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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Canadian Prime Ministers and Reading

Yesterday's post was about American Presidents and their reading habits, so, today, I thought I’d discuss Canadian Prime Ministers and their books.

Our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has a B.A. in English Literature, names Stephen King as his favourite author, lists reading as one of his pastimes, and would welcome a pen pal from abroad by taking him/her to the library on Parliament Hill (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/10/09/justin-trudeau-51-questions_n_8260008.html).   He has also written a book, Common Ground, a memoir (without a co-writer); all proceeds from sales are donated to the domestic programs of the Canadian Red Cross Society.

Our previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was not known for reading extensively.  Apparently, he named The Guinness Book of World Records as his favourite book, though he did write one about the history of hockey:  A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & the Rise of Professional Hockey

Harper did inspire a writer, Yann Martel, best known as the author of Life of Pi to start what he called “the loneliest book club in the world.”   From 2007 until 2011, Martel sent our former prime minister a book every two weeks – a total of more than one hundred novels, poetry collections, plays, graphic novels and children’s books.  Each gift was accompanied by a letter discussing the worth of the book and exploring the importance of reading not only as a pleasure but as an essential way of knowing the world and understanding life. 

Martel began his quest to boost Harper’s love of literature after Martel and a delegation acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council for the Arts, which fosters the cultural identity of Canadians, were ignored by the prime minister when they visited the House of Commons in March 2007.  Martel gave clear justification for his one-sided book club:  “As long as someone has no power over me, I don't care what they read, or if they read at all... But once someone has power over me, then, yes, their reading does matter to me because in what they choose to read will be found what they think and what they will do.”  Over the duration of his one-sided book club, Martel received five responses from the Prime Minister’s Office, but none from Harper himself.

The letters were published in book form in 2012:  101 Letters to a Prime Minister:  The Complete Letters to Stephen Harper For a complete list of the books that Martel recommended, go to http://guides.lib.montana.edu/c.php?g=198308&p=1302674.