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Bailing out thought and the imagination Add to ...

By Linda Leith

I'm on your team, Martin. I'm all for a billion dollars, give or take, for the ailing book industry. And your Wednesday post "A Modest Proposal" coincided almost exactly with a Blue Met event featuring the Iranian author Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran (one of the best titles ever) and now Things I've Been Silent About (Random House Canada).

Jian Ghomeshi was supposed to host the event but fog kept him in Toronto, so I introduced Azar Nafisi, and then she simply took the stage to talk about how she came to write this second memoir. At the end of her 40-minute talk in front of about 600 Montrealers, a hundred or more of them Iranian, most of them young, all of them impressed, Nafisi concluded with a plea for reading and writing in these difficult times.

"We're bailing out the banks," she said -- she lives in Washington, D.C., where she teaches at Johns Hopkins -- "and the auto industry. How about bailing out thought and the imagination?"

The crowd loved that. I loved that. As the founder of an organization dedicated to fostering thought and the imagination, how could I not love that?

It may be, as you suggest, that the literary world is a sector from which the Conservative government is unlikely to derive political benefit, but that has everything to do with what the government chooses to do. Here in Quebec, Harper had substantial popular support until he made the mistake of cutting the ProMart and Trade Routes programmes that used to support the promotion of Canadian culture abroad. He's doing it again, now, losing even more support here over the Canada Prize for the Arts, which would cost the government a mere fraction of a billion: just about as much, it appears, as the dollars saved by axing international programs. A sector that can deprive him of political benefit can also bestow political benefit.

So yes, Martin, I'm on your team. Let us persuade Stephen Harper to bail out thought and the imagination.

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