For over two years, Life of Pi author Yann Martel has been sending books that have “been known to expand stillness” to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Beginning with Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich on April 16, 2007, Martel has sent a book every two weeks “ for a total of 57 books to date “ to the PM’s office on Parliament Hill, each with a cover letter explaining his choice. Martel documents each package he sends to the PM on his website, “What Is Steven Harper Reading?”
Except for a short note from one of Harper’s assistants thanking him for the “comments and suggestions” in his first letter, Martel has received complete silence in reply to his mailings. At least, that was the case until late April, when he received a reply to his package containing books number 53 and 54 (Chester Brown’s Louis Riel and Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea). From The Globe and Mail:
A little over two weeks later, an acknowledgment letter from an S. Russell, “executive correspondence officer” for Harper, landed on Martel’s doorstep, expressing “appreciation” for his “thoughtful gesture.” Another came shortly thereafter, dated May 1 and again signed by S. Russell, this one thanking Martel for providing William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar while acknowledging Martel’s concerns about policy changes to the Canadian Periodical Fund and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council that the novelist had addressed in his covering letter. On May 11, Martel sent out his 55th book, Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, and darned if on May 22 another “executive correspondence officer,” L. A. Lavell, didn’t reply “ but without mentioning the book.
Martel admits that the sudden frequency of replies is unexpected and curious. He further explained his thoughts to the Globe:
Did the PMO reply because Louis Riel is still pertinent? Did they reply to my gift of Caesar because in that letter I mentioned SSHRC funding and the Canadian Periodical Fund? Are they trying to placate me because the Conservatives are not doing well in the polls? I have no idea.
Regardless of the PMO’s objectives, it seems Martel may have an ulterior motive for continuing his campaign: What is Stephen Harper Reading? Yann Martel’s Recommended Reading for a Prime Minister (and Book Lovers of All Stripes) is being published by Vintage Canada in early November.