Monday, July 28, 2008

To the Prime Minister, with best wishes, Yann

Last week, a customer in the store bought a copy of The Life of Pi, the hugely popular novel by the Canadian writer Yann Martel, and, in the process told me a delightful story which led to a neat website that I have permanently added to the "Links" section of this blog.

In March of last year, Yann Martel was one of fifty outstanding figures in the arts who attended a session of the Canadian Parliament which was to include a ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian Council of the Arts. Since this ceremony was to take place immediately following "Question Time," the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was present.

As it turned out, the "ceremony" was perfunctory to the point of being almost non-existent: a few remarks by a cabinet official, a smattering of applause, and that was it. But what Martel particularly noticed was that the Prime Minister paid no attention whatsoever to the proceedings, and spent the entire time with his head down, shuffling papers.

This led Martel to the conclusion that the Prime Minister needed more quiet time, more stillness in his life. And to help out in this regard, Martel resolved to mail the Prime Minister a book once every two weeks for as long as he was in office, along with a letter explaining the choice of the book.

And that's what he's done. If you go to the website, What Is Stephen Harper Reading, you will find a copy of each letter that Martel has sent the Prime Minister -- 37 so far -- a picture of the book that was sent and a note as to whether Martel has received any response. Actually, he has to date received just one -- a note from one of Harper's assistants acknowledging the very first book.

Martel's letters are amazing, and I will end with a quote from one of them:

"Cats are said to have nine lives. What is that compared to the girl, boy, man, woman who reads books. A book read is a life added to one's own. So it only takes nine books to make cats look at you with envy."

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