Friday, October 28, 2016

The 100 Books Tag

FictionFan created this tag, and then I saw it at My Book Strings. Looked fun, so here goes...

What is the 100th book on your TBR list?
Wasn't planning on math, but nonetheless: I’m on #74 right now, so #174 is Shane, by Jack Schaefer

Take your current book, open it to page 100, and quote a few sentences that you like.
This happens to be Great Expectations, chapter XIV, first page:
I used to stand about the churchyard on Sunday evenings when night was falling, comparing my own perspective with the windy marsh view, and making out some likeness between them by thinking how flat and low both were, and how on both there came an unknown way and a dark mist and then the sea.

When you are 100, what author(s) do you know you will still be re-reading regularly?
I feel inclined to first say that my Great-Grandfather lived to 101 and my Grandmother lived to 104. So, this could happen. I know I’ll still be rereading Tolkien and Dickens. Besides them, I’ll probably still be working on the 1000 Greatest Novels.

Link to your 100th post. Do you still agree with it?
It was a Top Ten Tuesday, asking for the most anticipated book releases of 2015. Yeah, I still agree with it.

Name a book you love, that has less than 100 pages:
Easy: The Little Prince. (click here for why)

Oh wait! It wasn't so easy. Another book I love with less than 100 pages: The Story of the Other Wise Man. (click here for why)

If someone gave you £100, which would be the five books you would rush to buy?
Let’s see £100 would give me $121.89 (ya know, I started a reading blog so there wouldn’t be math…GRRR!). I’m after these…not sure I’d be able to get all five:

What book do you expect to be reading 100 days from now?
Ordinarily, this would be hard to figure with confidence (really? More math?), but I am fairly certain I’ll be somewhere in the middle of Les Misérables

Looking at The Guardian’s list of “The 100 greatest novels of all time”, how many have you read? Of the ones you haven’t, which ones would you most like to read? And which will you never read?
I’ve read 56 of them. I plan to read them all. In fact, I used this, and several others, to make a composite, now known as MY LIST (see the next question for more information)

Create your own 100-themed question to answer.

So, just like the previous question. From MY LIST, how many have you read, and from those you haven’t, which are you most likely to read?

If you've read this, consider yourself tagged. Of course, you are not compelled to answer, but your book blogging license may be revoked if you don't.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (73 down 27 to go)

Who is John Galt?

I am, therefore I’ll think. ~ John Galt

This is the first time I’ve read Atlas Shrugged or Ayn Rand. The novel is a dystopian novel, with a bit of science fiction. It is the third-person narrative of Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive, and her fight against an increasingly interfering Marxist government. It is set in America, but the time setting is more complicated; Rand never sets the year. The novel was published in 1957. Technology in the novel, and a few other contextual clues would indicate early 1960s, but the world geo-political situation is drastically different from 1957 and would have required decades to account for the change. I think Rand intentionally avoided going too far into the future, to avoid the perils of predicting technology advances she could not imagine, while presuming a different world political history prior to 1957, sufficient to account for the political changes.

My rating: 4 ½ of 5 stars

This novel satisfies #7 of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016: fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic.

Wow! What an amazing, poignant, and riveting story. I think every American ought to read it.

I’m tempted to give it 5 stars, but I’ll get around to a few minor complaints later.

Dagny Taggart is one of the strongest female characters I’ve encountered in literature. She is the daughter of the late Nate Taggart, a railroad tycoon from the American industrial revolution. Dagny is operating vice president of Taggart Transcontinental, while her older brother, James (Jim) Taggart, is the company president. Jim is a tool of government officials; Dagny really runs things.

The greatest industrialists of the day are continuously and increasingly frustrated by absurd government interference and the passage of such things as: The Equalization of Opportunity Bill, The Preservation of Livelihood Law, and a general anti-greed campaign.

There are a number of such industrialists, from various sectors of the economy, but two in particular are important to this story: Hank Reardon a self-made steel magnate and inventor of Reardon metal, …a metal that would be to steel what steel had been to iron…; and Francisco d’Anconia, CEO of the world’s largest Copper mining company.

And then there is John Galt. Who is John Galt?

That question is a vaguely defined slogan of the day, that means something like…”who can tell?” No one knows if there is such a person, or who he is.

There is also a pirate named Ragnar Danneskjöld. Yep, a pirate.

I’m not going to reveal any more about the plot. My version of the book is nearly 1200 pages and I feel any attempt to synopsize would be miserably inadequate. I’ll just say, it is brilliant. I’ll continue my review with some excerpts.

First some jargon spouted by party elite, most often stated as unassailable truth:

…they made it sound like anyone who’d oppose the plan was a child-killer at heart and less than a human being.

Doesn’t everyone agree that the purpose and justification of an industrial enterprise are not production, but the livelihood of its employees?

At a time of desperate steel shortage, we cannot afford to permit the expansion of a steel company which produces too much, because it might throw out of business the companies which produce too little…

…noble historical precept: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

…people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So, they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them justification for not thinking.

I don’t think the strong should have the right to wound the self-esteem of the weak.

Privations strengthen the people’s spirit…and forge the fine steel of social discipline. Sacrifice is the cement which unites human bricks in the great edifice of society.

There will be no chance for the poor, until the rich are destroyed.

It’s intelligence that’s caused all the troubles of humanity. Man’s mind is the root of all evil.

…the anti-industrial revolution.

The purpose of philosophy is not to help men find the meaning of life, but to prove to them that there isn’t any.

The only justification of private property…is public service.

Now the antithesis. Near the end of the book, John Galt (oops, spoiler – he does exist), takes over a government radio broadcast that all Americans had been urged to listen to. The following are excerpts from that speech:

To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason – Purpose – Self-esteem. Just as your body has two fundamental sensations, pleasure and pain, as signs of its welfare or injury, as a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death, so your consciousness has two fundamental emotions, joy and suffering, in answer to the same alternative. …you have never discovered that achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death. Joy is not the absence of pain, intelligence is not the absence of stupidity, light is not the absence of darkness, an entity is not the absence of a nonentity. Building is not done by abstaining from demolition; centuries of sitting and waiting in such abstinence will not raise one single girder for you to abstain from demolishing – and now you can no longer say to me, the builder: “Produce, and feed us in exchange for our not destroying your production.” There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. You let them infect you with the worship of need – and this country became a giant in body with a mooching midget in place of its soul…

The only proper functions of government are: the police to protect you from criminals; the army to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property…

Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not.

John Galt's speech is very long, 70 pages, and often thought of as the emblem of the book. It was not my favorite speech in the book however.

Much earlier in the story, Francisco gives a shorter speech at a party wherein he extolls the virtue of Laissez-faire capitalism, completely contrary to the common sentiment of the day. Afterward, he is challenged by a wealthy socialite who concedes that her intellect is no match for Francisco’s, but, she asserts, that in her heart she knows he is wrong. Francisco’s response:

Madame, when we’ll see men dying of starvation around us, your heart won’t be of any earthly use to save them. And I’m heartless enough to say that when you’ll scream, “but I didn’t know it!” – you will not be forgiven.

Much later in the book, while speaking to Dagny, Francisco says:

We kept mankind alive, yet we allowed men to despise us and to worship our destroyers.

No quotations from Dagny. She is a thinker and a doer, but not much of a talker. Here is an excerpt about her thoughts as she passed a statue of her father in the Taggart terminal: 

To look at that statue whenever she crossed the concourse, was the only form of prayer she knew.

Finally, some excerpts that merely show the elegance of Rand’s words:

The houses stood like men in unpressed suits, who had lost the desire to stand straight: the cornices were like sagging shoulders, the crooked porch steps like torn hem lines, the broken windows like patches, mended with clapboard.

Eddie Willers was smiling the kind of smile that is a man’s substitute for breaking into tears.

…and she saw the tall, dry stem of a single weed rising from the steps of the main entrance. Hit by a sudden, blinding hatred, in rebellion against the weed’s impertinence, knowing of what enemy this was the scout, she ran forward, she fell on her knees and jerked the weed up by its roots.

He looked at Taggart with the lifelessly conscientious glance of a scholar confronted by a field of knowledge he had never wanted to study.

But I’m not quite done. To really appreciate this novel, you need to know a little about Ayn Rand. I am not a disciple. She has certain beliefs that I am diametrically opposed to. In my opinion, she was nonetheless, extraordinary.

Four years ago, during our presidential campaign, Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was criticized because he was on the record for appreciating the writings of Ayn Rand. When I began reading Atlas Shrugged I was amazed that anyone would object, but the more I read the more it made sense that a certain segment would object. It threatens them – just as Dagny and the industrialists threatened the ruling elite in Atlas Shrugged. The political environment in Atlas Shrugged is very reminiscent of the climate today.

At least to me.

So why 4 ½ stars instead of 5? First, Dagny’s love life was ridiculous. She loved three different men in two chapters. I don’t mean made love to them – I mean she loved one, then realized she loved another more, or maybe the same, and then she realized she loved another more than either of them. And those two, by the way, were far too magnanimous about losing the woman they loved. There was a fourth man who also realized HE loved Dagny in this same span, though his love was unrequited.

That’s really my only objection. I balked a bit at parts of John Galt’s speech, which Rand used as a venue to proclaim her philosophy, namely objectivism, of which she is the creator. I am aligned with Rand’s thoughts on governance and economics, but there are tenets of objectivism that I strongly disagree with. I can’t fault her for using this venue though. It’s her book and she wove it very naturally into the story. I’m fairly certain that was her purpose. I just wanted to be clear that for all my praise of this book, I am not a disciple of Ayn Rand or objectivism.

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute. ~ Ayn Rand 

One last thought. A while back I posted something about INTPs in literature. John Galt is INTP, like me.

Film Adaptation: Three film serial production: Atlas Shrugged Part I (2011), Atlas Shrugged Part II (2012), and Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt (2014). Three films was probably a good idea, but entirely recasting each successive film was not. No exaggeration – 100% recast each film.  There were a few other minor problems, but it was pretty faithful. I don’t recommend it though. If you are a fan of Atlas Shrugged the novel, you should probably skip the films. If you are not a fan of the book, you should definitely skip the films.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

I wasn’t tagged but Helen at She Reads Novels invited anyone to join in – and I thought, I’m anyone – so here you go. (Acknowledgment to The Library Lizard, the originator of this tag)

1. What is your favorite historical setting for a book?
I don’t think I have a favorite. So, instead I’ll just mention a period that I’d like to read more of – The Wild West (second half of the 19th Century, North America). I’ve only read two Westerns in my 100 Greatest Novels Quest: Blood Meridian and Death Comes for the Archbishop. Both were excellent, though neither is a typical Western. I’d like to read more of this genre – typical or not.

2. What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
I’m going to say both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It’s a fun thought – but seriously, what could I say to em? Whattya think of J.K Rowling? Regardless, it goes almost without saying, this meeting would have to be in a small English pub, while throwing back a pint. I’d also need to get a tweed jacket with elbow patches, and a pipe.

3. What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
The Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t read this when you are supposed to – in High School. I’m not sure how much my opinion would change, because I was not terribly angsty even in H.S., but perhaps I’d find a little more empathy for Holden.

4. What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
I was just mentioning to another book blogger, that I will probably reread Ulysses someday. I am fairly certain I will appreciate it more when I am not necessarily older, but better read.

5. What is your favorite futuristic setting from a book?
This distant future of Dune.

6. What is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
I was set to give a three way tie to: To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, and The Count of Monte Cristo – but then I thought of my current read, which is both future and backward in time. How? Ayn Rand was certainly writing about some time period in the future from her own, but which is now definitely in the past from my own.

7. Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Nope, I never do this.

8. If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
This is not a book related question right? So, I’d go back to the 2009 Kentucky Derby, bet $1000 on the Superfecta: Mine that Bird, Pioneer of the Nile, Musket Man, and Papa Clem. That would give me $2.7 billion before taxes.

9. Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
I haven’t read a lot involving time travel – in fact, if I limit it to my 100 Greatest Novels Quest, only one thus far: SlaughterhouseFive whose main character, Billy Pilgrim, is unstuck in time.

But I’m going to throw in, for honorable mention, 100 Years of Solitude, which covers – you guessed it – 100 years.

It just hit me, if I give credit to Gabriel García Márquez for writing a novel of 100 years, I should mention James Michener. It’s been a long time since I read him, but the two novels I read: The Covenant and Hawaii covered thousands of years.

10. What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
This was the easiest one to answer. I’d love to have my memory purged of any knowledge of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and read them anew with no expectations or preconceptions.

I’m going to follow Helen’s example by not tagging anyone specifically. But of course, feel free to follow suit, and let me know in the comments so I can read your responses.