Big Think: Yann Martel and Reading

Yesterday while I was online (really procrastinating), I browse through one of my newest favorite websites, Big Think. Big Think is an online forum that features videos by experts in different disciplines who are asked a question and discuss it. I’ve watched a few of the site’s videos and I’m finding them pretty interesting.

One of the many books I’m currently reading right now is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Many of you stated in the previous post of your love/hate (or just hate/hate) relationship with the book. I’m a few chapters in and so far, I’m really enjoying it.

Martel is also the person behind the site What is Stephen Harper Reading. For the past few years, Martel has sent Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, a book every two weeks that Martel feels Harper should read. On his website readers can find out what books Martel has sent so far and also read the book’s accompanying letter. The author has sent books like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about the Big Think and Yann Martel. Martel is one of the experts on Big Think. I’m featuring a video about what Martel has to say about sending Harper books and receiving a handwritten letter from our president. He also talks about why reading is so important in helping people step out of their comfort zones and know what it feels like to be someone from a totally different background.

My questions for you: Do you agree with Martel on leaders being readers? What was the last book you read that surprised you and took you out of your comfort zone?

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About Vasilly

Mother, daughter, sister, college student, bookworm, lover of chocolate and coffee.
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15 Responses to Big Think: Yann Martel and Reading

  1. I saw Yann Martel speak a few months ago where he spoke of this; I fully agree with him that leaders need to read in order to to empathise and lead. I was shocked that Stephen Harper has never responded to the initiative or read the books (at one point his interns were providing him daily digests of the books in case he was asked what he thought); I had great respect for Obama writing a letter to Martel and the latter memorising it 🙂

    I loved Life of Pi! Your question requires some further thought… I haven’t read much out of my comfort zone recently. Possibly Couples by John Updike.

    • Vasilly says:

      I think it’s so awesome that the president actually wrote Martel a letter – a fan letter at that. The latest book I read that was out of my comfort zone was The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse. It showed me once again how much I’m missing out on.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the links. I do think leaders are readers (or they should be). I’m going to spend quite a lot of time on both websites you’ve written about here!

    • Vasilly says:

      Yay! Glad to hear you’re going to take a look at both sites! It’s pretty interesting to see what other people think about the things that matter to them.

  3. Edi says:

    I enjoy your search for new and different ideas and am glad you blog to share what you find.

    I do agree with Martel but I don’t think leaders, and we are all leaders in our own way, should think that because they have read a few books about any particular people should begin to assume they really know and understand that group. Literature can lay a foundation, relax and open a mind to fully receive and accept those who are different than us, but we have to have real dialogs, rub shoulders and share meals to really know one another.

    • Vasilly says:

      I think being open to reading about people really different from us helps.I definitely agree with you, Edi!I think literature is a start but it does take more than reading a book to know the “other”. I think it’s so important for our youth to read. Literature changes the way we think and see the world as children more than it does when we’re adults.

      You know what I just thought of, Edi? How do we get other people to think of themselves as leaders also? Everyone inspires someone else in some way whether good or bad.

  4. Carin B. says:

    I would hope that our leaders read. I don’t really care if it is fiction or non-fiction (I actually think there is great value to reading both), but I think it helps in understanding the human condition and what makes people tick. I think that is very cool that Yann Martel is sending books to Prime Minister Harper, but if it’s true that he doesn’t read that’s kind of sad. It was embarrassing when there were reports of George W. Bush going to bed at 9:00pm during crises that happened during his presidency. I did like that Bill Clinton and President Obama are readers as well. I don’t know if that really makes them good leaders (they both have had major questionable things occur during their presidencies as well), but at least it shows that they are making an effort to understand the world around them outside of their inner circle of advisors.

    As for the last book I read out of my comfort zone…hmmm…I’ve been trying to do that more and more since I started blogging, but the book that I think I really didn’t want to read but did on my cousin’s recommendation was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t think it had quite the same effect on me that it did on my cousin or on others, but I thought it was well done and made me think about what I put in my body and how the business and regulation of food works. Typically, I think non-fiction is more of a challenge for me because it requires a lot more diligence on my part to pay attention to what is going on. The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose was also pretty challenging but extremely informative!

    I love this post! Life of Pi is my favorite book of all-time. I hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think at the end! 🙂

  5. Andi says:

    Wow, I feel a post of my own coming on as a response to this. Thanks to this video, I think I’ve made my peace with Martel after the Beatrice and Virgil debacle.

    I agree with him, certainly, that we can’t be run by a legion of white, middle-class, males with a single-minded economic/business approach to everything. I just watched Food, Inc. with my classes, and I’m reminded of this overwhelmingly screwy food system we have as a result of this trend Martel is talking about. Without compassion and an understanding for human emotion and well-being, we wind up with a system dominated by money, technicalities, and damaging technology. Reading and an appreciation for fiction might not be the only cure, but it sure wouldn’t hurt.

  6. Wallace says:

    This is fantastic! I have not read Life of Pi, but own it and now want to read it even more. Very interesting, because I wrote about political leaders reading lists ealier this year (or late last year, I can’t remember). I found it very interesting that I could only find reading lists for the male political leaders. The only other reading list that I found was one for Michelle Obama that noted she read mostly children’s fiction to her girls and The Life of Pi was one of her favorites (maybe that was related to this? Perhaps the press secretary through that in for good measure). I find it hard to believe that Michelle Obama, who is arguably even smarter than her intelligent husband, reads only children’s literature. I am sure she does (as she has two children), but I am sure she has other things on her nightstand and I, for one, am dying to know what they are. I also find it hard to believe that President Obama has time to read, but Hilary Clinton does not. Yet, they publish even what male senators and past presidents are currently reading.

    Anyway, getting off of my pro-female soapbox now, I think this is fantastic and LOVE that he sends books to his Prime Minister! I am currently reading Dickens, whom I have never read before. I am reading Bleak House, which is a doorstopper. I am out of my comfort zone in the fact that it is a new-to-me classic author and a BIG amount of reading. But I am finding I am loving it.

    Thanks for the video and the great conversation topic!

  7. Ash says:

    I would agree that to be a good leader you should read, but I think Martel is a little shortsighted in saying that you can only “become” a person through fiction. There are several extremely powerful essays, memoirs, and longer nonfiction works that give you great insight into a world in a way that fiction could not do. I’m not saying leaders should only read nonfiction, but rather read everything. Read Toni Morrison, but also read Notes from No Man’s Land or A Long Way Gone. I don’t think you should read just to understand other people either, but to understand yourself. When I read something really good, that I really enjoy, I feel like I come away with it with a better understanding of who I am. And don’t we want leaders who are self assured and willing to see into themselves?

  8. bookmagic says:

    I think it is important for our leaders to read. reading gives so many ways to look at and experience the world. Reading opens our minds and that is important for any leader. Plus literacy is such a huge issue, they should be setting good examples. I’m disappointed Harper doesn’t read any of these books.

  9. zibilee says:

    I think it’s really important for our leaders to be readers, but in the past, not many of them have been. Over here there has been a big hoopla over President Obama accepting a copy of the latest release by Jonathan Franzen, and the populace is going crazy to get it’s hands on a copy. It’s not even out yet, and what Obama got was actually an ARC from a bookseller, but it’s done a lot to push reading into the mainstream spotlight in the past couple of weeks, which I feel is excellent. I do hope it happens more often.

    The last book I read that really pushed my boundaries was Forest Gate, by Peter Akinti. Very raw and powerful book, but a tad more gruesome and harsh than the things I am used to!

  10. Valerie says:

    A while back, there was a “What is Stephen Harper Reading” challenge which has since ended, and I got myself to read a couple of the books from the list. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at what Yann Martel has sent.

    I’ve read both “Self” and “Life of Pi” by Martel, and recently found another earlier title by him (long name –I’m too lazy to go get it) as a used book.

    By the way, the comments generated by this post are excellent! I’m afraid I don’t have much to add to the dialogue at this point.

  11. Amanda says:

    You know, I don’t really like the whole thing with Yann Martel and Stephen Harper. It makes Mr. Martel seem so arrogant! Then again, I didn’t like LIfe of Pi either, or at least the part I managed to get through.

  12. Pingback: I want Yann Martel to send me books, how about you? « Unputdownables

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