Friday, May 28, 2010

Old Books are Good Books

When I filled out my profile for this blog, I was asked to name my favorite book.  That was a no-brainer for me.  I listed 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand, published in 1957, as my first choice.  Despite being over 1,000 pages long, I've plowed through it twice.  The first time I read it I was in the 1970's.  It was then on my 'to do' list when I finished grad school in the early '90's. 

What brought it to mind today is an article by George Will in the Washington Post.  He reports that between 2000 and 2008, sales of the book averaged 166,000 a year.  Since that time, more than 600,000 copies have sold, with 520,000 selling in 2009, an all-time high.  This is amazing considering that the first year of publication saw only 70,000 sales. (See here for some interesting links about the book.)

While there are some current authors whose works I always enjoy, David Baldacci and Nelson deMille come to mind, I cannot see that many of them will have the impact of an Ayn Rand or J R R Tolkien in the future.  I am not saying that great novelists don't exist anymore, but that more popular novels today are written for the masses.  One day's Costco purchase is the next week's Library used book donation. And I don't believe that many of our bestsellers will stand the tests of time.

That being said, 'Atlas Shrugged' received mostly negative reviews upon publication.  Obviously over the last 50 years, readers have found something enticing about this very long novel.  If you haven't read it, pick it up.  Or if you have read it, re-read it.  I am sure your view of it now that you are older will likely be different than the first go-round. 

And whomever I lent my first two copies of this novel to, I hope you enjoyed the reading.

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