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Yann Martel is quite the evangelist. On his website What is Stephen Harper Reading, he chronicles his quest to bring “stillness” to the life of our Prime Minister, a project inspired by his visit to the House of Commons approximately two years ago. Martel explains that “I was thinking that to have a bare-bones approach to arts funding, as the present Conservative government has, to think of the arts as mere entertainment, to be indulged in after the serious business of life, that—in conjunction with retooling education so that it centres on the teaching of employable skills rather than the creating of thinking citizens—is to engineer souls that are post-historical, post-literate and pre-robotic; that is, blank souls wired to be unfulfilled and susceptible to conformism at its worst—intolerance and totalitarianism—because incapable of thinking for themselves, and vowed to a life of frustrated serfdom at the service of the feudal lords of profit.”

Martel’s words are far more eloquent than mine, but reading them re-energized my desire to read, and also to seek stillness in my own life. Martel wants more; he does not proclaim a desire to educate Harper, but to speak to his stillness. He has sent Harper one book every two weeks with a letter enclosed; each book is chronicled on the website. This has been a long project. Harper has received his 52nd book, and has sent one reply through a secretary. I don’t know whether Martel is daunted by this.

We have experienced a period of extreme financial upheaval. Things that seemed rock solid have crumbled away like so much dust; people are frustrated and fearful. It has struck me, as we write our grants, that this is the practicality of literature. It points to the lasting nature of our humanity; it articulates permanence despite fragility.