I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 2010, of my own free will and with my own volitional consciousness, because the book had a mysterious reputation. It seemed somehow evil, seductive, forbidden, and enticing. It vibed “dangerous.” People I respected made relentless fun of it, while people I despised spoke of it in weirdly worshipful tones. So I decided to take the thousand-page plunge.
I was not entirely new to Ayn Rand. I had read The Fountainhead when I was (literally) fourteen—and, like many bookish, nerdy adolescents who discover Rand, on reading it I experienced an extraordinary literary and, indeed, personal awakening. I remember the moment quite clearly: sitting on the beach with my sister and my mother in Atlantic City, looking up from about halfway through the book, and saying out loud, the passion in my voice masked by the pounding surf of the mighty Atlantic, “Hey–this is HORRIBLE.”
Why? Because even at fourteen I could tell it was absurdly bombastic, melodramatically simplistic, pantingly overwrought, and proudly, idiotically unconnected with the ways actual people lived, spoke, engaged in the profession of architecture, did business, or conducted relationships with the opposite sex. It dealt its philosophical and moralizing hands from a stacked deck. It asserted and lectured and postured and denounced and made claims that, it insisted, were true not only for its characters (which is good fiction’s job), but for “men”—and, therefore, for me, too (which is crap fiction’s hobby).
Now, when you’re a dutiful teenager, which I was then and essentially still am, you read both what you’re told to, and what you want to–and, while some books you like more than others and some you dislike, it doesn’t really occur to you that you’re able and permitted to hate a book. Or so it was with me, until that seaside epiphany. The Fountainhead became the first book that I consciously hated.
It didn’t take long to see that the qualities that made The Fountainhead so repellent had mutated into even more grotesque forms in Atlas Shrugged. The unspeakably vile villains and the incomparably heroic heroes. The cheap science fiction devices and technology that enable the whole made-up fantasy. The rape-like sex. The endless lectures that begin at the bottom of one page and then continue in a solid, un-paragraphed two-page spread of ponderous, declamatory yakking, a dense slab of print into which the mind crashes like a car slamming into a wall. The ridiculous 60-page speech “broadcast on the radio.” The straw men, the straw women, the straw children. The ham-handed, one-d “satirical” sketches of a trainful of people who exist, in their smug self-satisfaction, in order to be asphyxiated. The overly-explicit, soap operatic dialogue. The utter and complete lack of humor in a book half again as long as Ulysses. The Swedish pirate, for Christ’s sake.
I read this preposterous monument to a fairy-tale version of “Capitalism” in a murky haze of disbelief. And when I finished I demanded from everyone I knew credit for having read it. I wanted their sympathy for my suffering and their respect for my literary machismo. It was as though I managed to work into every conversation, “Yes, it so happens I recently did construct a scale-model of the city of Kyoto out of uncooked udon noodles, and then boiled them all and ate the whole thing in a single sitting. Don’t you feel sorry for me? Aren’t you impressed?”
Which is not to say I don’t recommend that people read it. I do, and always for the same reason: Once you read Atlas Shrugged, you know that you need never take seriously, ever again, anyone who likes it.
Still, it didn’t occur to me to write a parody of it until about eight months later, when I realized that such a short, specialized work could be published digitally for nothing. So I started, at a somewhat leisurely pace. It took three months to come up with the plot—I kept having to reject and re-tool ideas and scenes which, while they gave me great personal satisfaction in their mockery of Rand’s characters and dialogue, were, I had to admit, not the kinds of things “Annyn Rant” would write. If this “sequel” were to be ostensibly by her, then its plot and dialogue would have to be consistent with what she’d release to the world.
When I learned that the movie was scheduled to debut in six weeks, I engaged in what, to me, is the equivalent of cold-blooded calculation, and resolved to ride whatever p.r. coat-tails it would present. I put everything else aside and literally gave myself a series of headaches meeting that deadline. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but then—speaking of science fiction, made-up worlds, and melodramatic conflicts between good and evil–I haven’t seen Avatar, either.
So yes, read Atlas Shrugged if you must, if only to acquire an appreciation of the intellect, taste, and psychological character of such citizens as Paul Ryan, Megan (“Jane Galt”) McArdle, and poor, discredited old Alan Greenspan. Read it to acquire a greater understanding of its less famous fans, too, the Randroid army of self-righteous geniuses who believe (or who want to believe) that to laugh at such a ridiculous book is to be “terrified” of it.
Read it in your own fog of amazement, as you realize that thousands, if not millions, of its admirers somehow (and self-pityingly) imagine that America today–with its pedagogical obsession with “self-esteem,” its numerous mediocrity-inflating reality shows and awards shows, its three hundred million people who have each secretly practiced their Oscar acceptance speech, its vast media machinery devoted to creating renown, its You Tube culture of instant fame where literally anyone, and literally her cat, can shoot movies of themselves with their phone for worldwide distribution and become known to millions overnight—is inimical to “personal achievement.” Read it to see how oblivious of reality a cult’s devotees can be.
Or don’t. In either case, read the “secret sequel,” and you’ll feel better.