From the Stacks: Don’t judge an author by her words

Scott: Not everything is as it seems in the world of literary politics

What do you think about a writer that says something in public that shocks you greatly, or that you disagree with strongly? Would you immediately strike them from your ‘to read someday’ list?

Such could be the case with Hilary Mantel, two-time Man Booker Prize winning author of Wolf Hall and recently, Bring Up the Bodies.

Recently, as a lecturer at the British Museum for the London Review of Books, Ms. Mantel made comments about the Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. Quotes such as, “a plastic princess designed to breed”  and “that she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore” appeared in British newspapers, the reporters following that up with their judgment that Mantel’s speech contained “an astonishing and venomous attack on the Duchess of Cambridge.”

As it turns out, this was a case of lazy journalism, where phrases are cherry-picked out of context.

The purpose can only be assumed to be to sell more papers, regardless of content quality. My reaction at first was, ‘oh no, how could such an intelligent writer say something so stupid?’

Which really answers itself, as, she didn’t say anything that stupid. I chose to take to the Internet and search out the speech, reading it for myself.

Hilary Mantel’s comments, in my humble opinion, and that of some others, pointed to how the media portrays women in general and royal women such as the Duchess, how it removes their humanity and makes them objects of body watching and creates a perception of them that can be very misleading.

I am glad I looked deeper and didn’t fall into the ‘believe what you read at first glance’ trap.

It reminds me of what my dear mother used to say, “believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”

And, as a librarian, I add my own advice — do your research!

And truthfully, there aren’t many reasons that would keep me from reading a book if I really wanted to, regardless of the authors opinions in the real world.

Further in the vein of politics and reading (don’t be yawning just yet!) is the book I was intrigued to move to the top of my reading list. It is by another literary award winner, Yann Martel, who wrote Life of Pi (recently taken to the Hollywood screen).

Truly, I did not pick these two authors because of name similarities or the fact they both won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in the past decade. I couldn’t reisist writing about Yann’s latest book, 101 Letters to a Prime Minister: The Complete Letters to Stephen Harper.

After reading the WHOLE introduction, I discovered that Mr. Martel believes it is important to know what his prime minister is reading. It seems this has been nearly impossible to pin down, with only a smidgen of information on this topic being disclosed by Stephen Harper.

He explained when questioned about his reading, that it was mostly non-fiction, but that he has read the Guinness Book of World Records.

Yann Martel states, to him, it is important to know what our national leader reads. What we read, adds to our internal world, our knowledge our ideas. It fuels imagination and creativity.

Yann believes this so strongly that he has taken it upon himself to send a book and a letter about said book to Prime Minister Harper every two weeks since April of 2007.

The 101 Letters book is just a jewel of a read. It is like eavesdropping on a literary conversation, though, the sad part is, it is one sided. Yann received very few acknowledgments of the many books and letters he sent to the PM.

I don’t know how anyone could ignore a correspondence with Mr. Martel, as I found his letters wondrous and would have been thrilled to the point of looking forward to them!

He doesn’t go on ad nauseum, with boring literary clues and ideas, but keeps his comments interesting and crisp, with unique reasoning. When recommending and sending a copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird  to Mr. Harper (again with the similarities!) it was because it was written in rural Alabama English of the 1950s.  When suggesting that he read (or hopefully re-read) the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are Yann wondered if Stephen would have a thought on how Max might be feeling in the story, how his relationship with the monsters was? I am leaning towards agreeing with Yann Martel, that, just as we are what we eat, maybe we are also, what we read.

And on one last non-politically political note, there is an election coming up, sure you have heard, and in order to vote, you must be registered. This year, you will have a chance to register to vote in one of the most democratic places you could think of, your library. Where speech is free, and you can always talk about whose reading what. On Thursday, Mar. 21 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Elections BC will be on site to register you, and answer any questions you may have for them.

Easy, and just like eating your vegetables and reading, this will feel very good!

See you in the stacks AND on the voters list.