Tag Archives: “We the Living”

A Little Heartbreak, A Dose of Literary Reality

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I’m hoping this was just a speed bump on the road called Jack Reacher.

I just finished Lee Child’s latest addition to the Jack Reacher series, Past Tense, and was…What’s the word…Saddened? Untitillated? Underwhelmed?

JR is once again the middle of Nowhere, USA. He’s kinda/sorta looking for his father’s birthplace. He gets into a few fights. He wins them all handily. The end.

Of the roughly 3,454 books I’ve read by Mr. Child, this was the first time I felt let down, something many of us have experienced at one time or another with authors/artists we love. We are, after all, human. No artist can remain at the top of their A game forever (although a solid argument could be made for Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, Mr. Picasso’s baptismal name).

I remember the first time this happened to me as a reader of fiction, feeling somewhat crestfallen, that is. I fell in love with Tolstoy at a young age, starting with War and Peace, moving onto Anna Karenina (which his old comrade Dostoyevsky called “the greatest love story ever written”), and culminating in his last novel, Resurrection, in 1899, which had a great premise but ultimately fell flat.

Then it happened with Murakami Haruki. I loved A Wild Sheep Chase. What followed (in English translation) was Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Norwegian Wood, Dance Dance Dance, South of the Border, West of the Sun, and then his opus, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. From there, things went south for me (but not west of the sun), including Murakami’s choice for his new translator. It began with Sputnik Sweetheart and Kafka on the Shore, and then — contrary to what some believe — 1Q84.

Alternatively, there are some “red wine” authors that seem to get better with age, like Ayn Rand (I know, I know…This will be controversial with certain readers), who went from We the Living (amazing, with a terrific ending) to The Fountainhead (profound, nearly led to a complete nuclear meltdown for Ms. Rand) to her true opus, Atlas Shrugged (which had a profound influence on philosophy, politics and social movements). The same could be said of Somerset Maugham, who started relatively early with Of Human Bondage, then The Moon and Sixpence and then, at the tail end of his career as a novelist, his opus, The Razor’s Edge.

Finally, there are the yo-yos of the literary world. Take Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He broke out to wild acclaim in 1846 with a novella called Poor Folk, and didn’t get 15 minutes of fame; he got, quite literally, 15 days of being what Guardian contributor Daniel Kalder called a “cause celebre.” It would be 20 years (of being pissed on and heckled) until Fedya D regained his rightful place as a master of fiction after the release of Crime and Punishment in 1866. His last novel, seen by many to be his opus, was The Brothers Karamazov.

As a final note, and as it pertains to the genesis of this post, 61 Hours and Worth Dying For are my two favourite Reacher novels to date.


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Quote of the Day

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“Who is John Galt?”

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

In the pop culture of modern fiction, there is perhaps no other opening line to a book that is so famous and yet so perfectly captures the true-to-life meaning behind it. “Who is John Galt” is almost like an inside joke that certain readers have among themselves, something akin to the secret handshake or password for fraternity/sorority members.

Ayn Rand is a towering literary figure of the 20th century, Atlas Shrugged remains one of the century’s most enduring novels, and “Who is John Galt” has today become one of the most quoted lines from literature.

If you’ve read Atlas Shrugged, then you know that John Galt is a “real” character, the inventor and businessman who formed a utopia of like-minded individuals in the booming metropolis of Ouray, Colorado. With the intention to “stop the motor of the world,” Galt organizes a strike of the world’s most important and influential creative thinkers.

First published in 1957, at the height of the Cold War, Atlas Shrugged is still one of the most divisive works of literary fiction. This leads to an important question: Does that line about John Galt – and Ms. Rand’s book as a whole – continue to have any relevance in today’s world?

As Mr. FIRST NAME Wiki, LAST NAME Pedia has written, “The book’s opening line, ‘Who is John Galt?,’ becomes an expression of helplessness and despair at the current state of the novel’s fictionalized world.”

If that’s the simplepedia answer to what the fork John Galt is, then the answer to the previous question is a resounding YES!

As Steve Paikin wondered aloud last night in an interview with Ramesh Srinivasan (@rameshmedia), author of Whose Global Village? Rethinking How Technology Shapes Our World, “Is the world going to hell in a handcart?”

Events over the last year or so would certainly lead one to at least consider this as a possibility, which I think makes the opening to Atlas Shrugged as timely and poignant today as it was 60 years ago. Ironically enough, Ayn Rand – founder of the Objectivist movement, staunch anti-communist and anti-Soviet (just read We the Living for one of the more depressing endings you’ll see in literature) – feared what communism could do to creativity and mankind in general if it survived long enough, and lo and behold China is set to become the world’s largest economy and global superpower within the next decade according to many experts.

Perhaps our own real-life John Galt will soon come along and save us from the perils we seem to be so successfully heaping onto ourselves. One can still hope.

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