Last updated: April 8, 2011 11:43 am
What Stephen Harper isn’t reading
And what Yann Martel thinks he should
OTTAWA (CUP) — On April 14, 2007, Canadian author Yann Martel decided to take on the prime minister.
The Life of Pi author, disenchanted with the quality of arts appreciation and funding in Canada, made a declaration in The Globe and Mail: “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.”
And since that day, Martel has staunchly upheld his word. For nearly four years, Stephen Harper has received provocative, witty and informative letters exploring accompanying graphic novels, religious scriptures, poetry, children’s books, song lyrics, drama scripts and novels carefully selected by the prominent Canadian literary figure.
And the list has certainly been diverse: Read All About It! by Laura and Jenna Bush has been mailed along with Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Candide by Voltaire.
On Jan. 31 of this year, however, Martel sent his 100th and final book to the prime minster: Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad.
In the accompanying letter Martel writes, “I said, over and over, that I would persist with our exclusive book club as long as you were in power … while it’s been a great pleasure for me (I don’t know about you), I’ve been doing it for close to four years now and I want to move on … It’s true, too, that I’m tired of using books as political bullets and grenades. Books are too precious and wonderful to be used for long in such a fashion.”
In February, Martel sent one more book, number 101, as a postscript.
Though Martel’s four-year literary and political endeavour didn’t yield a single response from the prime minister, the project has not gone to waste. Random House has published a compilation of many of the letters, which became the 66th book Martel sent to Harper. The scribe has also inadvertently provided Canadians with a fantastic summer reading list.
For a complete compilation of the accompanying letters, check out Martel’s website: whatisstephenharperreading.ca.
Here’s a portion of the books sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
- The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
- By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, by Elizabeth Smart
- Bonjour Tristesse, by Francoise Sagan
- Candide, by Voltaire
- Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems, edited by Simon Armitage
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Miss Julia, by August Strindberg
- The Watsons, by Jane Austen
- Maus, by Art Spiegelman
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
- Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
- The Island Means Minago, by Milton Acorn
- Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
- The Educated Imagination, by Northrop Frye
- The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi, by Larry Tremblay
- A Clockwork Orange, by Antony Burgess