In case you haven’t heard, Yann Martel is ending his 4-year correspondence with Stephen Harper, a decidedly one-sided communication project Mr. Martel penned, “What is Stephen Harper Reading?” I hadn’t really followed it too much but when the end of anything is announced, I need to make sure I haven’t missed out on something really important.
Yann Martel is the Canadian author of one of my favourite books, Life of Pi. On CBC Radio, Mr. Martel said the inspiration for this ongoing quest to inspire our country’s leader to read more books was his concern that when asked his favourite book of all time, Mr. Harper responded, “The Guinness Book of World Records”.
Not good, thinks Mr. Martel, and he decides the private reading library of our Prime Minister needs some sprucing up. Not only does he send him a new book every couple of weeks or so, he writes him a letter providing an overview of his choice for this particular choice…like a one-sided pen pal book club. Four years and 99 books later, little wonder why we haven’t seen a book penned by Mr. Martel for quite some time given the time commitment of this endeavour.
We should, I suppose, feel indebted to Mr. Martel for trying so earnestly and passionately to inspire our nation’s leader to read more. On the other hand, what if Mr. Harper had read everything Mr. Martel sent? For a poet and author read a book and write an eloquent letter about it to Mr. Harper is one thing. For Mr. Harper to read each of these books and pen a response to Mr. Martel would be – well – downright irresponsible. I am an enthusiastic reader but my every day is filled with family time, work time, shuttling 3 kids to and from hockey, groceries, laundry vacuuming, exercise and the occasional hangover. I am left with enough time to read one book a month …maybe. Perhaps I am a literary phony, but if our nation’s leader has time to read a new book every two weeks (and send off a note of thanks to its benefactor), I’d no longer be asking ‘what’s your favourite book?” , I’d be asking “what they hell are you doing with our money?!” On the other hand, that Mr. Martel has persevered for almost 4 years without a single response from Mr. Harper (not even a thank you note – how rude.) testifies to the eccentricity of some writers.
Mr. Harper is, am I am, extremely grateful for the Coles Notes versions of all these books. They will serve as a great resource for our book club selections (do you think Stephen Harper has a book club?), not to mention helping our sons through high school English. You can read more about Mr. Martel’s book choices and each of his letters to Prime Minister Harper, at http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca/