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