Monday, June 25, 2007

Book Club

Oh when is there going to be a James Bond book suggested?? Uh, that's a Corner Gas reference in case other people aren't as addicted, er well versed, with the show as I.

I've been thinking about this day approaching and fastly trying to get through the last of the first four books. I was starting to catch up; I was only one book behind (well almost) and praying that today's selection would be something I had already read so as to remove some of the reading pressure (especially with the final installment of the Harry Potter series coming out soon).

No such luck; apparently my stillness needs as many suggestions as Stephen Harper's (hopefully this is only one of a few things I have in common with Stehphen Harper) That's okay, though, I'll take them. With the exception of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, which I am really, really trying to get through (I know, it's short but it's just so flowery), I have enjoyed the selections (uh, all three of them if you count Animal Farm) immensely. My only complaint of the Tolstoy one was that it was too short. It has definitely made me want to read other Tolstoy works and I can honestly say I didn't have any desire to read them before (even though I thought I probably should read War and Peace). The Agatha Christie selection has renewed my interest in her works as well (even though I had the murderer figured out right off the bat - something in the letter that accompanied the suggestion tipped me off but having re-read the letter I can't put my finger on what it was).

Besides reading the books and the possibility of discussing them in real life with other people who may have already, or will shortly, be finishing them; I'm enjoying a couple other things about this project of Yann Martel's. One is trying to piece together the secondary messages he might be sending the PM. The other is imagining some bureaucrat having to respond to these letters every two weeks. So far, I've been disappointed, though, because there has only been one response to date and it was sent from the Assistant to the PM and quite succinctly said thank you for the book. I know if I had been the bureaucrat responsible for writing the response that would come from the Assistant to the PM (well first off, I would have recommended that the response come from the PM himself) I couldn't have left this line alone:

"That is the greatness of literature, and its paradox, that in reading about fictional others we end up reading about ourselves. Sometimes this unwitting self-examination provokes smiles of recognition, while other times, as in the case of this book, it provokes shudders of worry and denial. Either way, we are the wiser, we are existentially thicker."

I would have wanted to indicate some agreement with the statement and I really would have wanted to make a suggestion back (not that I ever would because it would only make things worse, but I would have wanted to). If I were the bureaucrat responsible for responding to the letters from Yann, I probably would have sat at my desk struggling with how I could thank him for providing the book while addressing the reason for sending them in the first place (likely by making some reference to the level of arts funding per capita in Canada versus other industrialized countries, or a particular reference to the number of great books authored in part because of the Canada Arts Council). Once I had finished delicately balancing these things I likely would have written a very long draft. But when I proofed my letter undoubtedly, I would have come up with something like this:

Dear Mr. Martel:

Thank you for your recent letter and the copy of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych. I appreciated reading your comments and insights and look forward to (re)-reading this novel.

Stephen Harper

After sitting at my desk painstakingly considering the cleverest of responses, the letter I would have written would have been almost identical to the one that was sent. But that is how it goes - the stuff you struggle the most over often ends up on the cutting-room floor and the simplest things are what you send. The stuff you cut, it's better without, and less is more (well maybe it's not more but it's safer). I'm not sure if I'd get away with putting re-reading in there but I'd want to, I'd want to indicate that reading brilliant works is old hat and Yann Martel doesn't need to be sending in the books. This, of course, is no reflection on my real feelings on the matter, just what I'd adopt if I were charged with responding to the letters (I mean we all know Canada hasn't had a PM this arrogant since the early 80s, right?).


Nancy said...

I really need to go back to school.....

Cammy said...

Meh, that post is error-riddled. First of all, the letter would probably be case work that would never make it to the bureaucracy. Secondly, Yann Martel is trying to make a point about the importance of arts funding so going with a line about Canada's per capita arts funding (which is middle of the road at best) probably wouldn't be that smart. Save your money.

Mandy said...

oh my god, i feel like i've just read a whole lotta greek...i think i need to go back to school also!

Anonymous said...

urm. I'm feeling guilty about not having read any of the books. Except Animal Farm, which I had already read. Actually, I haven't even read your post. crap. I suck at book clubs.


Cammy said...

So glad Animal Farm was on the list - it's given all of us a free pass. The Elizabeth Smart one is terrible (I think ) so if you're going to skip one that's the one I'd recommend skipping. Maybe in four months or so what we should do is just pick the five books we're most intrigued by and give ourselves a month to read each of them and discuss?