In this series, we judge a book by its cover. Only by its cover.
Ayn Rand’s signature looks like a child arranged the skinny, fallen twigs of winter into a name. It punctuates a black and white photograph of Rand on the back cover of her jewel, Atlas Shrugged. She’s gently perched on a window sill, the blurry streets of some mid-century city are the faded backdrop to her dramatic pose. Face titled upwards, her immense almond-shaped eyes appear to be desperately fixated on something out of view. Her lips, stained with the severe lipstick, are partly opened, her hands, fingers inelegantly bent, huddled like frightened children by her right hip. Rand’s figure is concealed beneath a collared men’s style button-down shirt and her smooth hair gracefully touches her chin. She’s neat and ambiguous.
But I think her appearance here is deceiving. The crisp clothes, hair and makeup, the scenic, large window, the prolific head tilt of intellectualism — they’re nice, maybe even planned. But there’s something absolutely real about this picture of Rand. It’s like I can see a small piece of her soul, peaking and leaking out from her too-widened eyes, from the hint of her front teeth framed by painted lips, from her expressive hands anchoring her side. Beyond the camera lens I imagine the air saturated with a veil of shimmering ideas. So I’m basically calling her a schizophrenic distracted by hallucinations. But a brilliant one at that. Well, that’s the kind of romantic misconception you formulate when you merely judge a book by its cover.
In truth, I was so distracted by Rand’s pensive melancholic expression that, at first, I paid little attention to the front cover of Atlas Shrugged. The cover art is from the original publishing by Random House Inc., in 1957. Alas dear friends, the first question that plagued my mind was: “Where is Atlas?” The front cover at first appears to be a barrage of chalky hues, the title like thick strips of white beach islands in a misty sea of Crayola colors. But I focus my eyes and discern that where I do not find the hunched muscular pillar of Atlas, there is an abstract picture of a train charging forth from a tunnel. At least, I believe it to be a train, though there are only reflective train tracks, a small geometric tunnel and a large red circle whose borders fade to blurred purples, blues and greens. Is this the skewed headlight of the impending machine? Where is its body? The disembodied train light is just as frightening as it is alluring to me. Where are its passengers? Where is it from? Where is it going?
If you don’t look closely enough at the original cover of Atlas Shrugged, the thick wash of color can mesmerize and disorient you. It’s beautiful in an ominous way. The sinking dark tunnel, alerting the bright red of the train light, and looming dark mountains overarching the scene — will I open this book and never come out? For safety, I quickly turn the book face-down and lose myself in the stark nature of Rand’s portrait. She’s slightly sunken into the window sill, and I have the urge to hop up next to and bask in the light of what revelation she’s formulating. I suppose I’d have to shed the intrigued anxiousness of my initial reaction to the cover and density of her 1168-page magnum opus. I’d have to peer beyond her two dimensional gaze and the cover to do just that.