Saturday, December 4, 2010

What Is Stephen Harper Reading?

Well we know he reads the Guinness Book of World Records (Harper's favorite book as mentioned during his 2004 election campaign) and that he loves hockey, but beyond that...

...award-winning Canadian author, Yann Martel, has taken it upon himself to encourage the Prime Minister's reading habits. At a Wordfest event this fall, Martel shared his pet project with us - sending Stephen Harper a book every two weeks for the duration of his term as Prime Minister of Canada. Martel entertained us by reading a few of the letters that he has written the Prime Minister (one of which he sends with each book). They are witty, enganging and edged with sarcasm. You see, even though Martel has heard from many other authors and even Barak Obama about his endeavour to encourage our leader's reading habits, he has yet to receive a response from the Prime Minister himself.

And he's been doing this every two weeks for over three years.

But he isn't just writing for an audience of one. Not only can the book list and accompanying letters be found at, the first 55 letters have been published. It is very entertaining reading. Right now he is on book 95 and all of these will be published as well, if and when Stephen Harper is dethroned.

But is this really any business of Martel's at all? Well, "The answer is simple," he writes. "As long as someone has no power over me, I don't care what they read, or if they read at all. It's not for me to judge how people should live their lives. But 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."

The books he has sent or written about (some of which I pulled from my own shelves and have included in the photo at the top of this blog) include classics of course, but Martel's quirky character prevails. He has also sent poetry, children's books and even a book of Paul McCartney lyrics (after the Prime Minister sang "With a Little Help From My Friends" at the National Arts Centre in October 2009...

In his letter that accompanied book 51 - Julius Caesar, Martel writes, "There is nothing sacred in or about Shakespeare, but one can lose and find oneself in his work the way one can lose and find oneself in the Bible...If one were on a desert island with only the Bible or the complete works of Shakespeare, one would do all right. If one had both, one would do well."

Well indeed!

Further to Martel's unique take on books is the fact he has been sending Harper used books. "I have done this not to save money, but to make a point," Martel writes, "which is that a used book, unlike a used car, hasn't lost any of its initial value...I like the idea of holding a book that someone else has held, of eyes running over lines that have already seen the light of other eyes. That, in one image, is the community of readers, is the community of literature."

So, my community of readers, if you could recommend a book for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to read, what would it be?


  1. I'd suggest "The Power and The Glory" by Graham Greene. I read it in university and absolutely loved it. It's been several years since I've reread it - so I'm overdue - but I loved the main character, the "whisky priest," for all his frailty and complexity. Most of all, I loved the fact that even when he did good for all the wrong reasons - goodness prevailed.
    Thanks for causing me to reflect on this, Doris! Your blog is as much a pleasure to read as it is to gaze at.

  2. Martel spoke at the Festival of Faith and Writing two years ago and told us of his project. So fascinating. What would I suggest...? Hmm. I agree with Patricia. I love "The Power and the Glory." Also "A Tale of Two Cities," "One Hundred Years of Solitude," "Night"... Oh, the list goes on!

  3. Patricia, "The Power and The Glory" is a great suggestion. So interesting that we were both blogging about Yann Martel and this book at the same time.

    Nicole, thanks for stopping by! I didn't know Martel spoke at the Festival of Faith and Writing. He intrigues me more and more. And yes, I would add "Night" to the list as well.

    Some of my Facebook friends suggested "Pilgrim's Progress," "What's So Amazing About Grace?" and "Beauty Secrets From MooseJaw." :)

  4. Great post Doris. This is such an interesting project he's doing. I'd recommend What Is the What by Dave Eggers. Such a powerful story, and very well written, too.

  5. I've taken that book out of the library twice now, Lisa, and just haven't gotten to it. You have inspired me to try again. Thanks!