Friday, September 30, 2011

Can We Have Her Back Now?

Reading Rand as Literature, not Politics
by Dana Micheli

Much has been made of the resurgence of Ayn Rand in the past few years, particularly on the political landscape. Her work, most notably Atlas Shrugged, has been appropriated by the political right and vilified by the left. It has also caused a stir among religious conservatives, who may agree with her politically, but abhor her atheism. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about her, whether or not they have read her work.

Certainly, Rand put herself in this position: after writing Atlas Shrugged, she turned primarily to writing about her political/economic philosophy, Objectivism. Since her death, this philosophy has been promoted by the Ayn Rand Institute and others who feel as she did.

I had, of course, heard of Rand, and had seen the thick volumes on bookstore shelves my whole life. But I was never tempted to read them. In fact, I'd never so much as read the back to see what they were about. (I am ashamed to say, part of the reason for this is that I did not care for the cover art!) In short, I looked at her books as something I would have been forced to read in school.

Then this "resurgence" began. Suddenly, Rand's name was everywhere. It was mentioned on cable news, countless blogs, and even a popular TV show I watch, but always in a political—rather than a literary—context. I was intrigued, and the next time I was in Barnes & Noble, I bought The Fountainhead. It wasn't long before I knew it to be an eye-opener; but it had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the beauty of Rand's prose.
The Fountainhead is nearly 700 pages, yet not a single word is wasted. Its world is so real, I felt like I was stepping into the New York of the 1920s and '30s every time I opened it. The characters leapt from the page, so much so that I felt like I had known them for years, and intimately. She was quoted as saying that the novel's hero, architect Howard Roark, is her composite of the "ideal man." Whether or not that is true, he is definitely my opinion of the perfectly drawn literary character. You may love him or hate him, but to remain indifferent to him is impossible.

I realize that these days it is difficult for people to aside their political views, but in this case it is well worth the effort. Regardless of your feelings on Rand as a political figure, you will fall in love with her fiction.
Dana Micheli is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and journalist. She has written and edited works of fiction and nonfiction, including novels (ghostwritten), news articles, resumes, business plans, and restaurant reviews. She also researched and wrote the legal and housing sections of New York: The Complete Resident's Guide (Explorer Publishing). Dana has a B.A. in English from Southern Connecticut University and a Juris Doctor from New York Law School. She lives in New York City.

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