Tuesday, February 09, 2010

An Evening with Yann Martel

Scene from "The Keeper" coming to the Station Arts Centre March 3-14

It was a great evening; most people I talked to agreed. Yann Martel came to the Station Arts Centre and he and his wife and their baby mingled with about 50 or 60 of us in a fund-raiser to kick off the project to re-roof the library. The library board had done a great job; good food, some local poets reading and words from a great author. A summary doesn’t do it justice, of course. Two high school students read from their poetry and a member of our writers’ group enthralled the audience with imagery that literally pings off people’s experiences of life.

Martel’s wife, Alice Kuipers, read from her novel—about to be published—and then it was Yann’s turn. Yann has set himself a project to send Stephen Harper a different book every two weeks along with a letter suggesting why he—as Prime Minister—ought to read this book. Martel reminded us that when Canada’s political leaders were all asked what their favourite book might be, Harper chose Guiness Book of World Records, a book most of us enjoyed—when we were twelve! He read us several of his letters to the PMO.

Yann’s view is that fiction reading is essential to the balanced development of every person. He says that in the reading of the novel, one allows an alternative view into one’s consciousness and lives with it for a while. Sort of a walking-for-a-time in another’s shoes. What this provides is a moral, ethical exercise, an accepted invitation to reconsider one’s own worldview and an opening of the door to honest dialogue.

I agree. In a recent interview I did with the local paper, I said that I consider the art of the short story to be a natural progression from the parables used to teach in earlier times. Stories are not only that, of course. At their best, they also offer relief from the sameness of our days, recreation of our spirits and repeated reminders that the world is a whole lot bigger and provides many more possibilities than our day to day striving would lead us to believe.

In other words, a person who does not read voraciously and who doesn’t have a history of appreciation for novels and short stories can hardly be fit--in at least one aspect--to lead a nation. Something is bound to be missing, and it may be the most vital element of all.

If you don’t know Yann Martel, read Life of Pi, winner of the Man Booker prize of 2002. It’s scheduled to be the basis of a movie soon.

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