Archive for the ‘Yann Martel’ Category

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Alright, I never finished Life of Pi and really have no intention of reading Beatrice and Virgil, but I love Yann Martel.  And I adore this interview recently published in the Guardian, in which he defends his (and everyone else’s) right to write about the Holocaust. 

“The tragedy of the Holocaust wasn’t exclusively Jewish,” he says. “It was non-Jews who did it. It was an act of two groups, so it’s not just for Jews to be expert on the Holocaust. In any case, we’re in dialogue with history, and you no more own a historical event than people own their language. The English don’t own the English language; the Jews don’t own the Holocaust; the French don’t own Verdun. It’s good to have other perspectives. If you claim to own an event, you may suffer from group think.”

Along the similar lines, Meg Rosoff ponders using real-life characters in fiction, in this case using Sharon Dogar’s Annexed as an example.  A few weeks ago we discussed this a bit in terms of historical fiction but Rosoff pulls in some modern examples as well (including personal favourites The Uncommon Reader and The Queen and I, both of which feature Queen Elizabeth II as the protagonist).

As there is nothing I like better than curling up with a big book of other people’s personal correspondence, I had to include the dying art of letter writing.  I choose to take these articles (and they are legion) as arguments for why email should be avoided whenever possible in favour of handwritten, posted correspondence.  This backfires on me.  A lot.  People love to receive mail but then never send a response and, I suspect, my bons mots end up in their recycling bins more often than not (save for my more supportive friends who live in hope/fear that I will one day be famous for something, their foresight in having lugged around my letter these many years to be rewarded by my eager biographers.  Good luck to them but prospects seem dim).

Finally, what would a Friday Potpourri be without an NPR link?  And this one’s great: Three Degrees of Failure for the Recent Graduate.  It includes Vanity Fair, which I can never read too many times, and The Group, which depressed me beyond belief when I first read it as a teenager.

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Every second week since April 16, 2007, writer Yann Martel (author of the Booker prize winning The Life of Pi) has sent Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper a book, accompanied by a letter explaining the choice.  The selection has been varied: plays, novels, essays, and non-fiction, by writers from many countries and many eras.  The project has been catalogued online, which is how I first discovered it, at What Is Stephen Harper Reading? and was published last fall in the book What Is Stephen Harper Reading?  This project is a response to what Martel (and many Canadians) views as Harper’s antipathy towards the arts.  Martel believes that:

If Stephen Harper were shaped and informed by literary culture, if he read novels, short stories, plays and poetry, he would love them, he would defend them, he would celebrate them.  He would not try to scuttle the public means of sustaining our nation’s artistic culture, retreating from doing so only when it’s politically expedient.  If Stephen Harper is informed by literary culture or, indeed, by culture in general, it doesn’t show in what he says or what he does. (p.9)

To some, this may seem a presumptuous project: what right does Martel have to lecture Harper on reading material?  Surely, if the Prime Minister is able to find a few free minutes for himself, he should be allowed to spend it as he chooses, even if he does seem to prefer watching sports to reading (he once named the Guinness Book of World Records as his favourite reading material…enough said).  But Martel argues that “once someone has power over me, I have the right to probe the nature and quality of their imagination, because their dreams may become my nightmares.” (p. 10)

The letters accompanying each book are beautifully written.  I found The Life of Pi a difficult read, one that never caught my interest and which I was unable to finish.  But this is lovely.  His arguments for each choice are elegant and passionate but it’s really his enthusiasm for reading that draws me in.  I marked down several passages throughout the book that I found particularly clear and compelling.  Should the Prime Minister ever read the letters (and, as yet, there is no indication that he ever has), they themselves, free of the books they champion, should speak for the importance of literacy and culture in our society, examples of beautiful prose and the highest ideals.

All of the letters (including the ones written since the book was published) can be accessed online.  Below, I’ve listed and linked to some of the ones that stood out for me, either as books I love or books that have now been added to my TBR list as a result of Martel’s passionate promotion (and a few that just amused me):

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart 

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan 

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke 

The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway 

Artists and Models by Anaïs Nin

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (sent in frustration at further cuts to funds for the arts) 

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror by Michael Ignatieff (a rather cheeky recommendation, as Ignatieff is the leader of the official opposition party)

Jane Austen: A Life by Carol Shields 

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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