Atlas Shrugged: Prologue

My wife (let’s call her Miranda, because it amuses me to do so) was looking at me like one would a man about to descend into madness.

“It has 1000 pages,” I’d said. “Ten pages a day would take, what? 100 days. About three months. I could blog about it as I read it.”

I was talking about Atlas Shrugged. Once upon a time, it seemed Ayn Rand was mostly read by emo and pretentious teenagers. As a teenager, Miranda swore by The Fountainhead in the same way that I swore by Brave New World. She’d made a few attempts to read Atlas Shrugged, but kept getting distracted halfway through.

That was half a lifetime ago. Flipping through our paperback copy now, I find a bookmark at page 150 from a bookstore that closed a decade ago; I presume that’s where she stopped last time she tried.

In recent years, with the rise of the Tea Party, Ayn Rand in general and Atlas Shrugged specifically have taken on epic proportions. A book that seemed destined for obscurity only a few years ago is now the subject of constant debate.

That led me to question, though, how many people engaged in the debate, on either side, have actually read the book. Some, I’m sure, but probably not most. It’s a thick book. Our copy (an undated Signet/New American Library paperback edition) weighs in at 1071 pages of actual pages in what looks to be small pica type and narrow margins.

I’ll admit, I’m a slow reader, especially for a middle aged adult who still reads for entertainment. I’ve always avoided long books, although I’ve plodded through a few epics from Stephen King. I could never be a scholar of Russian literature. I read Rand’s Anthem for three reasons:

  1. It’s short.
  2. Miranda wanted me to read “something” by Rand when we were teens.
  3. It’s dystopian, and I was fascinated as a teen with dystopias. (One of my few forays into Russian literature, on that topic, was Eugene Zamiatin’s We.)

Ayn Rand, based on Anthem, is a bit denser than Stephen King. A thousand pages is no easy task. I have a hard time believing people who can’t spell “moron” on their protest signs have read it. I also have a hard time believing many people who seem to think that Ayn Rand represents all that’s evil in libertarianism would devote that much time to her writings.

I felt obliged, given my occasional presence in political discussions and seeing the amount of criticism the book gets, to finally read it.

Then I remembered: This is me I’m talking about. A thousand pages. Today, sure, I’ll be excited about the prospect. But as the days march on, and the book plods forward, will I feel increasingly like Tarlac (or Sarlacc, for that matter) awaits at the end of my task?

And what to do about days where I simply don’t have time? There are, especially, Saturdays where I have commitments that would make it difficult to read and simply impossible to post. Will I start letting it slide? Coming up with excuses? Deciding I simply don’t care that much?

Miranda has decided, as well, that I’ve thrown down the gauntlet: If I read the entire book, she has to, as well. How could she, at least an erstwhile Randian, life in a household where someone has read the work and she hasn’t? But will a co-reader spur me forward, as we try to mutually meet reading goals, or will it drag me down because then there are two people trying to keep up with a goal?

The most important step would be to get a second copy. I considered buying an e-book, because then we could both take it to the gym on our respective e-readers and keep pace that way. Surprising, though, perhaps because of the current buzz about it, Atlas Shrugged is outrageously priced at $19. For a 50-year-old book. I checked Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Sony, and it was the same price at each (even though they’re selling three different formats), leading me to believe this was an ironclad decision made by whoever it is that owns the copyright (the Rand estate being my guess).

So, hard copy it is.

I’ve amended my original goal from 10 pages a day to 100 pages a week, that is, 20 pages a day each weekday with the weekend for catchup, if needed. If I get ahead of pace, that’s great, but this gives me a minimum that’s reasonable enough. Eleven weeks, max. By September, for better or worse, it should be done. Super irony points if I finish on the 11th.

Here’s the goal, then: One hundred pages a week. Try to blog after each reading, but at least on each Sunday. Until it’s finished, or until my liberal heart bleeds out entirely, as they’re prone to do.

At least if I fail, I won’t be adrift in a yacht named Wild Eyes, waiting to be rescued.

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