Monday, February 22, 2010

What is Stephen Harper Reading?

If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, you’re not alone. At least one other person wondered about the reading habits of our Prime Minister: Yann Martel (author of the really excellent The Life of Pi).

But because Martel had no way of finding out what the Prime Minister was reading, he decided to start sending him books, one every two weeks, for his entire term. Each book is accompanied by a letter and Martel has been writing about the enterprise in his blog, where you can read the letters he’s sent Harper and check out the 75 titles he’s already sent.

This week is Canada’s Freedom to Read Week (I covered the American equivalent previously) and although I think it’s worth discussing the importance of reading freely and widely all the time, this week makes it topical. And even though Martel’s blog has been around for a while now, the spirit with which he tries to push the Prime Minister into paying attention to literature and literacy fits nicely into the ideas embodied by this week.

And, besides the clear genius of this idea (Martel has turned the blog into a book) on a political/satirical level, Martel’s attempts to reach out to the Prime Minister have the lovely side effect of providing a reading list for Canadians at large. He mixes classics with more contemporary work, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose (and children’s stories) and work by authors from all over the world (including, of course, Canada).

Of the titles on this list, to date I have only read nine (and covered only one on Books Under Skin, although that will surely change). The list is extremely varied (it’s almost as if Martel, in an attempt to get Harper to read something, has sent him a little of everything) and there are several titles here that I’ve never even heard of. But that’s what makes reading lists like this so exciting: Suddenly someone else’s sense of what’s worth reading is available to you. And if it varies from your own, so much the better.

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