Thursday, 22 January 2009

Three More Books for Stephen Harper, One of Which I Bet Obama Has Read

Monday Yann Martel sent Prime Minister Stephen Harper a rather pointed gift as part of his on-going campaign to provide Harper with some good bedtime reading: The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, by Michael Ignatieff.

“I believe you said in an interview not long ago that you hadn’t read much of Michael Ignatieff’s work. It’s obvious that you should, isn’t it? After all, you will be facing him every day in the House of Commons this year—he may even take your job—so it would be to your advantage to get to know his mind.,” Martel writes in his cover letter. Ignatieff has a great C.V., he adds, although that isn’t everything that it takes to be prime minister.

“Leadership can’t be reduced to academic credentials or books on a shelf,” he continues. “Personality, vision, instinct, people skills, practical knowledge, toughness, resilience, rhetorical flair, charisma, luck—there is much that goes into the making of a political leader besides grey matter.” Whether Ignatieff has all that isn’t clear yet, but I’d wager a bundle that Martel thinks he does.

The book he sent to Harper just after Christmas is quite a bit different: Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999, by Paul McCartney. Martel notes that Harper says he’s a Beatles fan, and he points out the marvelous way a good song addresses “feelings we might be too shy to deal with in plain speech—raw, hungering lust, for example—or ones that cut deep but are so mundane we are embarrassed to talk about them: loneliness, yearning, heartbreak.”

Loneliness, yearning, heartbreak: are those emotions Harper will know soon? Let’s see what happens next week when the budget comes down.

In the meantime, I’d like to suggest another short book for Harper: The Reluctant Fundamentalists by Hamid Mohsin. It is a short novel by a Pakistani who’s passed many years in the West and has written a most engaging and convincing book about a man not unlike himself who changes his allegiances as he sees the world more clearly. This is a book that I bet Barack Obama has read: at least, he is acting as if he understands what lies behind such disillusion.

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