Ever since my commute changed from being an hour long to an hour and a half to two hours long each way, I have been burning through some books. This is definitely a silver lining to an otherwise sucky situation. However, at 1,074 bible thin pages of tiny type, I thought that Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was going to kick my ass and it actually intimidated me a bit. Not because of it’s subject matter but because of the sheer volume of words that a book like this contained. It is, by far, the longest single book I have ever read.
Luckily, this book is so old that I had no real pre-conceptions of what this book would be like because I had no idea what it was about. I vaguely remember the ‘pseudo-intellectuals’ of high school and college talking about the book (and dismissing them as I usually did) but I never knew what it was about and never bothered to find out. Then I played BioShock on my XBox 360 and read the reviews for that game and noticed that this book kept coming up in the comments and comparisons. I was mildly intrigued.
Then it just happened that Muse was asked to collect a stash of books from a family that was leaving Hong Kong and donating all their unwated books to the local used book store and its charities. Of course I helped. I noticed and battered and taped up copy of Atlas Shrugged in that stash and knew that no one would miss it and that it wasn’t worth anything in decent condition much less the state I found it in. So I stuck in my pile of books to read. And then proceeded to avoid it like the plague.
So when I ran out of easy reads I broke down and tried to fit this thousand page beast into my messenger bag. It barely fit so I figured I was stuck with it. From the first day I started reading I was enthralled. I had no idea where the book was going for the first few hundred pages and no idea what was going to happen. Considering when it was written, it has aged quite well and is not written in an arrogant quasi-intellectual way like I had always feared it would be. I guess you could say it’s actually the most arrogantly written book ever written in a certain view but not in the ways I feared.
THIS is the book that I wish I would have read in high school or college and that it might have had some profound effect on my life. However I say this now knowing full well that no matter how intelligent I was then, it wouldn’t have meant nearly as much to me then as it did now. This book deals with life and it’s experiences and they way those experiences are managed and dealt with. For all those high school kids who say they read and understood this book, I say “I doubt it.” Maybe on some level, but I doubt they understood the gravity of what was presented.
Sometimes the dialogue can be a bit forced or cheesey like watching an old movie from the time period. Sometimes the theories and morales can be a bit (read extremely) heavy-handed and repetitive. However, even in it’s repetitiveness, the book seems to be reinforcing instead by introducing slightly new or vaguely different situations or moralities to really drive the point in. I do have to say that the monologues are completely out of control though. When I got to one part where a non-stop monologue was over four pages of tiny text, I thought “Wow. That was insane.” Later in the book there was a 56 page monologue. I shit you not. No one could talk that long.
But this book didn’t deal with common people. They are the backdrop to this story that takes place over many years. This book is more like a story of supermen and the evil villians who oppose them. All the “good guys” are described as gods or goddesses with perfect features and tall bodies and muscular frames and boundless passions. All the “bad guys” are sniveling backstabbers and fat whiners and ugly losers. Ayn Rand seemed to idealize more than the premise of the story. But this alone with that sometimes cheesey dialogue just helps to reinforce the feeling of watching an old black & white movie from the Golden Age. Back when celebrities were noble and graceful instead of the pitiful excuses we have today that can barely stay sober long enough to complete an interview.
This is a book that I will encourage my children to read; but only when they think that they are ready to tackle it. This is not the sort of book that should be forced on someone. If this would have been assigned to me as a reading assignment in school I would have probably burned the building down and taken my red stapler with me. This is a book that is to be read in appreciation of a time long past that could be more prophetic than expected. This age of everyone being too scared to be “politically incorrect” is kind of what this book warns against. Among many other things.
Atlas Shrugged is not a difficult read as I thought it would be. It’s just a very very long read. It does not play to the lowest common denominator and it may not be understood by everyone. I’m not trying to say that you have to be an elitist asshole to grasp this book. Quite the opposite, really. You just have to take it with an open mind and accept that this is not an action filled story in the modern sense. The ‘action’ is in the mental dueling, the wit and deceit, the double-crosses and the acts of resolve in the face of evil.
If you have a chance to read this book – especially if you have never done so – take the time. It’s worth it. But make sure you’ve got some years of life experience under your belt first. Or if you read it when you are young, try reading it again now and see if its changed at all for you. If so, maybe you’ve changed as well.