Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Atlas Shrugged - and I don't blame him

I have been reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged for 5 years. Well, 3 weeks, but it feels like 5 years. My second-hand Kindle tells me I'm 40% through the book, and I've turned to Terry Pratchett for some light relief.

I started with Zac's copy of Lords and Ladies because the Mensa Annual Gathering Dinner had that title as its theme, accompanied by a pretty picture I thought was something to do with Hunger Games but was actually Game of Thrones. Both have the word "Game" in them and are ridiculously popular with some of the people I mix with, so you'll understand my confusion. I was planning to go as Granny Weatherwax, but the opportunity to dress in velvet and wear a tiara won out in the end. Wally went as Lorde.

We were the only ones who dressed up.

But I digress. The thing about Pratchett is that I find the Discworld both more realistic and a lot more entertaining than Rand's amorphous People's State of America, which she never actually names; the fact that a lot of "action" (I use the word loosely) happens between Colorado and New York is a clue.

I thought there might be some excuse if she were writing in support of the rampant anti-Communist times of McCarthyism, and indeed the book was published in 1957, so there is an element of that, I suspect. That unpleasantry was largely over by the time the book was released, and McCarthy died in 1957.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia tells me the book "includes elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance". I'm slowly seeing hints of the first, agree with the second, and can only assume (regarding the third) that she had some very passive relationships, if there is anything remotely autobiographical here. Again, though, that's probably the times.

As I see it, the main problem with the book is that she has used a nominally fictional vehicle for disseminating extreme views - hence its reputation as a right-wing manifesto - but it's really boring. You wanna read dystopian, Margaret Atwood is the go-to to go to.

In discussion with Jennifer (who hasn't read it), we thought that maybe she needed to write her manifesto as a frankly political book and get it out of her system before turning to fiction. It might have given Karl Marx a run for his money, though what I've read of him (Chapter 33, actually) wasn't that entertaining or enlightening either. So maybe not such a good idea. And besides, it turns out it was her fourth novel.

There are actually some good things in it. I particularly liked the sermon, dressed as conversation, that outlined a very cogent and coherent view of money as a tool, rather than being intrinsically evil in itself. I find convincing the argument that excessive government intervention stifles entrepreneurial effort and production - "excessive" being the operative word.

The woman can write well when she's not being didactic, but that's not often enough. She has a lovely turn of phrase about every 10%, and can describe the beauty of individual achievement with elegance, when she thinks of it. But mostly (so far) she seems to be criticising any human element in business decisions. Anyone who might be remotely sympathetic to the plight of the 'working man' is portrayed as pretty wimpy and a general waste of space.

It doesn't help that the female protagonist's surname is the same as one of my cats, but that's not her fault.

So my original question, posted on Facebook, as to why this book is on 'must read' lists remains unanswered by the book itself. Perhaps I have to finish it and find out what happened to all the disappeared industrialists before I can make a final attempt at judgement.

If you want to read it, so you can tick it on those lists that appear periodically on Facebook, I suggest you start with the Wikipedia entry. It makes more sense than reading the book, and I wish I'd read that first.

And don't, as most people seem to, condemn it on the basis of its reputation as being in support of a libertarian economy (which is kind of is, but not entirely). Its worst crime is basically how tediously it's written.

Now, back to Hogfather

 

Monday, 9 September 2013

September 9th: Holiday's almost over - just the technical matter of getting home from Auckland Airport. Ottawa and Vancouver airports have unlimited free wi-fi; Auckland has allowed me to sign up for a free half-hour. Somehow I'm leaving here with lighter bags than when I arrived. I didn't eat much of the gift foodstuffs, honestly. I'm pretty sure I'm over the worst of the jet lag, and I'll be able to answer emails properly soon. By tomorrow it'll be almost as though I was never away, except that I have an awesome collection of good times with Ursula and Penelope to hold on to. And quite a lot of maple syrup. Post script: Oh, PC with big flat screen that I can read, and a keyboard that actually fits my fingers - I love you. I won't go away again (soon). Except for the weekend of the 21st when Sylvia and I go to Auckland to see 'Wicked'.
September 5th: Day 5, Vancouver Airport: battery about to run down, only enough money for 1 more donut, and I'm going off air for 3 days. I'll be at the Mensa NZ Annual Gathering in Auckland, talking, eating, talking, playing games, talking - until I drop from jet lag. See y'all back in Welly next week.
September 4th: Vancouver, Day 4: shopping. I know, I've already bought all the gifts, the shoes, the hat, and a forest of maple syrup products. But we went to the sewing shop. THE SEWING SHOP, people. The 5 heavy glass jars of Vegemite that are staying in Vancouver have been replaced by some essential quilting equipment that is WAY cheaper here. And another hat (with attached paws). And possibly an egg-shaped kitchen timer that hatches a chicken when the time is up. And some more maple syrup stuff because you can never have too much maple syrup, right? What we couldn't find today (and we tried really hard) was Beavers' Tails. Just not a Vancouver thing :( I have officially spent all my cash and quite a lot of my savings, as represented by next month's visa bill. I have just enough coins left to buy either a cup of tea or a maple-dipped donut at Tim Horton's when I go to the airport tomorrow. Since Air NZ will supply me with tea... Had dinner with all the home stay students tonight - French, Japanese and Brazilian - after their first day back at English Language School, so that was interesting. They're downstairs in my bedroom, otherwise known as the rumpus room, playing pool tonight. I might join them. Or I might read some more quilting books. I love being on holiday.
September 3rd: Vancouver, Day 3: a rest day. We had a quiet day at home, having a guided tour of Helen's quilts and looking at quilting books. If it seems like that wouldn't take all day, it didn't. I slept really late. Rodney's gone to Las Vegas for a conference, so it's just me and Helen at home, along with the tenant in the basement apartment and the three home stay students, all of whom I have now met. School starts again tomorrow, so they've all returned from their assorted holidays. Dinner at Elliot's (offspring number 2) tonight, and it was a lot of fun getting together with the boys again. Elliot is a musician/composer and a member of several bands and one of his musical associates was at dinner too. They're all incredibly smart and talented, with just the right kind of crazy sense of humour I enjoy. So now the only one I haven't caught up with is Meta, the oldest, because she has been at Burning Man and probably won't get back before I leave. Still no kittens, though I had the pleasure of watching them leaping around inside their mum today.
September 2nd: Day 2, Vancouver: went to the USA. Despite the fact that this is my Canadian holiday, Helen and I braved Homeland Security and crossed over to Washington. The wait in the room at Customs for a visa waiver (USD6) felt a bit like Kafka when everyone behind the counter pretty much got up and walked out at once, but it must have been a shift change, because they were replaced by another bunch of people who took over the job of doing nothing while we waited in line. It took about half an hour to get our passports back, and the Officer did make a wee joke, which was novel. We got lost after taking the wrong off-ramp and Helen finally agreed to let me use the GPS to navigate, having passed me a map book I'd never seen before and needed time to study, which was when we missed the correct off-ramp. Fortunately I enjoy taking the scenic route - my family's euphemism for not having a clue where we are. The nice lady's voice eventually directed us to a rural district outside Bellingham, and to the home of very talented haiku writer Seren Fargo, with whom I have been corresponding for several years, thanks to my fabulous job as Competition Secretary for the NZ Poetry Society. We all went out for sushi and talked heaps and got on really well and Seren and I are going to do some collaborative haiku next year while I am having a writing year, and she will hopefully have some housing issues sorted out. When we got back to Seren's house there were deer in her yard - awesome! It's a bit hard to see the last one leaving in the photo, but it's there. I didn't get much time to get the camera out and lined up before they took off. There were 3 out on the road already, and the last 2 passing through their regular trail in the yard. Back in Vancouver I had my first experience of smelling skunk. Not in the yard, but somewhere in the neighbourhood, and I was quite glad it wasn't any closer. It smelled like a bad musk aftershave that's been used to try and disguise the odour of an unwashed body after a week in the bush.
September 1st: Well, Air Canada has ripped me away from my lovely girls, and now I'm with the hospitable Helen (cuzzie) and Rodney in Vancouver. Not quite as hot here, but that might just be because of the lack of humidity. They've already worked out where I might be able to get my Beaver Tail fix. Tomorrow we're hoping to cross the border and visit a haiku penfriend in Bellingham, WA. Thanks for the lovely card, TeamUP - I just cried a little bit then watched a movie: 'Still Mine', with James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold. It seems amazing to me that you can fly over a body of water for over an hour and it's just a lake! Lake Superior in fact, though I had to look it up. I knew them all many years ago (about Standard 4), but the knowledge has previously been of little use, so unreinforced.