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Yann Martel’s Letters to the Prime Minister


What is Stephen Harper Reading? by Yann MartelEvery two weeks over the past two years, author Yann Martel has been sending Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper an inscribed book, along with a personal letter. Martel has documented each of  the books sent and the letters he’s written on the web site, www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca and has vowed to do this for as long as Harper is Prime Minister.

Martel says he’s not trying to educate the Prime Minister, rather he’s seeking to “make suggestions to his [moments of] stillness”, an idea that came to him after feeling snubbed by Harper during an invited visit to the visitors’ gallery in the House of Commons.

“I know you’re very busy, Mr. Harper. We’re all busy. 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.”

Recent cuts to arts funding leads Martel to believe that the PM doesn’t read much literature and some people call Martel rude for his attempt to introduce more literature into the Canadian leader’s life. Martel insists that what an elected leader reads is extremely important.

“Once someone has power over me then, yes, their reading does matter to me, because in what they choose to read will be found what they think and what they will do.”

Whether or not Harper has actually read any of the books is not known but Martel has personally benefited, “It’s been a wonderful rediscovery of books for me…It’s forcing me to read things not for my own pleasure but for Mr. Harper’s potential pleasure. It means I’m reading quite widely.”

Martel’s letters and list of sent books have now also become a book published by Random House’s Vintage Canada, What is Stephen Harper Reading? Books gifted to the Prime Minister include titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee,  Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett,  Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

The book sent this week? What is Stephen Harper Reading? of course.

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