Typing Fast and Sitting Still

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Blogging and stillness seem to be contradictory activities: I, along with many others, think of blogging as the relentless and hasty documentation of modern life on the go, news-in-brief for busybusy people. And yet what bloggers are often attempting is to draw careful attention to the overlooked and underseen, to stop us in our tracks and make us wonder at what we might otherwise miss.

What is Stephen Harper Reading? makes that explicit. Yann Martel, one of Canada’s most vital and daring writers, took a vow, a little over two years ago, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Canada Council for the Arts. He resolved to send Canada’s conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, “…every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written.” The website gives the books and Martel’s letters to accompany each.

Harper is not a stupid man but he has some (in my opinion) stupid positions, and Martel’s mission seems in part fueled from a fear that national leaders all too easily use busyness as an excuse not to think. The letters are personal and thoughtful and the project, because it is publicly disseminated but addressed to the Canadian Prime Minister, has the delightful air of a personal—if unrequited—correspondence revealed.

I have a fondness for gestures of seeming futility, particularly ones that give the appearance of slyness while still seeming ridiculous. I think my affection stems from history: activism often appears, on the surface, hopeless. Then, every once in a while, against all expectation, it works! Equally miraculous to me are intersections between literature and politics, contradictory enterprises fueled by contradiction. And drama. And blogging. And maybe, someday, stillness.

Martel received a form response to his first gift book, and recently received several in a row, after two years of unflagging generosity.


Padma Viswanathan's most recent novel is The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. More at her website: WWW.PADMAVISWANATHAN.COM More from this author →