After I finished the book, I wandered around the internet reading interviews with Martel. I came across this one from The Guardian and I love this part:
For the last three years Martel has been sending fortnightly letters and books to the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper – an attempt to educate him in the ways of great literature. Martel was prompted to act as a literary godfather when Harper cited The Guinness Book of Records as his favourite book, and by his failure to recognise the importance of the arts generally. "I'm doing it to point out that literature's not just entertainment," he explains. "It is an essential tool to look at the human condition. I don't care if fellow citizens read or not; it's not up to me to say how people should live their lives. But I believe people who lead should read."
He says that, in Harper, he sensed "a man who was a narrow ideologue, in part because he hasn't read. He lacks empathy because he hasn't read literature. If literature does one thing, it makes you more empathetic by making you live other lives and feel the pain of others. Ideologues don't feel the pain of others because they haven't imaginatively got under their skins."
This idea of literature as a tool to shape a person has stayed with me. Not just literature, but all of the arts. I've been thinking about this for the past few weeks, especially since I heard that Borders is closing all of it's stores. It seems to me like another symptom of this unknown disease that is creeping up on us: the bankruptcy of a major bookstore, the use of texting abbreviations in conversations, the constant stream of apps that are designed to make life easier but seem to just eat up time, the increasing divide between "online" and "in real life" - or maybe it's the diminishing divide between the two. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, and I'll have to come back to it because I'm out of time now.