by Steve Metzger. It’s short and has watercolour pictures and I would use my letter to tell him that this is the sort of daycare (it’s a school in the book) that families need to have the option of accessing, so that parents can go to work without guilt. We always come back but it is important that we’re confident when we’re away.

22 Barbara April 24, 2007 at 5:24 pm

I want to have ideas like this and (and it is a big “and”) I want to act on them. Then, I’ll send a note to you and you can blog about it so that people will read what I am up to. I think I would send Harper the book “I’ll Always Come Back” by Steve Metzger. It’s short and has watercolour pictures and I would use my letter to tell him that this is the sort of daycare (it’s a school in the book) that families need to have the option of accessing, so that parents can go to work without guilt. We always come back but it is important that we’re confident when we’re away.

23 DaniGirl April 24, 2007 at 5:57 pm

*standing ovation for Dean Dad and Barbara*
Here here!!

24 DaniGirl April 24, 2007 at 5:57 pm

*standing ovation for Dean Dad and Barbara*
Here here!!

25 mrsgryphon April 24, 2007 at 6:55 pm

I love, love, love this idea! I work in the (poorly-funded) Arts community where it’s a struggle every day to continue to offer the life-changing opportunities that we do. Not to mention that I am a huge advocate of reading and using the “stillness” to appreciate the bigger things in life! 2 of my favourite passions, all wrapped up in one project 🙂
I’ll have to think for a while to see what book I would recommend… hmmm…

26 mrsgryphon April 24, 2007 at 6:55 pm

I love, love, love this idea! I work in the (poorly-funded) Arts community where it’s a struggle every day to continue to offer the life-changing opportunities that we do. Not to mention that I am a huge advocate of reading and using the “stillness” to appreciate the bigger things in life! 2 of my favourite passions, all wrapped up in one project 🙂
I’ll have to think for a while to see what book I would recommend… hmmm…

27 Rebecca April 25, 2007 at 11:21 am

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson.
Or maybe Stupid White Men. Ahahahahahah. If I was feeling belligerent.
Did Interview III!
xxx

28 Rebecca April 25, 2007 at 11:21 am

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson.
Or maybe Stupid White Men. Ahahahahahah. If I was feeling belligerent.
Did Interview III!
xxx

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