I’ve Never Read an Ayn Rand Book

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Ayn Rand at a typewriterIf my Mother was around today, I’m sure she would recommend I read a book by Ayn Rand, just as my Father does on a regular basis. I’m quite sure she had read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in her youth and would have thought highly of them. Her sister, my aunt, was and still is absolutely crazy about those two books. Needless to say she has recommended them to me wholeheartedly on numerous occasions. I remember seeing her copy of The Fountainhead many years ago, it was tattered and disintegrating at the spine from having been devoured on so many occasions over the decades. She guards that old copy with her life for fear of losing it to that scourge of bibliophiles everywhere, unscrupulous book borrowers.

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged top the list of the books people have recommended I read over the years. These are no idle recommendations. Almost every person I consider a dear and close friend has at some point told me very specifically that I must read these books by Ayn Rand. They have all gone so far as to say that I am perfect for these books and these books are perfect for me. Usually these recommendations have followed some impassioned monologue on my part about life, work, passion, and the virtue of being good at what you do and doing it well. I’m usually the quiet type, but in the right circumstances and in the right company, I have been know to break my silence for heart-felt tirades that get my friends to recommend Ayn Rand books and my acquaintances to shrink carefully away for fear that I might start hurling heavy objects in their direction. For the record, I have never hurled heavy objects on any occasion other than when forced to lob shot puts in school, and I have never gotten around to reading a book by Ayn Rand.

I’m as obsessed with reading as you can get. It’s true that in recent years my reading habits have been sporadic for lack of time, but I am one of those people who can and will read anything and everything, if for no other reason than to have experienced it once first hand. After all the recommendations from the few people in the world who know me best, needless to say I’m quite enthusiastic about the prospect of reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and many of the Rand’s lesser know work. But, I know better than anyone else that there is a right time and a place for any book to be read, and I’ve still never got the feeling that I’m in that right time and place.

I speak from plenty of experience in this matter, because I have a large repertoire of books which I have started reading more than a handful of times and have never finished, often giving up after a few chapters. Are these simply bad books? No, I can safely say my gut feelings about books before I buy them have always been right, and I can’t remember a single one of my buys which I would consider to have been a bad book. Sometimes you’re just not ready for a particular book, and I have had phenomenal pleasure finally reading books I might have picked up more than a decade ago. I expect something similar to be the case with the works of Ayn Rand some day.

One aspect that holds me back at the moment is that Ayn Rand, like all good thinkers of the past has currently been reduced to a religion. Creativity, individuality, strong-willed single-minded fervour, all things I support, and I get the feeling they would be well reviewed in any book by Ayn Rand. But Ayn Rand’s philosophy of life has been reduced to an -ism: objectivism. Where begins the categorisation of free thinking ends any semblance of freedom, and ends most of the actual thinking.

Creativity is humanity’s greatest gift and religion its greatest obstacle — I don’t mean a religion or movement in particular, and I certainly don’t mean faith, but rather the very mental construct that is religious thought. Unfortunately religious thought is much more all pervasive than the minute arena of organised religion. People are religious about their sports, they are religious about their politics, they are religions about their ideas, they are religious about their view of the world, they are religious about their brand of dish washing liquid. In this chaotic milieu of frivolous certainties, it seems ironic that someone whose work was the ultimate counter argument to such behaviour is now packaged in similar garb.

Am I being religious in my certainty about what has become of Ayn Rand? Perhaps. After all, I have never read her work, but what pervades is the impression of her work and that seems clouded in movements, societies and supporters, critics and criticisms. The two teams are on the field and they will kick around the dead goat of Ayn Rand books and Ayn Rand quotes until all their feet are bloodied in a uniform crimson and the object of their affections has decomposed into the Earth.

Does this actually affect my reading of an Ayn Rand book? Possibly, if these thoughts and arguments are forever hanging over the act and are acting as a lens through which I shall perceive it. On the other hand it is perfectly possible to read a much debated work and get out of it something unique and something untouched by mob emotions.

Sometimes the timing just isn’t right and I await the fortuitous hour. I have written before about the positive aspects of delay in some situations, and maybe this is an example of me not wanting to approach this the wrong way for fear of missing the point in the noise. Creative ideas and creative thought often work that way. While those of us in creative professions train ourselves to function on demand to a large extent, there still remains that small element of chance and timing that truly takes things to new creative heights.

The acceptance and imbibing of new ideas is the same. We can choose to study them and absorb them on demand but sometimes we are not quite ready for the knowledge, and sometimes the knowledge is not quite ready for us.

I wrote this piece because I have been thinking anew of Ayn Rand and her work in recent months. Something has stirred and I am beginning to get the vague feeling that the time to partake in Ms. Rand’s thoughts draws near. It is nothing tangible, of course, just the instinctual feelings of the animal that perceives the coming of the distant rain and prepares for its arrival. I look forward to the experience, but I also mourn the loss of that enthusiasm I always engender in friends when they asked me if I had ever read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and I say no. Their eyes light up and their love for the ideas they absorbed from the books pours forth and suddenly I am not alone in my impassioned tirades. When the time does come for me to sit down and become one of those who has read an Ayn Rand book, most of all I will miss that feeling.

Samir

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

— Ayn Rand

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Comments
  1. If your life revolves around what others think of you, as these words seem to suggest, then Ayn Rand is not the author for you.

    1. Hello Curtis. Thanks for dropping by and reading.

      I’m not quite sure which part of the piece above you interpreted as meaning that my life “revolves around what others think” of me. Could be the fact that I talk a lot about what other people recommend I read. Or, could be a misreading of the last section where I say I will miss the enthusiasm I see in people when talking about the books ā€” to clarify, that bit is about their enthusiasm for the books and not me. If it’s the first reason, that requires some further discussion.

      I did start writing the rest of this comment as a counter discussion to your valid comment, but I realised it might be getting off topic, and also too long to be considered a mere comment. So here’s what I plan to do. Over the next couple of days I will post a new article that tackles some of the issues your comment brings up. We can continue this discussion there, because I think your thought, like all good thoughts, brings up more interesting questions.

      Thank you for your pointed comment, and I hope you find more of interest on this site. I will send you a mail when the new article is up, or you could subscribe to email updates using the form on the top-right of the page. Thanks for visiting.

      Samir

      1. I’ll only be interested in reading your thoughts about Ayn Rand after you have read “Atlas Shrugged.” Good luck.

        1. Good to know, Curtis, but irrelevant.

          If and when I do decide to write my thoughts about the thoughts of Ayn Rand, they will appear on this site, and I’m sure you’ll be the first to know. In the meanwhile, it should be clear that what appears above isn’t about Ayn Rand at all, if it is read through properly.

          I was simply using my personal story about the books of Ayn Rand to put forward my thoughts about free thinking vs religious dogma. We can chalk off the mis-intepretation to the limitations of human communication, but my article is as much about Ayn Rand as Animal Farm is about the subtleties of animal husbandry.

          Once again, nothing to do with Ayn Rand, but I elaborated a bit on my response to your first comment here:
          Conformity and Individuality: A Contrived Conundrum

          Thanks for your feedback and your interest.

          Samir

  2. Ditto to Curtis Plumb. Review your anti-procrastination tips and get on with it. This post does not get any “something” points.

    I also share his view that hiding beneath your phrases is an inordinate concern with the content of the minds of others over that of your own. You have let them intimidate you into a fear of -isms and into valuing them for their package and not their content.

    Ayn Rand’s tips will show you how to value ideas (and -isms) wholly on their own merit and how to distinguish “the very mental construct that is religious thought” from the mental construct that is rational thought.

    Beware also valuing “creativity” and “free thinking” out of context. Rand will liberate these from the arbitrary shackles imposed by irrational men, but the value of creativity will become forever bound to purpose and thinking will never be free to contradict reality without consequence.

    1. Michael, you cut me to the quick Sir!
      … nah … you don’t actually. I was just being polite. It’s an affliction.

      I was so engrossed in this expert and credible analysis of my character, motivations, and inadequacies that I might have slipped into an intellectual reverie. As I listen to the revelations about what bringing Ayn Rand into my heart will do for my growth as a person, and how Ayn Rand will liberate me from my shackles, I had a vision.

      It was clear as day, Ayn Rand was riding down from the upper levels of intellectual Valhalla on a glowing white unicorn, its hoof beats the clickety-clack of an old Remington typewriter on the clouds. It was beautiful, because I knew it was the end of days and she was coming to liberate the righteous and incarcerate the sinners into the deepest level of conformist hell, where each person shall dance alone on a fiery dance floor for eternity while the rest of humanity stands in the shadows pointing and sniggering for ever and ever. Yes, it is true my brothers! Ayn Rand has spoken to me in a vision! Send all donations too …

      Before more challenged individuals waste perfectly good web page space to accuse me of blasphemy, am I making fun of Ayn Rand here? God no! I have nothing but utter admiration and respect for any man or woman who has the talent and the tenacity to write multiple full length books and get them published, not to mentions someone who has written material that has been so influential.

      Who am I making fun of? I’m making fun of all those wonderful human beings who need a minimum bibliography of 17 citations from reputable “peer reviewed” sources presented in the MLA format (or Chicago if you prefer) before they can find the courage to consider opening their mouths to gift us with their wisdom. If anyone reading this is one of these human beings, consider yourself officially ridiculed.

      If anyone else would like to entertain me by talking about rational thought while quoting scripture rather than reason, be my guest. I always enjoy a good discussion. If someone would like to be so brave as to actually add something here based on what you think, you are not only welcome but will be greeted with open virtual arms ā€” you are a precious and rare resource, and the world needs you.

      Thank you for visiting Michael, and for adding greatly to the value of my point. Your comment is a better and more convincing demonstration of rampant religious thought than anything I could have conjoured up on my own. For that you have my gratitude.

      Samir

  3. You’ll be in for a shock when you read ‘The Fountainhead’. If I had to describe any man as being the most devoutly spiritual atheist, it would have to be Howard Roark. He doesn’t love architecture as in, ‘I love your new shoes’, he loves his architecure, it is so important to him, he will go to dynamic lengths for it.

    1. Rory, thank you for your insights. I am familiar with the basic premise of The Fountainhead, but it’s certainly interesting to know how readers “see” the main character. I think I’ve had some of the most interesting discussions with people when we compare notes on what we think about a particular fictional character. There’s an element of how we percieve the world that comes into it, and an element of what we percieve ourselves. Always fascinating.

      As far as shock is concerned, it is unlikely, purely because very little shocks me. If the entire cast of the Brady Bunch and Mama Mia! suddenly burst into the plot, broke into a stilted song and dance number about architectural building codes, and then revealed that our protagonist was actually an alien spy from a planet of warrior ducks who had sent him to earth purely to mess with our morals and blow up the occasional building, then I might be shocked … On the other hand, since I’ve already considered the possibility now, may be not. šŸ™‚

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Much appreciated. And it’s always good to meet another Cowboy Bebop fan.

      Samir

      1. If the entire cast of the Brady Bunch and Mama Mia! suddenly burst into the plot, broke into a stilted song and dance number about architectural building codes, and then revealed that our protagonist was actually an alien spy from a planet of warrior ducks who had sent him to earth purely to mess with our morals and blow up the occasional building

        I would love to see that movie.

        1. “you —- desi’s (mark the apostrophe, its strategically positioned!!)never learn do you!!!”

          I also want to see that movie…. when will you be making it???
          Guess what, Atlas Shrugged is missing since long, think it has fallen prey to some unscrupulous book borrower! I haven’t read either of the books too! šŸ˜‰

        2. What?! One of our Ayn Rand books is missing?? Call out the National Guard!

          How do I get myself into these things? One minute I’m writing an article about an abstract idea using Ayn Rand as Exhibit A, and suddenly I’ve been signed up to making a film version of Alien Warrior Ducks and the Anarchist Architect ā€” The Musical. šŸ™‚

  4. Dear Samir,

    More than reading a book, I believe that
    your Mother would be very pleased with you
    being true to yourself. šŸ˜‰

    xo xo
    Deb

    1. Thank you for visiting, Deb, and for your kind words.

      As far as being true to myself is concerned, I think that is a constant challenge, but one I take on with joy. I try. šŸ™‚

      Good to see you around. I’ve been quite irregular with my blog and also reading other blogs over recent months. Hope all is well with you and your family.

      Take care,
      Samir

  5. hi there
    well i agree with you, that there is a right time for a right book. but many a times accidentally we come across gems, when that wasnt our intention in the first place. Ayn Rand is one such gem i came across.

    Like you, i too had heard a lot about the author, but never really thought that i was upto readin her books.
    One day while randomly surfing the net i read one quote from Rand book which really impressed me to a certain extent. i searched for an ebook and found one. I started reading it, and i have to admit initially i was bored with her style of writing.

    i thought that reading the book online was not possible so i gt a copy of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and started reading it, just for tp initially. Slowly but surely i realised that even though the story was fiction, i could not read the novel like other fictional ones that i have. Sometimes the sentences were kinda complicated and i really had to read twice or thrice to get the complete meaning of what Rand was trying to convey.

    After having completed the book, i dont think i have read any other book quite like it. Her Objectivist manifesto is a double edged sword. In Rand’s world characters are either completely Black or completely White and that causes them to act the way they do. I dont think life really is that way, people are always Grey.

    Its ultimately for the reader to decide how much he wants to agree with Rand. But one thing’s for sure, Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead for that matter will really get out an extreme reaction from one, it can be +ve or -ve depending upon how well Rand has impressed you. theres never an OK verdict:D

    take care
    ciao

    1. Thanks for the extensive comment, and for sharing your Ayn Rand experiences. It’s always enlightening to hear other people’s stories about books.

      I can see your point about her style of writing after having read some excerpts online. It is quite verbose, but not unnecessarily so, from the little I skimmed ā€” certainly challenging, as you say. I’ve come across books like that before, and I have generally found that the heavier language of books such as these, as compared to the fast-food wonders of most modern “cool” business books, for example, can help in some ways. It forces you to really pay attention, and really fathom the meaning of everything rather than taking it for granted that you understand what is being said. For me it’s just great that such a range of literature exists to be read.

      Glad you dropped by, and thanks again for sharing your story.

      take care
      Samir

  6. Hi Sameer, I share with you most of the points that you have described in your post. I have read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ – more about it later.

    I too don’t like others to tell me about the worth of an author or a book. I like to discover it myself. Many of the great writers were discovered by me like this: I did not know they were considered to be great – like William Faulkner and Steinbeck and S H Vatsyayana ‘Agneyeya’ (in Hindi). I was pleased with myself that they are considered great – the opinion that I had formed was my own.

    There are so many books out there – you cannot read them all. And nobody should insist that you read that particular book. No way, let me discover it, make my own opinion about them – and I am a happy man.

    I don’t like many of the holy cows of literature – only to discover later on that there were some prominent critics who thought exactly like me. There are so many overrated writers/poets/philosophers – but sooner or later they loose their throne – and it is people like you and me; people who listen to their hearts.

    There are some authors that you should read – like Rand; and there are some writers that you just have to read – and these are always the ones discovered on your own. You got my point?

    I am always a bit less enthusiastic about reading the authors who have been idolized. Many of them have lost that position after some time. There was a time and environment for them – it is gone now!

    Now, about Rand – Sameer, I will just say that you will not miss much if you don’t read her. She impressed people in some particular time had space – now she does not impress me – and that is all I am bothered about. She glamorizes her character and situations, way too much. Not to my liking. Let me form my own opinion, even an author need not tell me about her own characters!

    I know in my heart that some day most of the people will be voicing the same opinion. This is my experience. But, that is besides the point, it doesn’t matter also – what the majority says. Does it Sameer?

    1. Praveen, thank you for the comment and for sharing your experiences. You make some excellent points about the process of reading, and about choosing what you want to read for yourself rather than based on any literary commandments. I myself have had a similar philosophy when it comes to selecting my reading material, and I think it’s the only way to get an education.

      Thank you for visiting and I hope to see you sharing your thoughts here more often.

      Samir

  7. What gets me about the “Objectivists” is that most of them have a superiority complex.

    1) They read some books by Ayn Rand
    2) They liked what they read

    Fantastic,great! If it makes you happy, then by all means be happy. But………

    3) They then start believing they are more intelligent, more enlightened, moral etc. than the rest of us.

    WRONG! They read some books. Big deal. They are no better than the next person who read books written by other people. End of story.

  8. If you are interested in getting your feet wet in the works of Mrs Rand, I would suggest Anthem. I read it after hearing that Niel Peart of RUSH used the book as a rough setting of the bands 2112 album. This lead me to read the book, which is not very long. I loved it, and I found her other 2 mainstream books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I read them as a teenager (the early 1980’s) and had not really gotten back to them until just this year. I actually had some audible credits and downloaded Atlas Shrugged from there. The production of the book is reasonably good, and had made me want to re-read it again. I really recomend that you take the time, these books are fantastic, and like everything in this world, you can take or leave her anti-religious beliefs as you wish.

    1. Michael, thanks for the recommendation. In fact, I came across Anthem in a book shop for the first time a few months ago, and the back cover blurb did intrigue me. Now that you’ve recommended as a good introduction to Rand’s work, I will definitely keep my eye out for it.

      I completely agree with your take-it-or leave it philosophy when it comes to the beleifs put forward in books, and I live by it. I can think of many books that I can honestly say I like, which I don’t necessarily agree with. I think that amount of flexibility is a necessary if you want to explore interesting schools of thought, and you can’t discount the value of books as just plain entertainment and food-for-thought, even when you don’t subscribe to everything they say. If anything being widely read involves exactly that personal choice applied to what you imbibe from your wide reading.

      Thank you for dropping by and for your very thoughtful comment.

      Samir


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