Atlas Shrugged

I’ve been trying to complete Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged since last November. I’m still not done, although I am almost there. A couple more upcoming flights later, I should hopefully be done. Now coming to why I picked up the book, I had read The Fountainhead (I don’t remember if it was at someones suggestion) back when I was in my undergrad and in the first or second year. I loved the book – I cannot remember why, but I loved it. But I also felt it was a little heavy for my personality – I have generally been a happy go lucky kind of person – I don’t consciously like to be a deep thinker, although I find myself wandering into that territory from time to time without purposely intending to do so. So, while I have known of Atlas Shrugged’s existence since at least then (perhaps even earlier, and this was a good 9 years back!), I never felt like I wanted to read it. I kept myself happy and engaged reading science fiction – you know, nothing about values and what’s right and wrong and all that. πŸ™‚ I also read fast paced action books – it’s mindless and exciting and I prefer it to action movies anyway. (those are even more dumbed down.) I have generally not gone back to reading drama from authors like Grisham, because I find that too slow. Anyway, I was trying to borrow audio books from a public library here in the US, when I stumbled upon Atlas Shrugged again. I tried listening to it while jogging/walking and found that I needed to pay too much attention to the book to be able to multi-task. I had finished an audiobook before this, so I don’t think it was so much an inability on my part to multi-task, but this book demanded more from me in terms of attentiveness and cognition. So I decided to borrow the actual book from the library so that I could focus on the one task of reading the book, and instantly found myself wishing that I had borrowed the e-book instead. This is a 1200+ page book, and isn’t light on the hands. So, then I started with the e-book, and was reading at a steady clip – 50+ pages a day at night before retiring to bed. By December, I was making steady progress, but couldn’t read the book at the pace I normally do – I know Rand uses too many adjectives πŸ˜€ (somebody should do an analysis of it. A quick web-search didn’t yield any results, although Atlas Shrugged is supposedly one of the longest books written.) and that slows you down a tad. I then carried my Nook e-reader to India and on my way back, managed to put a lot of crap into my back-pack and managed to crack the screen. I was stuck again, without knowing where I had left off on the book. It took me a few months before I bought a Kobo Aura to replace the broken Nook, and continued reading again. It’s mid-July right now, and if I keep at it for a little longer, I will close in on a year and this would have been the longest I have taken to complete a book. πŸ™‚ (Actually, I think I did take longer to complete First Among Equals – but there I purposely took a break, because I didn’t initially find it captivating enough.)

I wanted to write my impressions of what I thought of the book, because it is a book that makes you sit downΒ up and take notice and think. It also presents ideas that are polarizing – many will agree with it, while many presumably hate Rand for her philosophies. I have felt strongly about certain things all my life, and Rand’s ideas seem to be on similar lines, although, I had never given word to my thoughts so explicitly or clearly. I have also never been able to absolutely stick to one set of philosophies rigidly as Rand does – I have somehow believed that no one way of thinking can be right at all times. I’ll write more later, but I might already be forgetting how I felt reading some portions of the book – that’s the problem about taking too long to complete a book. I have also never discussed my belief systems openly in the past, for multiple reasons, but mainly because once I am set on my views, and it if is my private set of views that nobody needs to learn about and will affect nobody, then I didn’t see the reason in discussing it, and debating on it. I now feel, I’ll only learn more from rational arguments, so it will be interesting to actually read about differing points of views. I can say confidently that many people I know will fall in the camp of disagreeing with the philosophies of Rand, and as an extension mine as well, but we’ll get to that. πŸ™‚

Reading

The “About Me” page on Goodreads pretty decently encapsulates things about my reading and reading habits, but they have a word limit in there.

However, here’s an interesting aspect I’ve never talked about to too many people. I never touched a “serious” book. What do I mean by that and why the choice ?

Well, let’s see – I always lapped away at Fiction – you know, the fast paced, ex-CIA no longer with the Government kind of books, or in some cases even slower books, more drama, definitely stirs some of your emotions, (other than just getting your adrenaline pumping.) and has some kind of a message of what’s right and wrong in this world, and all that kind of stuff.

I consciously avoided self-help books because, I always felt it was a bunch of hooey. If people could read books and be successful, first you wouldn’t need so many books, and second, everyone would be successful. Any school kid with half a brain should, simply by observing the world around him know that, that is empirically not possible, and hence you should run while you can, when you see these books. I am not saying people cannot be marginally more successful, or for a small set of people, it will totally change their lives – it might. I’m no shrink – I don’t know what rocks those people’s boat.

But by saying serious, I didn’t mean self-help books. I meant the really good books – they books that made you think, about the problems of the world, about grand philosophy, about what’s really right and wrong – about challenging everything you’ve been taught and thinking beyond. I consciously didn’t read any of those books – I certainly had the opportunity to, had some good books suggested to me, had the interest, but I didn’t.

It might sound stupid when I say why. As a teenager, I knew that I didn’t want to know of these idea, I didn’t want to think about them – I didn’t want to challenge myself intellectually – to become serious, to mull about the world’s problems. I just liked myself the way I was, and didn’t want my ideals to by influenced and shaped by great works. I wanted to find out who I truly was, before I went about reading these books, and letting them shape/fine-tune my thoughts and actions. I always believed that these books changed you in some irreversible way. Once you read them, there’s no going back. You can’t go back to where you were, a week later and forget all of the ideas in there. Looking back, maybe it was a good idea, maybe it wasn’t. My life might have turned out very differently – can’t say for better or worse, but definitely different.

But, now having read book after book of fiction, I think, I finally crave these books, I want my ideas to be challenged, I want my perception of what is right in the world, and what is wrong to be challenged and broadened. Of course, it is a serious undertaking. And unless you do something useful with the way you have processed the information, maybe it’s of no use to anyone. But I think I’m going to give it a shot anyway. I’ll maybe even write down my thoughts on how it goes.