Do I Want To Read… Ayn Rand?

I have to admit from a purely materialistic view I have often seen the massive books of Ayn Rand in book shops and merely wanted them because of the wonderful covers that the Penguin Modern Classic editions have. This, whilst natural, is also rather ridiculous as actually when they are on the shelves, after what would possibly be about two months it could take to read, all anyone is going to see is the massive spines. Yet it does seem like fate has been pointing me in her direction lately and this has got me wondering.

On The First Tuesday Book Club, possibly my favourite book based show, one of the choices for this months discussion (which you can see on their website) was ‘Atlas Shrugged’ which is one of host Jennifer Byrne’s favourites. It ended up, bar Byrne, being universally disliked and accused of being overly long and less a novel more a book of philosophy. Yet strangely I ended up thinking ‘oooh maybe that would be a monster I could try and tackle one day’ though of course I have said the same about ‘Ulysses’ and look where that got me… absolutely nowhere. I tried it failed, but have kept it on the book shelves for a rainy day or ninety.

Now, in fact just yesterday, I am reading (one of my naughtily ignored until now library loots) Norah Ephron’s collection ‘Wallflower at the Orgy’ and who is one of her essays about? You guessed it, Ayn Rand and also her book ‘The Fountainhead’ which Ephron seems to rather praise and which became rather a cult classic against all odds. This has piqued my interest yet again and I am left wondering if actually this is an author who not only has come out in delightful editions of late (I cant loose the materialistic streak, sorry) and who it seems can write a blinking long yarn or three.

I am tempted by the two mentioned ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ but am wondering whether I should really start at the beginning with ‘We The Living’ which has a rather saucy cover it has to be said. I haven’t yet looked at the blurbs and maybe that would be the place to head to next. However I thought you lovely lot might be the perfect place to start really, so…

Have you read any Ayn Rand? Was it a pleasant affair or really just hard work with no real rewards? Where would you suggest I start or would you actually say that the idea of even contemplating one of her novels doesn’t bear thinking about? Would anyone else be willing to join in with some ‘Rand Reading’ and maybe we could provide each other with some support and hand holding through the blogosphere?

29 Comments

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29 responses to “Do I Want To Read… Ayn Rand?

  1. I think Atlas Shrugged is on my ‘never gonna read it ever’ list LOL it looks massive and it has tiny writing and loads of people have hated it for it to interest me 🙂

    Thanks for the link to the tuesday book club though, I hadn’t heard of it so I will have lots of fun browsing their site now.

    • j03

      I had the same thoughts.
      then I read fountainhead.
      _all_ of those people are idiots.
      I lost at least a decade during which my mind could have been unlocked.

      I would start with fountainhead. we the living is great, but too depressing to start there.

      I’ve read fountainhead 3 times and atlas twice now.
      I will prob read atlas again next year.

      very moving.

  2. Deb

    My two cents (or tuppence) for what it’s worth: Rand’s books are hard slogs with absolutely no character development and no real story arc. Characters represent philosophical ideas that (in Rand’s view) are either good or bad, with no shades of gray. Because of that lack of any ambiguity (the place where all the best stories dwell), her novels never seem to take off and go anywhere–there already where she intends them to be and you can either agree or disagree with her, but nothing is going to change.

    To me, reading Rand was like trying to bite, chew, and swallow a massive amount of cardboard: It might not do you much harm, but there’s not much pleasure in it either.

  3. I ve puzzzled about reading rand ,when recession first hit the books were mentioned as must read fiction ,they seem real marmite books people either love or hate them ,all the best stu ,sorry no help really lol

  4. I read The Fountainhead for a book group and to be honest I’m still torn! Rand was clearly a good writer and I found the book intellectually very interesting and I don’t even mind that I disliked all the characters, but it was a tough read. There’s so much intellectualising and some long rants about mankind that I found offputting. It’s also far far longer than it needs to be, with the slowest story arc. If you’re interested in her social/philosophical ideas, then definitely give it a go. But if it gives you a headache don’t be surprised!

  5. lizzysiddal

    After reading Tobias Wolffe’s “Old School” in which Rand’s “The Fountainhead” was first eulogised and then pilloried, I most definitely wanted to find out what all the fuss was about …. until I discovered it was 752 pages long. Sorry, but that is too many pages for a reading experiment.

  6. Those are fabulous new covers and wouldn’t mind owning them myself, but feel that Rand is the satisfying read for a much younger person than myself. Like high school young. When I read them originally, I think that I was a teenager. Like Lizzy says above, Old School reminded me of all that, a book where the secondary students inhale the books of Rand but she is revealed as a caricature of herself. And after all that, I still would not tell you “No” as I think her novels are page-turners (she does lack, uh, subtlety) and can be knocked out more quickly than the number of pages would suggest.

  7. I have avoided reading Ayn Rand, although I did manage to wander through Ulysses. I saw the Fountainhead movie with Gary Cooper as the architect and I did not believe in one single thing that happened, not plotwise and certainly not conceptwise.

  8. I will NEVER read Rand! I have absolutely no inclination to & do not like her politics. I see Ayn Rand and think “ugh!”

    I agree that the covers are beautiful but I’d prefer to buy the prints & then I’d see them 🙂

  9. Jon

    Hi Simon it’s Nick’s Jon here. As comment no. 6 I’m not surprised to be the 1st to unreservedly recommend the Fountainhead. I hate her politics and it can be very creakily written at times but I believe it’s a must read book. I read it in my early 30s and it totally consumed me for about a week, so I must have read hundreds of pages a day without beig able to stop myself. Possibly a life changing book. You will never think about architecture in the same way again and be forced to question a lot of left leaning ideas you hold very deeply. It is long but worth it.

  10. A friend lent Atlas Shrugged to me but I ended up returning it unread because I knew I’d probably never get around to it 🙂 Good luck though if you do try.

  11. I suggest reading Tobias Wolffe’s Old School first. It’s an excellent book. One of it’s plot lines follows a young man’s interest in Ayn Rand. I’ve not read Ayn Rand, and I’m not going to, but my sense is that Wolffe’s portrayal of reading her and of her is a fair one.

    I think she’s a writer one has to read at a certain age, probably 16 to 22 to appreciate. I suspect she’s someone people move on from after they’ve grown up a bit.

  12. These comments are pretty humorous, as we all want to comment, but none of us has actually read the books!

    I know people who love her stuff (especially when they read it in those impressionable early twenties ages). They also say that the books all pretty much say the same thing. I downloaded Atlas Shrugged on audio years ago. Don’t remember exactly how many hours, er, days it was going to take me to listen to it and I, too, have just never gotten around to it.

    I say go for it, Simon. Would love to hear your take on Ayn Rand and then maybe I can decide once and for all if I should dive in myself

  13. You have got to read Ayn Rand. Perhaps starting with The Foundtainhead would be wisest, because it’s a plot with her ideology, but it’s not as long as Atlas Shrugged. However, Atlas Shrugged remains one of my favorite novels ever…especially as I see America headed in that way.

  14. Eva

    I had to read both We the Living and Fountainhead in high school and found them both ridiculous. I was very into philosophy back then, and I was NOT impressed with her attempts to convince readers of ‘objectivism’ (a ridiculous philosophy to begin with, in my eyes) through fiction. From a lit point of view, the characters and plot all suffer when they only exist to prove an author’s beliefs. From a philosophy point of view, Rand lacks rigour.

    If that appeals to you, read away. 😉

    • Eva

      I lied! I didn’t read We the Living: I read Anthem. Sorry! I think I confused the latter w/ We (another dystopian novella, although one I recommend).

  15. So, apparently I’m going to be one of the rare commenters here who has read all of Rand’s fiction — and more than once in the case of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I would say that, if you choose to read her, start with The Fountainhead. It’s got smaller philosophy sections than Atlas Shrugged.

    It’s hard for me to say though if you SHOULD read her or not. Either you can get through her books and accept them for what they are or you can’t. It’s hard to say for each individual. I do seem to find that those who read her books earlier in life have a better chance of liking them. I happen to have a good friend whose children are named after Rand characters. Just realize that you will be reading stories that are based on a certain philosophical view point that some people agree with and others find distasteful. Personally, I can see the appeal of objectivism but realize that the world is not as black and white as these novels make it out to be.

  16. Amy C

    I’ve read both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and I found them fascinating reads that were not particularly difficult to get through from what I remember (I do love long books, though). However, it’s been over 10 years since I read them, and I was in my early 20’s then. I wonder what I would think of them now if I did a re-read. I don’t agree with her philosophy at all, but she makes some interesting points and causes you to think through some things (even if you end up hating her writing!).

  17. I’m going to second what Kristen said although, I must admit, I have yet to read “Anthem”. Only reason is because it’s the last of her fiction and, since there will be no more, I want to prolong it. “We the Living” is vital in understanding the author herself as well as the things many people don’t understand about what happened as a direct result of Lenin’s actions. It’s gut wrenching and the most emotional of the three works I’ve read by her. [I’ve heard it’s easier to read than Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” but covers, in less detail, what happened in the USSR and a slight different time line.] If you want accessible and horrifying (because it was a true representation of Lenin’s USSR) then read “We the Living” – just know it is not an optimistic piece at all.

    “The Fountainhead” is a more difficult read than “Atlas Shrugged”, but the philosophy is shorter and the points are still worthy of note (questions of media power, the bias of those in control of that information, etc). “Atlas” is my favorite and makes brilliant points about the issues of government ties in industry while the monologues (particularly the very well known 60 page John Galt speech) were tedious. Still, there were some good, three dimensional characters in it while still others were quite flat in order to necessitate her point. Ignore Objectivism. Rand has some good points, but by far and away Atlas is more a treatise on free-market capitalism, something that does not exist in much of the Western World (if any – the US doesn’t have it). I credit her with getting me to think. Her two large works are cerebral and should be viewed through that lense. Literary genius? No. Still, it was nice to read an author who showed characters (even in their somewhat flatness at times) to be capable of great things. A champion of the individuals; she gave me hope. And, uh, I’m not an Objectivist – just so you know. 😉

  18. m

    I’ve never read her … but it’s what Bert Cooper was reading in Mad Men. Of course, you are possibly not as obsessed with Mad Men as I am! (Though I do think that Don and Betty had more interesting taste in books.)
    Maybe I should add it to my reading list for the tragic day when the final series is over.

  19. Harry Binswanger

    Why all the talk? Here’s the opening of The Fountainhead. If you like it, you’ll love the book. If you don’t, then you won’t, so don’t bother. (This is from a scan; I think I caught all the typos, but maybe not.)

    Howard Roark laughed.

    He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water. The water seemed immovable, the stone–flowing. The stone had the stillness of one brief moment in battle when thrust meets thrust and the currents are held in a pause more dynamic than motion. The stone glowed, wet with sunrays.

    The lake below was only a thin steel ring that cut the rocks in half. The rocks went on into the depth, unchanged. They began and ended in the sky. So that the world seemed suspended in space, an island floating on nothing, anchored to the feet of the man on the cliff.

    His body leaned back against the sky. It was a body of long straight lines and angles, each curve broken into planes. He stood, rigid, his hands hanging at his sides, palms out. He felt his shoulder blades drawn tight together, the curve of his neck, and the weight of the blood in his hands. He felt the wind behind him, in the hollow of his spine. The wind waved his hair against the sky. His hair was neither blond nor red, but the exact color of ripe orange rind.

    He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead.

    He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. There were questions to be faced and a plan of action to be prepared. He knew that he should think about it. He knew also that he would not think, because everything was clear to him already, because the plan had been set long ago, and because he wanted to laugh.

    He tried to consider it. But he forgot. He was looking at the granite.

    He did not laugh as his eyes stopped in awareness of the earth around him. His face was like a law of nature–a thing one could not question, alter or implore. It had high cheekbones over gaunt, hollow cheeks; gray eyes, cold and steady; a contemptuous mouth, shut tight, the mouth of an executioner or a saint.

    He looked at the granite. To be cut, he thought, and made into walls. He looked at a tree. To be split and made into rafters. He looked at a streak of rust on the stone and thought of iron ore under the ground. To be melted and to emerge as girders against the sky.

    These rocks, he thought, are here for me; waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice; waiting to be split, ripped, pounded, reborn; waiting for the shape my hands will give them.

    Then he shook his head, because he remembered that morning and that the)y))re were many things to be done. He stepped to the edge, raised his arms, and dived down into the sky below.

    He cut straight across the lake to the shore ahead. He reached the rocks where he had left his clothes. He looked regretfully about him. For three years, ever since he had lived in Stanton, he had come here for his only relaxation, to swim, to rest, to think, to be alone and alive, whenever he could find one hour to spare, which had not been often. In his new freedom the first thing he had wanted to do was to come here, because he knew that he was coming for the last time. That morning he had been expelled from the Architectural School of the Stanton Institute of Technology.

    He pulled his clothes on: old denim trousers, sandals, a shin with short sleeves and most of its buttons missing. He swung down a narrow trail among the boulders, to a path running through a green slope, to the road below. e walked swiftly, with a loose, lazy expertness of motion. He walked down the long road, in the sun. Far ahead Stanton lay sprawled on the coast of Massachusetts, a little town as a setting for the gem of its existence–the great institute rising on a hill beyond.

    The township of Stanton began with a dump. A gray mound of refuse rose in the grass. It smoked faintly. Tin cans glittered in the sun. The road led past the first houses to a church. The church was a Gothic monument of shingles painted pigeon blue. It had stout wooden buttresses supporting nothing. It had stained-glass windows with heavy traceries of imitation stone. It opened the way into long streets edged by tight, exhibitionist lawns. Behind the lawns stood wooden piles tortured out of all shape: twisted into gables, turrets, dormers; bulging with porches; crushed under huge, sloping roofs. White curtains floated at the windows. A garbage can stood at a side door, flowing over. An old Pekinese sat upon a cushion on a door step, its mouth drooling. A line of diapers fluttered in the wind between the columns of a porch.

    People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring after him with sudden resentment. They could give no reason for it: it was an instinct his presence awakened in most people. Howard Roark saw no one. For him, the streets were empty. He could have walked there naked without concern.

  20. I read the Fountainhead recently and although I absolutely loathed it I was still glad I had read it. I hated it because the characters were flat cariactures, and as one of the above commenters says, this is because they primarily represent facets of her philosophy rather than actual fully-developed people. She’s quite open about this and it was actually fascinating to read a couple of her essays included in my edition (an American one, so I don’t know if are in the Penguin ones) in which she talks about how she designed these characters. I found the plot of the book completely implausible but it was also rather compelling – again, I didn’t think I was supposed to mind that I found the events ridiculous.

    I found it very easy to read but not particularly satisfying – I finished it in about 3 days or so, just reading in the evenings. It may be long but it’s not taxing at all. I had the impression all the way that this book had clearly taken an exhaustively long time to write and each and every word was carefully chosen. And not in a good way – it felt forced and overly self-conscious, there was no beauty for me in the language used. The midcentury setting was an exciting time in America as a whole but I didn’t feel enough insight was given into this aspect of the world in which it was set – and that’s largely because the book was really set in Rand’s imaginary world, itself nested in America, which was a distant backdrop. I also really, really wondered what an architect might think of this book, and about what it says about their art.

    BUT I was glad I read it because although I left it with an overwhelming sense of disbelief that it was so popular, the fact remains that it is. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are the top two in the Modern Library’s reader’s choice list, with another 2 of her works in the top 10. That’s 4 out of 10! Interestingly not one of her novels features in the editors’ list. But she is a very influential writer and I was happy to sacrifice a relatively small amount of my time to try and understand why. But honestly, I’m still not sure – ! I don’t think much at all of her rather peculiar “philosophy”; as well as thinking it an inaccurate way of thinking about human nature, I find it horribly unappealing. I understand that her books are now selling in large numbers and the tea party movement love her. This makes sense. Urgh. I hate her theories and I don’t even think she makes a good case for them in her book -the main character, who becomes a poster boy for Objectivism, is repulsive and fairly inhuman. I am usually happy to cheer for the underdog but I wished failure on this one. But however awful it is, Rand *is* making a point, and I think I’ll always in some respect be glad I read a book which is making a point, even if it’s one I disagree with. The Fountainhead make me think and I’m glad of that.

    So I do think you should read it. But although the urge might grab you at points, please don’t throw this one, it might well kill someone!!

  21. EllenB

    I read them in the innocence of my youth. I am proud to say I hated her work. Terribly written, no character development and written only to put forward her despicable political views. The idea that Objectivism can take hold in America is most alarming but as an earlier post stated, it seems to be happening here. Instead, read Old School by Tobias Woolfe both for the excellent read it is and for the hatchet job he does on Ayn Rand.

  22. I read Ayn Rand long time back. Starting from We the Living, and then Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I read Anthem fair;y recently four years back.

    The Fountainhead continues to be one of my favorite novels of all times.

    Objectivism might have been far fetched then, but it seems to a reality now. One can either hate her work or love it. One can’t remain indifferent. I think you ought to read her work…

  23. I had no idea people watched The First Tuesday Book Club in England – that’s so heartening! As an Australian, I’m genuinely really, really excited about that.

    As to your question, I have no desire at all to read Ayn Rand, but I’m sure any of her books would make a fabulous doorstop.

  24. Half a century ago while in high school I found a paperback called “We the Living” I read it (it reached my teenage soul) , then “Anthem” followed by “Atlas Shrugged” and “Fountainhead.” My selfish egoistic teenage self imagined myself standing against a world mediocrity.

    Yet, somehow, I sensed they were just bullshit. After experiencing a world outside my safe small town high school I knew they were bullshit. As I read more real literature the more I realized how poorly written and boring Rand’s ravings were.

    I grew up and put childish things behind me.

    The new book covers are nice but as they say you can’t judge a book by its cover.

  25. Pingback: Wallflower at the Orgy – Nora Ephron « Savidge Reads

  26. This is an old thread but I’ll add my ducats.

    The only logical conclusion is that you should read The Fountainhead.

    If you enjoy it, then it was the right decision.

    If you do not enjoy it, you’ve earned the right to become an amateur literary critic and say bad things about it, which as you can see based on the comments on this page, is a fashionable thing to do.

  27. Kathleen

    Go ahead and read THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Even if you don’t care for Rand’s philosophy. the novel is great fun – exciting, sexy and inspiring. Rand was still fairly sympathetic to the human race at this point, and even her weak characters are touching. The book also contains her ONLY colorful, dynamic villain – the witty and manipulative Ellsworth Twohey (Did I spell his name right? I was going by Twohey’s, a terrific restaurant in Pasadena). Later on (in ATLAS SHRUGGED) Rand had decided that since evil was essentially powerless (unless given power by “the sanction of the victim”), all her villains should be uninteresting characters. It’s a mistake – a moral code doesn’t make for a very lively antagonist – Iago it ain’t. (Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy ATLAS SHRUGGED – but THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a much easier and pleasanter read.)

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