Arts & Culture

Best-selling Canadian author coming to the library

By Lorraine Graves

Published 11:06 PDT, Tue July 30, 2019

Last Updated: 11:03 PDT, Thu August 15, 2019

Author Yann Martel loves libraries.

Author Yann Martel loves libraries.

“Libraries play a vital role in our society. They are a genuine open public space. There are not that many of them anymore,” the "Life of Pi" author says.

Martel joins the three cities book club at our library on Aug. 1 to discuss his most famous work, for which he won the Man Booker Prize. It has also been adapted into a movie with major world-wide theatrical release.

This summer, the Richmond Public Library offers all the usual support for readers, learners, and explorers. In addition to the summer reading clubs, the book club draws in people of all cultures and languages, particularly including our two sister cities in China Xiamen and Qingdao through a video link. Good stories, well-told are truly universal.

Martel declines many invitations from libraries. So why did he accept Richmond’s invitation?

“One book, three cities, and in China, I’ve never done that. It’s a lovely thing this brotherhood, sisterhood of cities. It’s a lovely thing to do. Book clubs are a wonderful way of knitting relationships together,” he says.

"Life of Pi" speaks of a parent’s fierce love for their child. Martel has four children under the age of 10. His love of books, learning, and his children informs his reason for living in Saskatoon after a life-time of calling the world’s far-flung cities home.

“I was tired of knowing only a few people exactly like me whereas in Saskatoon, when we moved here I knew cabinet minister and very quickly got to know this mom on welfare—a whole spectrum of people.”

Martel finds that reflected in the libraries and school system in a province with very few private schools. He likes that the sons and daughters of high flying executives go to the same schools as all the other children, regardless of income or status.

“Saskatchewan has a history of egalitarianism,” he says.

It was the Saskatoon library that took him to the Canadian prairies in 2003. Martel arrived to be writer-in-residence and stayed on in the city, spending 11 years on the library advisory board.

He speaks of what a safe place libraries are.

“When I was on the library board, I used to hear touching stories of how, when they were closing, they would find some little kid bursting into tears. Their parents had dropped them off at the library for the entire day because they couldn’t afford daycare. They obviously felt it was a safe place. Libraries, they play a vital role in our society.”

He says they are all open for everyone to use. Fresh off Sanctum Survivor, three days living on the streets in the poorest neighbourhood of his community, where most of the homeless are Indigenous, and in a city with struggling with the long tentacles of residential schools and racism, Martel says, “A homeless Indigenous person can get on the internet, as much as an empowered white lawyer. They are all open for everyone.”

“That’s why we’ve stayed on here. I love the weather and the community.”

Martel’s eyes weren’t opened to the possibilities of a good public library until his family moved from France to Canada: “I remember being stunned at the public libraries in Ottawa. I was 11. The libraries were friendly. They helped you find books. It was an extraordinarily rich system.”

Availing themselves of all the literature they can, Martel and his partner, author Alice Kuipers, live book-filled lives with their four children.

“We read to our children every single night. Our son Field just turned 10. He loves reading. Lola who is 8, just tipped into reading for herself.” He says they go deaf to the world when they immerse themselves in a book.

And libraries figure in Martel’s advice to aspiring writers: “The key thing is you have to read, especially when you’re young.” He suggests young people devour literature.

“Young writers, you have to read; you have to see how others played with words, before you try yourself.”

Calling writing both an art and a craft, requiring more than a good idea, Martel says, “There’s an art to writing. You can have a great story in you but if you don’t have a great skill (it won’t have impact). The way to get that is through writing.”

“(Writing) absolutely is a craft. There is no set way to get it.”

Saying writing and creativity are a delicate flame that can be snuffed out easily, Martel says, “You have to have luck to have that flame nurtured.”

The public will have their chance to ask their questions of Martel, listen to him read from Life of Pi and have him sign copies of his books at the main Brighouse branch of the Richmond Public Library on Thursday, Aug. 1 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The event is now fully subscribed but you can ask the library to place you on a waiting list. 

Martel is looking forward to the event. “It will be great to interact with readers, interact with people whether they like it or not,” he says with a smile in his voice.

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