Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Word on Wednesday - What is Stephen Harper Reading?

You don't have to be Canadian to enjoy this website. As a matter of fact, I think someone should start this same idea with President Bush (although keep it to books under a 6th grade reading level).

What is Stephen Harper Reading?

Yann Martel, author of the book The Life of Pi, which I read a few years ago, is sending Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper a new book every two weeks, along with a letter about why he chose that particular book. He's been doing this since last April and vows to keep doing so for as long as he is in office.

The books are meant to help the PM (or anyone) cultivate a stillness, which Martel deems as necessary if one is to enjoy the arts.

The idea was inspired after Martel was invited to the House of Commons with 49 other artists to celebrate 50 years of Canadian Arts and Culture.

The moment had come. Question Period was over and we were now going to be officially acknowledged by the House.

The Honourable Bev Oda, Minister for Canadian Heritage, whose seat on the government benches is as far away from the Prime Minister’s as is possible for a member of the cabinet, rose to her feet, acknowledged our presence and began to speak. We stood up, not for ourselves but for the Canada Council. Her speech was short. There was a flutter of applause. Then Minister Oda sat down, our business was over, MPs instantly turned to other things, and we were still standing. That was it. Fifty years of building Canada’s dazzling and varied culture, done with in less than five minutes.


The Prime Minister did not speak during our brief tribute, certainly not. I don’t think he even looked up. The snarling business of Question Period having just ended, he was shuffling papers. I tried to bring him close to me with my eyes.

Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness.

On his website, Martel has listed all the books he has sent, along with all the letters... and the one very brief response from Harper's assistant after he sent the first book, The Death of Ivan Ilych. There have been no other responses.

The book list is quite varied and interesting. I've only read 5 of them myself, so I better get reading as well!


Anonymous said...

Interesting and sad. His book list is really diverse. I've only read 3 of them.

I've found that as an adult with a job and with children it is hard to get still moments to myself. I admit I don't take enough time any more to enjoy art and books and I think my life suffers from that, in the end.

So I sympathize that Harper is busy, but I think more celebration of the contributions of Canadian artists was called for. They shouldn't have been so quickly dismissed.

Vicki said...

Hey, check out the site. I'm doing a pay it forward thing (I won now it's my turn)