Yann Martel: The Literate Leader


This video made me wonder what PM Lee is reading. Or all our ministers for that fact. That would be a fascinating revelation.

Some people felt that Yann Martel was being pretentious, but I think he had every right as a citizen to engage his leader – the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

After 4 years of sending him books he got no real response apart from the standard reply from the PM’s office. And by books, Martel meant fiction.

Martel says he’s disappointed that so few political leaders admit to reading fiction.

“Do we want our elites never to use that tool? And if we don’t, how to they understand ‘the other’ — the geographic ‘other,’ the historic ‘other’, the religious ‘other’?

“If we don’t use that tool, we limit our vision. And I find that frightful because these are people who have power over us.”

With a second child on the way, and work underway on a new novel, which will be called ‘The High Mountains of Portugal,” Martel has decided it’s time to end the barrage and move on.

“To be honest I’m getting a little tired of using books as bullets and grenades,” the Man Booker Prize winner said.

“I’m tired of sending books of poetry as little political jabs. Books are too beautiful. And books are incredibly patient. They’ll be here long after Prime Minister Harper is gone and long after I’m gone.”


If you’re interested, as I am, this is the list of 101 books sent to Stephen Harper:

Book Number 101: In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, in a six-volume box set, translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright
Book Number 100: Scorched, by Wajdi Mouawad, translated from the French by Linda Gaboriau
Book Number 99: A History of Reading, by Alberto Manguel
Book Number 98: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Books Number 97: Paul à Québec, by Michel Rabagliati, Le géant de la gaffe, by André Franquin, and Le lotus bleu, by Hergé
Book Number 96: Six Characters in Search of an Author, by Luigi Pirandello
Book Number 95: Cakes and Ale, by W. Somerset Maugham
Book Number 94: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Book Number 93: Selected Poems, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi
Book Number 92: Chess, by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell
Book Number 91: The Nibelungenlied, translated from the medieval German by Cyril Edwards
Book Number 90: Selected Poems, by Al Purdy
Book Number 89: Mr. Palomar, by Italo Calvino (and Three Lives, by Gertrude Stein)
Book Number 88: Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson
Book Number 87: Sweet Home Chicago, by Ashton Grey
Book Number 86: Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments, by Sappho, in a new translation by Aaron Poochigian
Book Number 85: How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff, sent to you by Alice Kuipers
Book Number 84: Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner, sent to you by Émile Martel
Book Number 83: Caligula, by Albert Camus, sent to you by René-Daniel Dubois
Book Number 82: The Grey Islands, by John Steffler, sent to you by Don McKay
Book Number 81: Diary of a Madman, by Lu Xun, sent to you by Charles Foran
Book Number 80: For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down, by David Adams Richards, sent to you by Steven Galloway
Book Number 79: Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White, sent to you by Alice Kuipers
Book Number 78: Century, by Ray Smith, sent to you by Charles Foran
Book Number 77: King Leary, by Paul Quarrington, sent to you by Steven Galloway
Book Number 76: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Book Number 75: Nadirs, by Herta Müller
Book Number 74: Eunoia, by Christian Bök
Book Number 73: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
Book Number 72: Books: a memoir, by Larry McMurtry
Book Number 71: The Financial Expert, by R. K. Narayan
Book Number 70: Tropic of Hockey, by Dave Bidini
Book Number 69: Property, by Valerie Martin
Book Number 68: Generation A, by Douglas Coupland
Book Number 67: Waiting for the Barbarians, by J.M. Coetzee
Book Number 66: What Is Stephen Harper Reading?, brought to you by dozens of great writers
Book Number 65: The Tartar Steppe, by Dino Buzzati
Book Number 64: The Virgin Secretary’s Impossible Boss, by Carole Mortimer
Book Number 63: Flaubert’s Parrot, by Julian Barnes
Book Number 62: Everyman, by Philip Roth
Books Number 61: Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, stories and pictures by Maurice Sendak
Book Number 60: The Tin Flute, by Gabrielle Roy, translated by Hannah Josephson
Books Numbers 58 and 59: Runaway, by Alice Munro, and The Door, by Margaret Atwood, with Camino, music by Oliver Schroer
Book Number 57: Hiroshima Mon Amour, a screenplay by Marguerite Duras and a movie by Alain Resnais
Book Number 56: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Book Number 55: The Gift, by Lewis Hyde
Books Numbers 53 and 54: Louis Riel, by Chester Brown, and The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, by Yukio Mishima, translated by John Nathan
Book Number 52: Burning Ice: Art & Climate Change, a collaboration organized by David Buckland and the Cape Farewell Foundation
Book Number 51: Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare
Book Number 50: Jane Austen: A Life, by Carol Shields
Book Number 49: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
Book Number 48: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Book Number 47: The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, by Michael Ignatieff
Book Number 46: Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965-1999, by Paul McCartney
Book Number 45: Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges
Book Number 44: The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck
Book Number 43: The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett
Book Number 42: Gilgamesh, in an English version by Derrek Hines
Book Number 41: Gilgamesh, in an English version by Stephen Mitchell
Book Number 40: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
Book Number 39: Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones
Book Number 38: Anthem, by Ayn Rand
Book Number 37: A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift
Book Number 36: Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O’Connor
Book Number 35: Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas
Book Number 34: The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Book Number 33: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Book Number 32: The Rez Sisters, by Tomson Highway
Book Number 31: Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Book Number 30: The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy
Book Number 29: Drown, by Junot Díaz
Book Number 28: Read All About It!, by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush
Book Number 27: To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
Book Number 26: Birthday Letters, by Ted Hughes
Book Number 25: The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi, by Larry Tremblay
Book Number 24: Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett
Book Number 23: Artists and Models, by Anaïs Nin
Book Number 22: Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Book Number 21: The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
Book Number 20: The Educated Imagination, by Northrop Frye
Books Number 19: The Brothers Lionheart, by Astrid Lindgren; Imagine a Day, by Sarah L. Thomson and Rob Gonsalves; and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg
Book Number 18: Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
Book Number 17: The Island Means Minago, by Milton Acorn
Book Number 16: Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Book Number 15: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
Book Number 14: Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Book Number 13: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Book Number 12: Maus, by Art Spiegelman
Book Number 11: The Watsons, by Jane Austen
Book Number 10: Miss Julia, by August Strindberg
Book Number 9: Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel García Márquez
Book Number 8: Short and Sweet: 101 very short poems, edited by Simon Armitage, published by Faber and Faber
Book Number 7: Candide, by Voltaire
Book Number 6: Bonjour Tristesse, by Françoise Sagan
Book Number 5: The Bhagavad Gita
Book Number 4: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, by Elizabeth Smart
Book Number 3: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
Book Number 2: Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Book Number 1: The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
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2 Responses to Yann Martel: The Literate Leader

  1. plumerainbow says:

    Hello bookjunkie! An interesting video you’ve posted here.

    I must say that as much as I think Life of Pi is a brilliant & wonderfully written book, I cannot agree with its writer’s opinion in this video. Reading fiction is (apart from living it as Martel says) but one way to explore the human emotion & sensitivities. Sure reading fiction can move and form the mind, but these sensitivities are also explored through other forms of culture, be they music or art (visual, performance or otherwise). Maybe I will write Yann Martel a letter(or 93 letters) about my views and see whether he will respond. 🙂

    That is not to say that I’m not curious about what famous people are reading. I remember reading about a little trivia that LKY would read Tom Clancy novels while his wife would prefer Jane Austen novels. But curiosity is quite different from advocating fiction reading.

    • bookjunkie says:

      I too had a bit of an issue with the novel being elevated over all other art forms. Wasn’t too sure about that. Seemed a bit unfair.

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