And what Yann Martel thinks he should
// Amanda Shendruk — The Fulcrum (University of Ottawa)

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.

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. The book was In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, a six volume box set.

In this excerpt from the accompanying letter, Yann Martel expresses his regrets that he himself has never read it.

“So why did I never take on Proust’s masterpiece? I suppose for the same reason that many books are left unread, a mixture of fear and slothfulness, fear that I wouldn’t understand the work and unwillingness to spend so much intellectual energy reading all those pages. But as you and I both know, fear and slothfulness lead nowhere. Great achievements only come through courage and hard work. In sending you Proust’s monument, then, I’m reminding myself that I, too, must read it. I’m committed to reading it from start to finish before I die, and I hope you join me in making that same commitment.”

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:

1. The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy
2. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
4. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, by Elizabeth Smart
5. Bonjour Tristesse, by Francoise Sagan
6. Candide, by Voltaire
7. Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems, edited by Simon Armitage
8. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9. Miss Julia, by August Strindberg
10. The Watsons, by Jane Austen
11. Maus, by Art Spiegelman
12. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
13. Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
14. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
15. Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
16. The Island Means Minago, by Milton Acorn
17. Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
18. The Educated Imagination, by Northrop Frye
19. The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi, by Larry Tremblay
20. A Clockwork Orange, by Antony Burgess

// Amanda Shendruk
The Fulcrum (University of Ottawa)

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