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What will Stephen Harper read?

Yann Martel quits sending books to the PM


 

When Yann Martel visited the House of Commons in 2007, he hoped to catch the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper during an event acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council for the Arts. But Harper did not speak, and according to Martel (the 2002 Booker Prize winner for Life of Pi), the prime minister barely looked up from his papers. Following the apparent snub, Martel vowed to send Harper a book every two weeks in the mail, to “make suggestions to his stillness.” The resulting endeavour could be followed at a website called ‘What is Stephen Harper Reading?’, where Martel vowed to post any response from the prime minister (that added up to five letters from the PMO over four years, but none from Harper himself). The campaign ended today, however, after Martel’s 100th book was sent to 80 Wellington Street. The final work Martel sent was a play, Scorched, by Wajdi Mouawad.

National Post


 
Filed under:

What will Stephen Harper read?

  1. Maybe Yann should have sent a pop-up book…

  2. Maybe Yann should have sent a pop-up book…

    • Maybe Yann should get a life.

      • Yann Martel has a life:
        Booker Prize for "Life of Pi" to mention just one thing, does constitute having a life.
        What have YOU done ???

        • News flash, Charles: if I send 100 unsolicited letters and books to someone who is not a personal friend of mine, it's called stalking.

          If I send 100 unsolicited letters and books to a personal friend of mine, that person is probably not going to be a personal friend of mine any longer.

          I can't believe I have to point this out to you.

          Most stalkers are creepy people with no life.

          • Sounds like Yann isn't most stalkers.

          • Yeah, he's more literate. But just as narcissistic.

          • It seems to be that the term 'stalker' no longer means what it used to mean–the pathological ANONYMOUS follower and tab-keeper of another person or persons (A detective who has not been hired and has no real reason to follow someone). The old definition also would say that a 'stalker' often has an imaginary connection with the stalkee.

            HOWEVER, common usage of the term, along with the term 'creepy', has come to be used as a defense mechanism for anyone seeking justification for not being attracted socially or physically to someone else.

            This term (stalker) is nearly as overdiagnosed as ADHD is in children. Any women who think an undesirable man might be interested in her will almost always automatically label him a stalker.

            Note: Far too many idiots think they're more important than they really are. Real stalkers seek out beautiful, interesting, and often famous members of the attractive gender. 90 percent of the people who use the term couldn't get a real stalker to save their lives.
            – from the Urban Dictionary
            Try reading a dictionary sometime maybe

  3. Maybe Yann should get a life.

  4. Very busy people often do not have time/make time to read for pleasure.

  5. Very busy people often do not have time/make time to read for pleasure.

    • US Presidents regularly discuss what they're reading. I'm pretty sure the workload is, uh, similar.

      • President Obama sent Yann Martel a letter to let him know he had read "Life of Pi" with his oldest daughter and they both loved it, sometime last year!

        • Yes, he used it to spend time with his child. Not the same as reading a book for pleasure by yourself.

      • I just know that when I was a university student I never read for pleasure. I always read to further my knowledge base.

        • Also, my mother who had a lot of kids and worked and attended night school never read for pleasure. Even my dad who was very busy working on the ranch never read. They were tired.

          • That's your personal experience, my dad is a historian and has about twenty thousand books, and he reads fro work and pleasure, he used to read to me all kinds of history as a kid, from Christopher Columbus to Napeolen, Julious Ceaser to the industral revolution, etc, I truly enjoyed reading with my children, oldest is 21 youngest 12, and I started reading them Don Quixote when they were babies, my youngest daughter by age 7 had read William Shakespeare and Jane Austen back and forth, Life of Pi is one of her favourites, we choose to read the same book it's a mini book club between her an I, we just finished Anna Karenina, I wish I could tell my older kids enjoy it as much, they don't. By the way President Clinton is a very avid reader and he always read during his presidency, he loves novels and he is also a speed reader, I heard that directly from him when I went to see him in one of his talks in Canada.

  6. I hope Harper gave them to his children. Nice family heirloom – 100 books picked by Yann Martel.

  7. I hope Harper gave them to his children. Nice family heirloom – 100 books picked by Yann Martel.

    • It'll be interesting to see if the collection ends up in the archives as one in future years.

    • I am sure someone read, and benefited, from the books.

  8. Lost cause from the beginning.

  9. Lost cause from the beginning.

  10. US Presidents regularly discuss what they're reading. I'm pretty sure the workload is, uh, similar.

  11. It'll be interesting to see if the collection ends up in the archives as one in future years.

  12. I wish somebody could explain this to me: since when are we, any of us, obligated to read whatever book(s) some stranger sends us through the mail? Shouldn't we, as a general rule, be free to read the books that we want to read?

    This suggestion that Harper is some sort of philistine, just because he apparently didn't read 100 books that Yann Martel sent him, is absolutely asinine. If I send 100 books to one of you, are you going to read them? This is nuts.

  13. I wish somebody could explain this to me: since when are we, any of us, obligated to read whatever book(s) some stranger sends us through the mail? Shouldn't we, as a general rule, be free to read the books that we want to read?

    This suggestion that Harper is some sort of philistine, just because he apparently didn't read 100 books that Yann Martel sent him, is absolutely asinine. If I send 100 books to one of you, are you going to read them? This is nuts.

    • Well I do not think most people would begrudge anyone for sending them free books, but at the same time I agree with the essence your statement. If someone did not show interest in anything I had to say when I first met them, even if I were a famous author, then I probably would not go out of my way to get that person's attention. However, as I said in a previous comment, I imagine someone read and benefited from the books Yann sent.

      • Agreed. Says quite a lot about Mr. Martel that he couldn't quite take the hint.

    • I never believed Martel seriously intended that Harper would read the books he sent them. I thought it was some sort of smug publicity stunt. If someone patronizingly sent me 100 books based on some unfounded assumption that I am not well read, I'd kindly tell him where he could stuff those 100 books.

      P.S. "Life of Pi" was decent but over-rated.

      • I disagree with that, Life of Pi, it's amazing!

      • About 3.14 times over-rated…

        • I haven't read it. Was the storyline a little circular?

      • Exactly!

        • There's the other Jan again. Seems we don't agree on anything.

    • Yes the lurid interest in Harper's personal life by his critics is getting creepy.

      • It made you wonder why Mr. Martel a suppose to be an "intelligent guy" has to resort to gimmicks and stalking. Had his pride run ahead of his intelligence? He just can't stand too busy a person not to have given him 100% of his attention? Somebody should warn Mr. Harper that the country's problems and business matter should take second importance to the ego of this guy. This serves a warning to whoever happen to face and listen to Mr. Martel to switch of your multitasking brain and put all your focus on him, otherwise you might receive a hundred or more books instead. On the other hand, kindly point Mr. Martel my way, I definitely need and could use more of those books! Can you imagine how many poor countries could benefit from having a library? Why gave those books to a person who does not have enough hours a day to read government dosiers and communique let alone books pushed to him by an egocentric prick.

  14. If I were the eternal optimist, I would think that he would read my e-mails and answer my questions. But after 5 yearss, my optimiswm has waned considerably. Mr. Martel apparently is privilaged he at least got a few responses.

  15. If I were the eternal optimist, I would think that he would read my e-mails and answer my questions. But after 5 yearss, my optimiswm has waned considerably. Mr. Martel apparently is privilaged he at least got a few responses.

  16. I am sure someone read, and benefited, from the books.

  17. Well I do not think most people would begrudge anyone for sending them free books, but at the same time I agree with the essence your statement. If someone did not show interest in anything I had to say when I first met them, even if I were a famous author, then I probably would not go out of my way to get that person's attention. However, as I said in a previous comment, I imagine someone read and benefited from the books Yann sent.

  18. I never believed Martel seriously intended that Harper would read the books he sent them. I thought it was some sort of smug publicity stunt. If someone patronizingly sent me 100 books based on some unfounded assumption that I am not well read, I'd kindly tell him where he could stuff those 100 books.

    P.S. "Life of Pi" was decent but over-rated.

  19. Quitter!

  20. Agreed. Says quite a lot about Mr. Martel that he couldn't quite take the hint.

  21. Quitter!

  22. I suggest Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar.

  23. I suggest Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar.

  24. Why is this news?

  25. Why is this news?

  26. I disagree with that, Life of Pi, it's amazing!

  27. About 3.14 times over-rated…

  28. I am sorely dissapointed Mr. Martel is not going to be doing it anymore, I loved the books he sent him, I read most of them before he started the website, and was very surprised of the titles he choose, number 99 "History of Reading" by Alberto Manguel had me jumping up and down, like a little kid its one of my favorite books, it had become some kind of a weird ritual to me, to find out what he was sending, to see if I had already read it or it was something that truly surprised me and enjoyed, so Stephen Harper might or might not read those books, but I did truly enjoy them from The Little Prince, to Fictions, Gilgamesh, The Bluest Eye, etc. To me it was a gift to see his selection and to read why he had send it and choose that one. I know it might sound nerdy but I will miss it!

  29. I am sorely dissapointed Mr. Martel is not going to be doing it anymore, I loved the books he sent him, I read most of them before he started the website, and was very surprised of the titles he choose, number 99 "History of Reading" by Alberto Manguel had me jumping up and down, like a little kid its one of my favorite books, it had become some kind of a weird ritual to me, to find out what he was sending, to see if I had already read it or it was something that truly surprised me and enjoyed, so Stephen Harper might or might not read those books, but I did truly enjoy them from The Little Prince, to Fictions, Gilgamesh, The Bluest Eye, etc. To me it was a gift to see his selection and to read why he had send it and choose that one. I know it might sound nerdy but I will miss it!

  30. President Obama sent Yann Martel a letter to let him know he had read "Life of Pi" with his oldest daughter and they both loved it, sometime last year!

  31. As a Master's student working part-time with a young son I haven't read a book for personal entertainment in years. I'm not surprised that a man with as much on his plate as our Prime Minister, a man who also has a family, doesn't have the time to read anything other than government documents. Reading is a fundamentally antisocial exercise. If the Prime Minister is anything like myself I'm sure that any free time at his disposal will be spent with his wife and children rather than in a quiet room with his nose in some vapid text patronizingly selected by Yann Martel.

  32. As a Master's student working part-time with a young son I haven't read a book for personal entertainment in years. I'm not surprised that a man with as much on his plate as our Prime Minister, a man who also has a family, doesn't have the time to read anything other than government documents. Reading is a fundamentally antisocial exercise. If the Prime Minister is anything like myself I'm sure that any free time at his disposal will be spent with his wife and children rather than in a quiet room with his nose in some vapid text patronizingly selected by Yann Martel.

    • I'll give you "patronizing," but "some vapid text"?

    • Are you telling your children that reading is anti-social, Atchison?

      • Jan, you know that is not at all what he is saying. In fact, I am sure he reads to his child.

    • Well stated Atchison. That is exactly what I tried to say in my earlier blog but you are much more eloquent. Reading for pleasure is the first sacrifice made by a busy person.

      • I never thought of as a sacrifice, but well said!

      • If you really like reading it's easy to find the time : before going to bed, in the metro, during lunch…

        • That is unless you are a professional and spend your time: reading documents related to work before bed, paying attention to the road during your commute, working through lunch…

  33. Iggy should be all over this.

    "Bookgate"…free books given to the PM…oh…what a scandal!!!!

  34. Iggy should be all over this.

    "Bookgate"…free books given to the PM…oh…what a scandal!!!!

    • Why a scandal? Stephen Harper could start a library just with the books that Yann Martel has given him.

  35. I'll give you "patronizing," but "some vapid text"?

  36. Are you telling your children that reading is anti-social, Atchison?

  37. Yann Martel has a life:
    Booker Prize for "Life of Pi" to mention just one thing, does constitute having a life.
    What have YOU done ???

  38. I'd be happy if he would just read and heed my emails. Then we would have a better government

  39. I'd be happy if he would just read and heed my emails. Then we would have a better government

  40. I just know that when I was a university student I never read for pleasure. I always read to further my knowledge base.

  41. Not necessarily true. My guess is that the President has a much larger staff. It may be like comparing the US military and the Canadian military. Our men/women who work do many jobs; theirs are trained to do one job.

  42. World leaders neither read the post nor read pulp fiction. While more than a few have lacked the intelligence to comprend any reading material whatsoever, most simply haven't got the time to read. However, John F. Kennedy was known to be a speed reader before anybody ever heard of Evelyn Wood.

  43. World leaders neither read the post nor read pulp fiction. While more than a few have lacked the intelligence to comprend any reading material whatsoever, most simply haven't got the time to read. However, John F. Kennedy was known to be a speed reader before anybody ever heard of Evelyn Wood.

    • So is Bill Clinton a speed reader and an avid reader, and I heard him saying that personally that he read during his presidency, novels.

  44. Why a scandal? Stephen Harper could start a library just with the books that Yann Martel has given him.

  45. Also, my mother who had a lot of kids and worked and attended night school never read for pleasure. Even my dad who was very busy working on the ranch never read. They were tired.

  46. Well stated Atchison. That is exactly what I tried to say in my earlier blog but you are much more eloquent. Reading for pleasure is the first sacrifice made by a busy person.

  47. Yes, he used it to spend time with his child. Not the same as reading a book for pleasure by yourself.

  48. Jan, you know that is not at all what he is saying. In fact, I am sure he reads to his child.

  49. News flash, Charles: if I send 100 unsolicited letters and books to someone who is not a personal friend of mine, it's called stalking.

    If I send 100 unsolicited letters and books to a personal friend of mine, that person is probably not going to be a personal friend of mine any longer.

    I can't believe I have to point this out to you.

    Most stalkers are creepy people with no life.

  50. Exactly!

  51. I liked "Life of Pi" also. But the writer sure sounds like an arrogant, entitled jackass.

    How ironic that he allows no comments on his blog, yet expects the Prime Minister to waste time commenting on his 100-used-books project.

    Small.

  52. I liked "Life of Pi" also. But the writer sure sounds like an arrogant, entitled jackass.

    How ironic that he allows no comments on his blog, yet expects the Prime Minister to waste time commenting on his 100-used-books project.

    Small.

    • We seem to have another Jan. I don't think there'll be any confusion on our identities.

    • I guess it depends how you see it, like a glass half full or half empty, to some people he is pretentious, looking for exposure, etc, and for others he is just curious about the man and what's inside his head, I fall into that category, I feel that he is as puzzled as we all are about the Prime Minister, I thought it was smart to don't have commenting on the website.

  53. Yeah, he's more literate. But just as narcissistic.

  54. Memos, position papers, academic articles and government reports require a different approach to reading than most works of fiction (especially in the large volumes of material Harper reads). One can't revel in the joy of a well-crafted sentence or maintain suspense about the recommendations of the report. Skimming over extraneous material and quick distillation of the point are necessary…

    …Plus we all know from the latest Tory ads that Harper spends his nights working alone in his office.

  55. Memos, position papers, academic articles and government reports require a different approach to reading than most works of fiction (especially in the large volumes of material Harper reads). One can't revel in the joy of a well-crafted sentence or maintain suspense about the recommendations of the report. Skimming over extraneous material and quick distillation of the point are necessary…

    …Plus we all know from the latest Tory ads that Harper spends his nights working alone in his office.

    • Well said hosertohoosier! I fundamentally agree. It's a treat for me to browse the contents of this magazine let alone to re-read the Epic of Gilgamesh.

  56. No matter how intelligent one think of his choices, that does not give him any right to push his choices on others. We usually call it extreme arrogance where we came from or dictatorial in others.

  57. No matter how intelligent one think of his choices, that does not give him any right to push his choices on others. We usually call it extreme arrogance where we came from or dictatorial in others.

  58. See, this is why you've become one of my favorite presences on these boards. Even though I often disagree with you, you really successfully avoid reflexive partisanism, and persist in having a positive attitude. You're one of the few here whose opinion (on whatever the topic at hand might be) I can't guess in advance.

  59. We seem to have another Jan. I don't think there'll be any confusion on our identities.

  60. There's the other Jan again. Seems we don't agree on anything.

  61. Yes the lurid interest in Harper's personal life by his critics is getting creepy.

  62. That's your personal experience, my dad is a historian and has about twenty thousand books, and he reads fro work and pleasure, he used to read to me all kinds of history as a kid, from Christopher Columbus to Napeolen, Julious Ceaser to the industral revolution, etc, I truly enjoyed reading with my children, oldest is 21 youngest 12, and I started reading them Don Quixote when they were babies, my youngest daughter by age 7 had read William Shakespeare and Jane Austen back and forth, Life of Pi is one of her favourites, we choose to read the same book it's a mini book club between her an I, we just finished Anna Karenina, I wish I could tell my older kids enjoy it as much, they don't. By the way President Clinton is a very avid reader and he always read during his presidency, he loves novels and he is also a speed reader, I heard that directly from him when I went to see him in one of his talks in Canada.

  63. I never thought of as a sacrifice, but well said!

  64. So is Bill Clinton a speed reader and an avid reader, and I heard him saying that personally that he read during his presidency, novels.

  65. I guess it depends how you see it, like a glass half full or half empty, to some people he is pretentious, looking for exposure, etc, and for others he is just curious about the man and what's inside his head, I fall into that category, I feel that he is as puzzled as we all are about the Prime Minister, I thought it was smart to don't have commenting on the website.

  66. I haven't read it. Was the storyline a little circular?

  67. So a smug pretentious snob pretentiously announces that he is abandoning his pretentious quest to be a pretentious snob. I wonder what's on the next channel…

  68. So a smug pretentious snob pretentiously announces that he is abandoning his pretentious quest to be a pretentious snob. I wonder what's on the next channel…

  69. Well said hosertohoosier! I fundamentally agree. It's a treat for me to browse the contents of this magazine let alone to re-read the Epic of Gilgamesh.

  70. It made you wonder why Mr. Martel a suppose to be an "intelligent guy" has to resort to gimmicks and stalking. Had his pride run ahead of his intelligence? He just can't stand too busy a person not to have given him 100% of his attention? Somebody should warn Mr. Harper that the country's problems and business matter should take second importance to the ego of this guy. This serves a warning to whoever happen to face and listen to Mr. Martel to switch of your multitasking brain and put all your focus on him, otherwise you might receive a hundred or more books instead. On the other hand, kindly point Mr. Martel my way, I definitely need and could use more of those books! Can you imagine how many poor countries could benefit from having a library? Why gave those books to a person who does not have enough hours a day to read government dosiers and communique let alone books pushed to him by an egocentric prick.

  71. When you look at the list, it has some pretty bizarre choices. It includes some books Harper probably has read (Animal Farm, Charlotte's Web, To Kill a Mockingbird… and the PM must have looked at the Lesser Evil for attack ad fodder), some that are obvious swipes at the Prime Minister (Burning Ice: Art and Climate Change… the PM's two favourite things), and in some cases minimal literary value (why should Harper read "Read All About It" – a children's book by the Bush twins).

    Still, the question of what Harper has read over his lifetime is probably somewhat important because it frames Harper's thinking. Do people have much of a guess?

    I know Harper has read most of the classics in economics (eg. Smith, Keynes, etc.), from an interview with one of his former professors. By the way, this is not typical for economics students (sort of how most geneticists don't read Darwin). I would not be surprised if he has also read Discipline of Power, Jeffrey Simpson's account of the Joe Clark hiccup. Tom Flanagan's "Game Theory in Canadian Politics" wouldn't surprise me either. He doesn't seem like much of a fiction reader.

  72. When you look at the list, it has some pretty bizarre choices. It includes some books Harper probably has read (Animal Farm, Charlotte's Web, To Kill a Mockingbird… and the PM must have looked at the Lesser Evil for attack ad fodder), some that are obvious swipes at the Prime Minister (Burning Ice: Art and Climate Change… the PM's two favourite things), and in some cases minimal literary value (why should Harper read "Read All About It" – a children's book by the Bush twins).

    Still, the question of what Harper has read over his lifetime is probably somewhat important because it frames Harper's thinking. Do people have much of a guess?

    I know Harper has read most of the classics in economics (eg. Smith, Keynes, etc.), from an interview with one of his former professors. By the way, this is not typical for economics students (sort of how most geneticists don't read Darwin). I would not be surprised if he has also read Discipline of Power, Jeffrey Simpson's account of the Joe Clark hiccup. Tom Flanagan's "Game Theory in Canadian Politics" wouldn't surprise me either. He doesn't seem like much of a fiction reader.

  73. Mr. Martel had a bit of a crush on Harper, I think.

  74. Mr. Martel had a bit of a crush on Harper, I think.

  75. Chin up Yann. I expect Harper to reply once he is out of the public eye. Who knows, that could be any day now. I also expect that the Canada Council for the Arts to nominate a book every two weeks for the next PM. This could become a little quirk in Canadian politics.

  76. Chin up Yann. I expect Harper to reply once he is out of the public eye. Who knows, that could be any day now. I also expect that the Canada Council for the Arts to nominate a book every two weeks for the next PM. This could become a little quirk in Canadian politics.

  77. If you really like reading it's easy to find the time : before going to bed, in the metro, during lunch…

  78. That is unless you are a professional and spend your time: reading documents related to work before bed, paying attention to the road during your commute, working through lunch…

  79. It seems to be that the term 'stalker' no longer means what it used to mean–the pathological ANONYMOUS follower and tab-keeper of another person or persons (A detective who has not been hired and has no real reason to follow someone). The old definition also would say that a 'stalker' often has an imaginary connection with the stalkee.

    HOWEVER, common usage of the term, along with the term 'creepy', has come to be used as a defense mechanism for anyone seeking justification for not being attracted socially or physically to someone else.

    This term (stalker) is nearly as overdiagnosed as ADHD is in children. Any women who think an undesirable man might be interested in her will almost always automatically label him a stalker.

    Note: Far too many idiots think they're more important than they really are. Real stalkers seek out beautiful, interesting, and often famous members of the attractive gender. 90 percent of the people who use the term couldn't get a real stalker to save their lives.
    – from the Urban Dictionary
    Try reading a dictionary sometime maybe

  80. As much as I hate to admit it, Yann Martel made me feel sorry for Stephen Harper by being so patronizing. It seems Martel wanted to make Harper a better person, which I can understand would get under Harper's skin. The assumption was that if Harper read these books he would become as good a person as Martel. For instance, while a great number of Canadians like hockey, I don't. How would I feel if somebody kept sending me hockey tickets to convert me to the superior position of being a hockey lover. I would resent it and give them away to people who did love hockey. In any case, reading books proves nothing. Germany was one of the most culturally advanced nations at the turn of the century. Stalin had so many books he built a separate dacha for them, and needed a separate railway car to transport them whenever he travelled because he couldn't be separated from them. He despised non-readers. Enough said.

  81. As much as I hate to admit it, Yann Martel made me feel sorry for Stephen Harper by being so patronizing. It seems Martel wanted to make Harper a better person, which I can understand would get under Harper's skin. The assumption was that if Harper read these books he would become as good a person as Martel. For instance, while a great number of Canadians like hockey, I don't. How would I feel if somebody kept sending me hockey tickets to convert me to the superior position of being a hockey lover. I would resent it and give them away to people who did love hockey. In any case, reading books proves nothing. Germany was one of the most culturally advanced nations at the turn of the century. Stalin had so many books he built a separate dacha for them, and needed a separate railway car to transport them whenever he travelled because he couldn't be separated from them. He despised non-readers. Enough said.

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