Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BOOKS: What Is Stephen Harper Reading?

Perhaps the talk of poutine was a foreshadowing of this post... a cheesy, gravy-smothered foreshadowing. Be that as it may, you may be interested to know that Yann Martel, author of the love-it-or-hate-it award-winning novel Life of Pi, has decided to send Prime Minister Stephen Harper a new book every fortnight, along with a letter explaining why he has chosen each particular book.
Dear Mr. Harper,

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....

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...
You can track the subsequent books, along with any response Martel gets from the PM's office, in the unlikely event that a response is forthcoming, here.

Apparently, this project was born of Martel's -- and other Canadian authors' -- frustration with the government's funding cuts to the arts. It'll be interesting to see if this protest gets results, but I'm not holding my breath. I have a hard time believing Harper will even make it through Martel's letters, let alone actual novels.

Besides, I understand the PM's kind of busy working on his own book.


Dan Allen said...

How cool! Thanks for sharing this.

Unknown said...

That little note would make me want to cut funding, its so pretentious and I'm a historically supporter of art funding.

BabelBabe said...

i wish someone would send ME a book every two weeks.

Anonymous said...

I guess the art community has to stand up for its funding rights but you can't blame governments either. For though art is important, it will never be a top funding priority. In any country. There are just too many issues to address. I think art can channel support from many other quarters.

Anonymous said...

Plus you may be interested in this book site as you are into books.

Check out BlueRectangle Books.It's a great resource!

trophycase said...

In their introduction to "First Drafts" J.L.Granatstein and Norman Hillmer end the first paragraph with the words of journalist Matthew Halton, "Watch out for the first signs of fascism in your own country and operate on them quickly, because in spite of their seductive exterior virility, they are signs of decay, they are signs that we are desparing of reason, desparing of our fine dreams of a sane world." Halton was writing in 1933 and the introduction was written in Canada July 1, 2002.

Also I just finished reading "Critique of Cynical Reason" Volume 40 of the University of Minesota Press' Theory and History of Literature series (I only mention this because, while this is completely political, it's also pure literature!) Sloterdijk writes in the conclusion, "Hence, if in modernity, worldly and self-experience converge in spite of all sundering, they do so under the condition that the struggles of self-preservation of privatized subjective reason inwardly as well as outwardly, psychologically as well as technologically, in the intimate domain as well as in political spheres, have generated the same iciness, the same polemical, strategic subjectivisms, and the same quick-footed denial of high-cultural ethical ideals." On page 544, in the conclusion, this sentence is packed with meaning, but you can read the modernity in this sentence as the same that spawned Hitler's rise to power.

Anonymous said...

There is something condescending about an award-winning author setting out to educate the Prime Minister. Stripped of the bitterness of being apparently slighted at the public gallery of the parliament, the letters accompanying the books might be of some interest ... to our junior high students.

Alas I can't read Martell's otherwise useful letters without having the words "expanding the stillness" nagging me.

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