Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Who Is John Galt?" - The Ayn Rand Reading Begins

PHILABURBIA, Pennsylvania, USA. "A dark night in a world that thinks it knows how to keep its secrets. But in a small office, just north of Philly, one man is still looking for the answers to many of life's persistent questions: Leigh Irwin, Investigative Reporter." (MUSIC FADE)

"Who is John Galt?" There was that question again. What was it, the sixth time now that that question had been asked in the book?
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in Philaburbia.  It was muggy out, really muggy. So it was good to be in the office in front of the big fan.  It was slowly drawing the cool air from the other room into mine. There wasn't any window in my office so the window-mounted AC unit was in the office next to mine where there were a couple of windows.  The ceiling fans in both rooms helped to circulate the AC into me as well.
I was finally reading the book the boss had wanted me to get into.  It was the 50th Anniversary Edition of Ayn Rand's book, Atlas Shrugged.  It was a Signet book published in paperback - 1,079 pages of a smaller print than I was used to.  How had I gotten roped into this story anyways?  I've never read anything much longer than 300 pages.  But here I was, up to page sixty-four so far, and there was that question again, "Who is John Galt?"
It had been a few weeks back when the boss had unexpectantly walked into the office.  He had this look of seriousness on his face and he was carrying this book in his right hand.  He dropped the book on the desk in front of me and asked, "Ever seen or read that book before?"
"No sir I haven't. Is there something special about it?
"Well, you might say so.  This book was published way back in 1957. That's fifty-three years ago. But yet, on yesterday it was ranked in the sales ratings as number twenty-four.  It's been in the top 100 books sold on Amazon for over two hundred days now.  Wouldn't you tend to think that that was a bit strange for a 1957 novel that is over a thousand pages long in paperback?
"Yes sir, I guess I would."
"Well, I need you to look into it for me.  Do the sergeant's work for me like you've always done so well in the past."
He and I had been in the military together.  He had been one of my officers in a few units in which we had served.  The boss and I had always worked well together.  He'd do the officer work. I'd do the sergeant work, and together...well, we had a habit of doing successful missions most of the time.  And those few where we weren't that successful..well, it hadn't mattered anyways. Someone else had always stepped in and got the job done, usually from another unit in the same area of operations.  So he was asking me to be his sergeant again.
"How do you want me to handle this one boss?"
"Start with the usual sources and go from there.  I got a feeling that while you're doing your normal methodical background stuff that you'll hit on something that others may not be seeing so clear."
"What do you mean boss?"
"Well,  one of the reasons why this book is selling so well right now is that there are some popular radio and television personalities that are holding it up as the book to read if Americans want to see what's happening to our country right now.  I don't think you pay all that much attention to these media stars so it doesn't surprise me that you hadn't heard about this book before."
"So, are we just more or less following along in their footsteps?"
"No, no, know me better than that.  I've been finding out as I talk to some of my old friends that this book has been popular almost from day one in 1957, a long, long time before these TV and radio people got a hold of it.  And I think, that even when this particular time period in American history has changed to where this book is not held up so much in the media as the book to buy, that the book is still going to be something that future generations of readers will study.  I think this book is a classic, but not in the usual sense like we think of Shakespeare or Tolstoy or even someone American like a Steinbeck. So dig into it Leigh. Keep me posted as much as you can. There's no rush on this. For this one we'll take our time and do it up right.  And one more thing Leigh..."
"Yes boss. What's that?"
"I know you'll do this anyways but let me emphasize the fact that we need to be objective about this job. Huh, being objective about Objectivism. That is Rand's philosophy behind this book as you'll find out. How about that for a play on words?  Well, you know what I mean. Put your personal leanings aside and look at this one from all the angles, okay?"
"Not a problem sir. Can do easy."
Then he walked out the door, leaving that book in front of me.
So I had begun the background work.  I hadn't wanted to get into the book until I had some kind of idea of what might be making it so special.  I started with Wikipedia like I do most of the time.  It's not always accurate and many times you can see the writer's bias, but it was still an okay place to start.  There was the entry on Ayn Rand the author.  Then there was an entry for Atlas Shrugged itself.  They even had a separate entry that had all the main characters in it, one after the other with a summary about each.  Then of course there was an entry about Ayn Rand's philosophy called Objectivism. There were also entries on other books that she had written.  Some readers, way back in the fifties, had liked her book, The Fountainhead. So they had been easily drawn into reading Atlas Shrugged as well.  The Fountainhead had even been a 1949 Hollywood movie starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.
The boss had been right. There was much more to this than meets the eye.  So next I headed for the local bookstore at the mall.  I found what I figured I would. There were the novels in the fiction section and the non-fiction books explaining more about Objectivism in the philosophy section.  Then I thought, "I wonder if they have something like Cliffs Notes for Atlas Shrugged?"  They had the Spark Notes version instead. That was only six bucks - not bad.  When I went to the other bookstore that sells the Cliffs Notes they were temporarily out of them. But they had several for The Fountainhead in stock. I passed. Maybe I'll look more into that book later in the research.
When I got back to the office to do more research on the internet there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me.  The Spark Notes version that I had bought in hard copy was on line, free to read.  The Cliffs Notes version was also on line, free to read, with some of the material in audio format. I could listen to a short summary of the book. I read just about everything in the Cliff Notes and the Spark Notes except for the chapter-by-chapter discussion parts. I figured I'd get into that as I was reading the book.
Now I was in the book. It had taken me about ten or fifteen pages to get used to reading a novel again. I had been a non-fiction reader for too long.  But as soon as I started reading the first section with Dagny Taggart in it, I was sucked in.  Could this character be the illustrious Ayn Rand in fiction form? Had she put herself into the story line?  And what did that question mean, that question that the minor characters were asking when their moment of glory in the book seemed to come to an end in certain sections?
"Who is John Galt?"  Well I guess I'll be finding out as I go along won't I. (MUSIC IN)
"A dark night in a world that thinks it knows how to keep its secrets. But in a small office, just north of Philly, one man is still looking for the answers to many of life's persistent questions: Leigh Irwin, Investigative Reporter." (MUSIC FADE)

No comments:

Post a Comment