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What is Stephen Harper Reading?: Yann Martel's Recommended Reading for a Prime Minister and Book Lovers of All Stripes
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What is Stephen Harper Reading?: Yann Martel's Recommended Reading for a Prime Minister and Book Lovers of All Stripes

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  451 ratings  ·  42 reviews
“I know you’re very busy, Mr. Harper. We’re all busy. But every person has a space next to where they sleep, whether a patch of pavement or a fine bedside table. In that space, at night, a book can glow. And in those moments of docile wakefulness, when we begin to let go of the day, then is the perfect time to pick up a book and be someone else, somewhere else, for a few m ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 5th 2009 by Vintage Canada
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Start your review of What is Stephen Harper Reading?: Yann Martel's Recommended Reading for a Prime Minister and Book Lovers of All Stripes
Jan 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The best part of this book is the concept. Martel was challenged by a reader to defend his "book club" with the PM. He asks "Is asking Stephen Harper to account for his reading habits irrelavent? Worse: is it improper and dishonorable, attacking the private man rather than his public policies?" I really admire his answer: "As lon 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 b ...more
Mar 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this as it was being published on Martel'w website. It was unfailingly interesting to see what he was recommending, and why. I especially enjoyed hearing Martel's growing pique at the long-life of Harper's political seat...Martel couldn't conceive of a populace that would re-elect a man of Harper's gifts (or not).

I loved that Martel took the time to structure something for both Harper and Canadians in general about how best to go about informing themselves. It was meant to be a short-ter
Mary Lou
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
For several years Martel has maintained a private, and very one-sided, book club with Stephen Harper. This book is a record of the letters he’s sent to accompany the second-hand copies of the actual books he’s also sent as recommended prime ministerial reading. The list is odd, and oddly touching, two of the criteria for choosing books being that they have something important to say and that they be short - because a PM has limited reading time. Martel insists that, while a private citizen’s rea ...more
Mar 28, 2010 rated it really liked it

What is Stephen Harper Reading?

A review by Ben Antao

Yann Martel, 46, the 2002 Man Booker prize winner for his novel Life of Pi, has published an interesting non-fiction book titled What is Stephen Harper Reading?, a series of letters to the Prime Minister of Canada urging him to find time to fill his mind with good books. Martel’s recommendations span an eclectic spectrum of novels, plays, poetry, short stories, children’s books, memoir, biography, history and philosophy.

What excited and imp
Feb 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Yann Martel is a Canadian publishing superstar. Author of Life of Pi, which has won a bucketful of awards, he started a campaign on April 16, 2007 to get Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pay more attention to the arts, for which his conservative government seem to almost take glee in cutting funding.

His method was to start a book club, one where he would send a book every two weeks to Stephen Harper with an accompanying letter explaining why Martel had chosen the book and some of the hi
Easy read. Overall impression: meh. Patronizing tone that made me feel annoyed more often than not. Some new books I'll add to my tbr pile nevertheless. ...more
Dec 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful collection of books I now want to read accompanied by delightfully well thought out ironic/cynical/sarcastic letters to my favorite douchebag.
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I would like to know if Stephen Harper read any of the choices Mr. Martel sent. I know I added a few to my reading list.

I love Mr. Master's writing style. I appreciated his honesty regarding the books he does not like, but still recommends because some books still need to be read and they help refine your tastes. In some ways it's like a high school English reading list.... a few classics, a few local authors, a few different styles, all worthy in some way. Experimenting with authors and styles
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A delightful book--I love Yann Martel! The impetus was an event attended by Martel and the (still) Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. Harper appeared to Martel bored with the arts. Martell vowed to educate Harper by mailing him biweekly books with commentaries about the book. The commentaries serve as political bullets. Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of replies from the Honorable Harper such that, after four years of a largely solo correspondence, Martell ceased this activity in F ...more
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 really (I need more options)
Our bookclub was reading all Canadian authors in homage to Canada 150 (yes, we only started in September) and we wanted to read something by Yann Martel since he is considered one of our best authors. Since we'd already read Life of Pi, I found this one to add to the list, mainly because I thought it sounded quite intriguing. And, certainly, that is how I would describe it... I found certain chapters very interesting and quite humerous (in a sarcastic way). I also
Pat Mills
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those frustrated with politics
This book was the voice of reason for me, with respect to the arts at that time. Thought and reason seemed to be in short supply in the political world and here was an author who clearly found that lack unacceptable. What a welcome bit of humour and wisdom to savour and enjoy. Also it made me feel less alone in a big bustling city.
Denise Goodkey
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Funny ( sending up Harper ) but inspiring as it gives you a whole raft of books to read, with descriptions. You no doubt have read many if not most but it is a god guide to some really great books.
Charu Uppal
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Started reading it when it was still a website. Heard about it on an NPR story. Started following the blog, but lost track. Was so happy to find it as a book. The book takes some of the most read and respected books from around the world and provides a summary contextualising the reason why the book should be read. If want a list of books to read, this is it. If you are a Yann Martel fan, even better!
Mar 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
- By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept - Elizabeth Smart
- Bonjour Tristesse - Francoise Sagan
- Short and Sweet - 101 Very Short Poems - Simon Armitage
- Artists and Models - Anais Nin
- Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes
- To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
- Gilgamesh - an english version by Derrek Hines
- The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror - Michael Ignatieff

"If the earth could gather itself up, could bring together every animal, every mountain and valley, every plain and oce
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is hard to find since it was never published in an American edition but it is a book that should be in all libraries and read by every politician. Martel puts it quite succinctly "To citizens who aspire to be successful leaders, this is the simplest way I can put it: if you want to lead, you must read." The letters are often funny and include so many insights into authors and reading. I am happy to say I now have my copy autographed. Martel was Montana State University's 2013 freshman ...more
Hayden Ellington
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes list of books.
Recommended to Hayden by: Mary
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was very interesting, as the five stars prove; it was an amazing book for me. I had many books to read before reading this book, but now the list suddenly got bigger. It was someone who recommended it to me and I borrowed it from her. It's almost sad she wants it back, even my mom wants to have a look at it before a return it.

The books is actually a non-fiction and the letters written by Yann Martel are very nice and his opinions very interesting. A couple of his letters made me pause
Ali Forest
Jul 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
I don't quite know how to rate this book. On one hand, there are some great selections made. Good essays on the books chosen are included. On the other hand, this is more than a little condescending. I understand the root of this was the author's irritation at (what was) the current government's lack of interest or acknowledgment for the arts. Fine, I get that. However, he is running a country and never asked you to form him a book club. I mean, what is the guy supposed to have responded with? W ...more
I will read basically any book on the love of reading. Martel certainly recommends a host of books that I plan on adding to my reading list, but also gives a frequent gems of commentary on the act of reading and writing, from an author's perspective. I could have lived without his constant politics (a personal pet peeve of mine is when non-Americans feel the need to criticize and comment on U.S. politics), but I suppose the topic is hard to stay away from when you are writing the Prime Minister. ...more
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Read every one of these reviews/essays while the website was still live. I am not a great admirer of Martel's writing, having had lacklustre experiences with Life of Pi and Beatrice and Virgil, but here his casual narration fits in perfectly. It also helps that Martel loves not only these books, but also the idea of books and believes in their power to salvage humanity, and I personally think that the medium of essay suits his talents best. It's a pity you have to buy a book now, but I still thi ...more
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: interesting, funny
Yann Martel, the author of "The Life Of Pi", clearly wrote this book for book lovers in a format of letters to our prime minister, Stephen Harper. It was very interesting in terms of response from our Prime Minister himself. I enjoyed Mr.Martel's view on such books including Animal Farm, etc. It is very likable, and this book is also somethings of value, since it is a Red Maple Book. Clearly, this is an enjoyable read and information source for all book lovers. ...more
Mar 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Great concept!! I am Canadian. Steven Harper is Calgarian. I also live in Calgary. It was interesting enough on those levels to me at first, for those reasons.

Reading it, gave me new reasons to like it. A book recommending other books is a delight. Especially when reasons for recommending them, are equally interesting to read. Loved the reality of this author's interaction with the Prime Minister. Great idea; wish I had thought of it!
Aug 17, 2010 rated it liked it
I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the title. There are only a couple of books on the reading list - that I have actually read, and only a couple that I intend to read. I did like the premise of the book and the fact that Yann sent a letter to the Prime Minister with each book. There are a couple of books on the list I intend to tackle - in the audio version probably.
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow what a fun, interesting and beautifully written plea for literacy in our leader! Martel's letters to the PM are gorgeous pieces of writing in their own right. The letter re: 2 children's books he sends Harper in Dec 2007 was my favourite, I have read it over several times, pure art! Just put 4 of the books on my next book order. ...more
Aug 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Gotta love Martel's sense of humour and persistence in sending all those letters and books to our Prime Minister. Pretty sure it was all lost on him (Harper), but thankfully Martel shared it with the audience. I'm keeping this book so I can (eventually) read all the pieces referenced in it. A great checklist for literature of our times. ...more
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thoth, oh-canada
Brilliant! Here we have a collection of interesting and thoughtful letters that celebrate reading and subtly, artfully book-shame a grown man who says his favorite title is the Guinness Book of World Records. What more could a reader want? (Actually, I would have preferred it a little more secular, but you can't have everything.) ...more
Crystal Allen
I saw this book sitting on my boss' book shelf and asked to borrow it. The radio station that I listen to on my morning commute used to talk about the book's that Yann Martel was sending to Stephen Harper. I'm intrigued to look at the full list of books and find out why he sent each one. ...more
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Yann Martel reminded me why I love read so much. I love that he doesn't just recommend books that everyone is 'supposed' to read. He got me reading graphic novels, kid's books and even more poetry. So good! ...more
Martha Fergusson
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful rekindle of old memories of friends i knew in the past ( books) and looking at them with Yann's comments. There was a handul i had not read but will be adding them to my to do list for reading. Excellent concept I would recommend it to anyone that loves books.
Reading the French translation of the book.
Nov 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I LOVE this book.


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Yann Martel is the author of Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs—tre ...more

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