Sometimes when I read a book, I know right away that it will set up a camping spot inside my head and issue occasional flares into my daily life that light up and say, "Hey! Remember this? Remember that? Remember when Anne broke her slate over Gilbert's head? Remember when Mr. Gilbreth painted the solar system in scale on the walls of the vacation house and left Morse code messages for the kids to decipher?" And I'll reply, "Of course I do, thanks for reminding me!" and go back to whatever I was doing.
Because I am a collector by nature, my brains are filled up with a jumble of characters and events and language and imagery that never really happened. Not really. But these particular characters and places and happenings I read about actually resonate with my very soul and so it feels as if they did happen after all. It's nice; I like having company in there.
The first amazingly great work of literature to stick around in my head was To Kill A Mockingbird. (I was about 11 years old.) Scout, Jem and Dill romp around in my memories as if they had been real kids I knew in my childhood. Atticus Finch--stalwart and true, doing the right thing whether he was helping a neighbor conquer personal demons, shooting a rabid dog in the street, or defending an innocent man--Atticus Finch parked himself right next door to my conscience. When I encountered a difficult situation, before I had solidified my moral code, I would think of Atticus and try to imagine what he might do, if he'd be proud or ashamed of my choice. I liked making him proud.
Years later, I met Howard Roark from The Fountainhead. Howard Roark actually shocked me and like many who encountered Roark in those vital teenage years, I fell half in love with him as I read the novel for the first time. But only halfway in love. The novel blew my mind because I could not figure out where Ayn Rand was going with it. Everything I knew in my life up to that point told me that this novel could not end well. Oh, I wanted it to, because my love for Roark was strong, but I was so afraid he'd compromise or the world would come and trample on top of him and so I couldn't let myself really love him. And then. . . he brought the world down himself and didn't compromise one minute of his life and I was head over heels! Roark and Atticus Finch became great neighbors.
And then I heard something fantastic. The Fountainhead wasn't even Ayn Rand's best novel! How on earth was that possible? But I wanted to know more, because I was still reeling from the liberating, confusing experience that was The Fountainhead. Somehow--how?--my grandparents had an old battered copy of Atlas Shrugged in their house and they let me take it home with me. It was the summer before college, the summer before I would finally finally! be free and on my own (a moment I had been anticipating since nursery school), when John Galt, Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, Ragnar Danneskjold, Hugh Akston and OMG YES! Francisco D'Anconia walked into my head and built not tiny neighborhoods of isolated homes, but a city.
No, not a city--a new world.
It's impossible to capture in a mere blog post the myriad scenes and moments from Atlas Shrugged that nudge at me every single day. So here are just a few of my absolute favorites (and I'd love to hear yours!):
- Riding the John Galt Line for the first time--triumph!
- Three children running to meet each other at an old oak tree
- Wyatt's Torch and his message
- Francisco. Um, yes. Francisco.
- The bracelet of Rearden Steel--and all it signified
- Hank Rearden raising himself off of his desk by sheer will
- Rearden carrying the Wet Nurse--Tony--in his arms
- The new twists on old fairy tales
- The absolute joy of Galt's Gulch, the breath of fresh air and happiness that is in everything there
- Akston's diner
- Discovering the motor
- The train tunnel
This book is a constant in my life--a motor, if you will, that never shuts down. Reading it for the first time that summer, all I kept thinking (and shouting) was, "Yes!" I simply cannot find the words to convey how much I identify with the characters, the events, and most of all--the message. There is almost nothing that happens in my life about which I can't find a corresponding event in Atlas Shrugged. Those events are present in my happiest moments with my love, my family, my work and they are there, too, in my moments of struggle.
In those significant moments, big and small, that's when all of the Atlas Shrugged characters sidle up to Roark and Atticus and together they all whisper, "It's all true. She was right." And I whisper back, "I know. Thanks for reminding me."
Atlas Shrugged is 50 today. Since I wrote this post in Ayn Rand's honor, I will let her close it out:
The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours.
But to win it requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence of that which is man: for his sovereign rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.Atlas Shrugged, page 1069.