Atlas Shrugged

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Goodness, this book was a doozy.

I’ve been reading it since the end of last year and finally finished it today, so it took about two to three complete months of concentrated reading. I read every word until John Galt’s infamous rant and ended up skimming that halfway through because at that point, I was more interested in how the story was going to end than Rand’s philosophy, which I got quite a pretty good handle of by the end of the first act. I may go back to reread that formidable rant someday.

I feel a bit of triumph and accomplishment, but am also extremely exhausted from reading Atlas Shrugged. Give extra credit to Ayn Rand for creating a fascinating story wrapped snugly around her life philosophy, which is unforgivingly logical and thorough, and hard to argue against. My next goal is to find a counterargument against Objectivism that is just as unforgivingly logical as her, just to balance things out.
One issue I had with with the book itself is that some parts were just a tad too long-winded and repetitive. (I’m looking at you, John Galt!)

I can see why people are so divided over Ayn Rand, they seem to either worship or hate her based on how much of her philosophy they agree with.

For me, the story itself was actually quite fun to read.

Dagny is a cool character, and I’m glad that Ayn Rand’s longest novel had an imperfect and independent female protagonist running the show.

Plot-wise, it gave me a feeling similar to Anna Karenina, where it’s like watching a train wreck (literally, too!) that you know is going to happen, but can’t keep from watching. Plus, being from Ayn Rand, it also came with that feeling of security I get when watching superhero movies where I know the hero will prevail no matter how bad things get.  Minus the rant, the pacing was just right, I felt that everything said had its place in the story.

I hadn’t read Ayn Rand since we were required to read the Anthem in High School, but I’m glad I got a refresher, and this is probably one of the longest novels I’ve read to date.

Isaka World, Part 5 終末のフール(The End’s Fool)

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Well, I sure did not expect to read another apocalyptic story since I stumbled across Alas, Babylon years ago in my local public library, (Which I especially liked, and which fully fulfilled me enough not to need any more similar stories in the future) but props to Isaka Kotaro for this interesting collection of short stories.

They take place in pre-apocalyptic Sendai, Japan, following the lives of a bunch of different residents of an apartment building two and a half years before a meteor is expected to crash into Earth, thus ending the world completely.

Interestingly enough, the story takes place before the destruction and also after the initial “end of the world panic” occurs. It’s a sort of weird peaceful time where people are still wary, but weary enough not to cause any trouble.

The book had a light but melancholic feel to it, and was the right mixture of hopeful, dreadful, suspenseful, and depressing.

It’s about the survivors still alive at that point in time, and the lives they’ve lived since the meteor was announced. Rather than big adventures or rescue missions, it’s just people living and surviving, in a terrible situation, making everyday choices. There are a few tense moments, like the brothers trying to get revenge on a TV announcer and his family by holding them at gunpoint, but there’s also the old couple awaiting their estranged daughter coming home, and a couple who need to decide whether they should have their baby or not with the future so bleak.

Whether people would really calm down after a few years of knowing that the world is going to end is extremely debatable, considering how people tend to freak out over the world ending in real life, but I found the stories all enjoyable, and they all have their little twists near the end, as usual.

The chapter titles are all stylized to use the same phonetic katakana pattern, which of course sounds awful in English but clever in Japanese:
The End’s Fool
The Sun Sticker
The Sieged Building (Beer?)
the Hibernating Girl
The Steel Wool
The Celestial Night
The Play’s All
The Deep-Sea Pole

…See what I mean? It was actually the title that made me take so long to read this particular Isaka book, because every time I saw it, it confused me. フール? It looks like pool and full, both of which make it incomprehensible, and even if you know it means fool, it still doesn’t make any sense until you finish the story.

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From 週末のフール(The End’s Fool)
「お父さんって、頭の良さってなんだと思ってるの?成績とか学歴とか、ステータスだとか、どうせそういうのでしょ。どうせ。そういうのは、わたしがひきうけるから、いいじゃん。ばかじゃないの。あのね、お父さんが馬鹿なばかりに、兄貴は不幸なんだって。」まるで、犯罪者を告発するかのように、康子はこちらを指差し、声を荒げた。「兄貴はもっと大きいことをやれるんだよ。」
“Dad, what do you even think it means to be smart? Good grades, or going to a good school? Status? That’s what you think, right? That’s fine, I’ll get all of those. You’re an idiot. That’s why my brother is so unhappy, because you’re so stupid.” As if she were pointing out a criminal, she raised her finger at me and said in a wild voice, “My brother can do even bigger things.”

From 深海のポール(The Deep Sea Pole)
生き残るっていうのはさ、あんあ風に理路整然とさ、「選ぶ」とか「選ばれる条件」とか、そういうんじゃなくて、もっと必死なもののような気がするんだ。「必死なもの?」「じたばたして、足掻いて、もがいて。生き残るのってそういうのだよ、きっとさ。」
“Surviving, I don’t think it’s that logical, like people are chosen, or that there’s categories that decide whether you’re chosen or not. I think it’s something more desperate.”
“Desperate?”
“Panicking, struggling, agonizing…I think that’s probably what surviving is more like, really.”

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Current Isaka Count: 19/32

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Wherein the Reader Expresses Her Thoughts Regarding the Tragic Hero, Don Quixote

Just finished Don Quixote (By Miguel de Cervantes) after quite a few months of on and off reading, including a period of not reading for so long I had to start again from the beginning. My boss recommended it after I asked for for something a little less tragic after reading Anna Karenina. It’s funny and lighthearted he said. You’ll laugh, he said.

My first impression was that Don Quixote is a very sad character, and my final impression is that the book should be labeled a tragedy. A tragedy in which a depressed middle aged man with a bad case of dementia or some other neurological issue, goes out on a journey to be a knight only to be mocked and used by the people he meets, before dying unhappily with a clear mind in regret of what he’s done.

Somehow, I couldn’t laugh along with the other characters at the Don’s eccentricities, in fact, the more the story continued, the more sorry I felt for him. And the other characters just seemed more and more cruel.

If there was one thing I really enjoyed, it was reading the chapter titles, such as

“Of the Wonderful Things the Incomparable Don Quixhote Said He Saw in the Profound Cave of Montesinos, the Impossibility and Magnitude of Which Cause This Adventure to Be Aprocryphal.”

or

“Wherein Are Related Some Trifling Matters, as Trivial as They Are Necessary to the Right Understanding of This Great History”

and

Chapter LXX: Which Follows Chapter Sixty-Nine and Deals with Matters Indispensable for the Clear Comprehension of This History.”

My favorite quote, demonstrating Don Quixote’s true nature among his “madness”:

Don Quixote and Sancho withdrew to the knight’s room, and there Don Quixote gave his squire advice about governing. He admonished him to be a champion of virtue always, to strive to know himself and not to puff himself up like a peacock, whose feathers, he bade him remember, were fine, but who had ugly feet.

Also, the saddest sentence ever:

The physician was of the same opinion as the curate and Don Quixote’s other friends: that melancholy and unhappiness were the cause of the present state of his health.

Overall, the writing was pretty good, if not a little choppy through translation. Eventually, I’d like to try reading the original in its own language, as I’m sure it would flow much better in Spanish. The humor, though, I only found in the chapter titles. Perhaps I wasn’t reading it with the right mindset.