Wednesday, February 4, 2009

This is fantastic!

I was reading Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Twitter posts (this is the Yarn Harlot for all you non-knitting Muggles) and I saw that she mentioned a certain web page.

It was this one: What is Stephen Harper Reading. Now, if you are not Canadian or choose not to concern yourself with the politics of surrounding countries (that's a mistake, Mexico's chaotic drug war is crossing our border and has already caused at least one kidnapping within our country, not to mention what happens to people in Mexico, which is much worse). Canada's Prime Minister, although maybe not for much longer, is Stephen Harper.

The page I linked to is managed by an author who sends Mr. Harper a book every two weeks. The books are selected for their ability to impart a sense of peace on the reader, with the hope that reading them will bring him stillness. For good reason, if you know anything about Mr. Harper and his positions (especially regarding the arts, which got my favorite knitting celebrity in a tither).

The reading list alone is amazing, I recommend most of the books on it (the ones I don't I haven't read--yet).

Yann Martel started the web page, selecting each book and writing a note and an inscription before sending them off to the Prime Minister. In case you don't know, Martel wrote The Life of Pi--which one the Booker Prize (That is a big deal). I will let him explain his motivation; I hope you all read it.

The point of this post; though, is not to congratulate Yann Martel for the awesome reading list, nor to point a finger at any political figure beyond the borders of the USA--we have had our own massive problems of late in that department.

My point is to ask: "Why didn't someone try that with President George W. Bush?"

So I typed the question, "What is George W. Bush Reading" into Google.

I found many references to an interview Karl Rove gave, describing the former president's reading habits. However, I didn't find any projects like Martel's.

I wondered why. President Bush was mocked, deservedly, for his demeanor. Quotes taken from his speeches were made into "Bushisms" and published, repeatedly. He was called uninformed, uneducated. And that was just by me. Then it hit me. There were several good reasons no one tried to give him a reading list. He is married to a (former) librarian. Laura Bush could have given him any number of good books. Alternately, Cheney would have tried to ban any controversial/against message books that crossed the desk of the president. I presume. And he already had one. At least in 2006.

No matter what Bush read or didn't read during his time in the White House, he stayed the same man. Meaning either his book list wasn't one that led to self-improvement, or his books confirmed his core belief system.

When we read, no matter what our book choices are, we ought to keep an open mind, approach each novel with the goal of hearing the author's message and learning what we can from it. This was why I read the Twilight series even though I wanted to tear my eyes out through all four novels. I learned how to write a good hook from those novels. I also learned that, if you want to read Wuthering Heights, you should just read it. Don't buy a series of novels that are disguised as a different story but actually are, simply, longer versions of Wuthering Heights. With more vampires. And werewolves.

I'm sorry no one thought to provide our former president with good, insightful books. Even if nothing he read changed him or showed him the value of the arts in our country, it would have been a nice way to reach out to someone so many flaming liberal artists (that would be me, again) disagreed with so passionately.

I've read through this post again and have to say, it could have been planned better. Usually I try to end with a bit of a conclusion. But there isn't one, in this case. Just a recommendation: Read a good book, once and a while. Put down the magazines and read a good book. There is a table in every large bookstore marked "noteworthy paperbacks." Just grab something that looks interesting and give it a try. You might not like what you read but try to keep an open mind. Look at how the writer composes his sentences. Look at descriptions, imagery. Try to picture each character in your mind. Examine their similarities and differences to other characters, and how they grow through the book. And as you turn the last pages, think about the why behind the novel. What was the reason the author sat down to write the story he/she wrote.

Then, when someone talks about slashing library budgets, taking books out of school libraries, or cutting funding for the arts, ask yourself if your favorite book could have been written without those grants. Ask if you would be the same if you hadn't been able to go to a library as a child. Ask what would happen to you, how your life would change, if you couldn't afford to buy books. Ask if the world we live in would be improved, really improved, if the arts were abandoned the way so many politicians advocate in times of economic turmoil.

Oh well, thanks for listening.

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