Monday, 14 July 2008

Windows on the World: More about Books and What Stephen Harper Should Be Reading

Friday the topic was the value of fiction-reading and how it expands your worlds, giving you experiences that you might never have otherwise. I imagine Yann Martel would agree about the importance of that aspect of reading novels and short stories. Almost without exception, the books he has been sending every two weeks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for more than a year have been fiction. Martel’s stated aim is to provide some “stillness” in the PM’s life, to suggest some reading that will enrich the PM’s understanding and give him some pleasure. In the letters accompanying each book, Martel gives the reasons for his choice, and frequently he cites the windows the books offer into other ways of thinking and living, which is just what the University of Toronto researchers suggest is so valuable about fiction reading.

Martel’s most recent gift is Thomson Highway’s play The Rez Sisters, about which Martel says: “It's a comedy, the kind that makes you laugh while also delivering a fair load of sadness. Stereotypes are typified and then mocked, but it's not an overtly political play, hence its universal resonance.”

Two weeks before, Martel sent Harper the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. “People in Iran are like people anywhere,” Martel wrote. “(T)hey want to be happy and live in peace, with a modicum of material well being. The rules of their society, their values—the means by which they hope to become happy—are different from Canada’s—but what of that? They have their problems, we have ours. Let them muddle through theirs, as we hope to muddle through ours.”

Martel says that in Persepolis he recognized the Iran he found several years when traveling there with a friend. “Such eye-opening travel as I had the luck of doing isn’t a possibility for everyone…Which is where books come in. The armchair traveler can be as well-informed as the backpacker roughing it, so long as he or she reads the right books,”

Ah yes, the right books. There are so many of them. Would that Stephen Harper have time to read some.

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