Tuesday, 26 August 2008

An Audio Book for the Campaign Trail and Superb Short Stories: What Stephen Harper Has to Read

Yann Martel’s latest gifts to Prime Minister Stephen Harper are particularly appropriate, it seems to me. The two books he’s sent so far in August—Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor and Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas—are not only good reads, Martel has packed a political message with each.

The Thomas work was sent first, and Martel—who’s been sending a book every two weeks for more than a year in order to provide some good bedtime reading for the PM—apologizes for it being a little late. He’d ordered an audio book version because he thought that Harper would enjoy that more, since it seems he’ll soon be on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, though, it took longer than anticipated to arrive so Martel’s self-imposed two week rhythm was delayed. But the work is worth waiting for, Martel writes in the accompanying letter:

“The lyricism of the language rests solidly on Dylan Thomas’s gut knowledge that life is good, however bad it may be at times. It is said that Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood in reaction to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. I doubt that’s factually true. It sounds too conveniently perfect. But opposing a radiant symphonic poem against the darkness of a mass killing of civilians does hark to a spiritual truth: that beauty can be a road back to goodness.”

Words to remember when considering foreign policy, certainly.

The second August book is a used paperback book, still sturdy, although held together by tape along the spine. “if you take good care of this book, in a few years, because it is a first paperback printing, it will go up in value,” Martel writes. “That undiminishing richness is of course due to a paperback’s inner wealth, all those little black markings. They inhabit a book the way a soul inhabits a body. Books, like people, can’t be reduced to the cost of the materials with which they were made. Books, like people, become unique and precious once you get to know them.”

And that leads him to a very polite protest about the recent cuts in arts funding which Harper’s government brought down this summer, particularly the $4.7 million PromArt program which helped Canadian artists and writers take their work abroad. “(T)o cut an international arts promotion program is to vow our country to cultural anonymity. It means foreigners will have no impressions of Canada, and so no affection. The PromArt program is a vital part of our foreign policy…The value-added worth of this modest program is akin to, well, to the value-added worth of a paperback.”

Martel’s received no response from the PM, which is not a surprise. Only his first offering got a form letter thank you from the PM’s office. What a shame! œ


Jack Ruttan said...

What a great thing Yann is doing. Hope he gets more publicity!

I love Flannery O'Connor

Mary Soderstrom said...

There is talk about Yann's cover letters being turned into a book--they'd make a great guide to a personal program of leisure reading, it seems to me.