Rory Gilmore Book Challenge, Update Two: The Fountainhead

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Since the last time I checked in with you guys on my Rory Gilmore Book Challenge, I've attempted to finish two of the books on the list. I made it more than halfway through "The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty" before having to return it and moving onto greener pastures. I will eventually pick up again (again), but let me just tell you -- that book was not easy to read. I don't think I've ever read a book of short stories so long, but after a while, it's just difficult to get into the stories and care about the characters, especially since you know you'll only be knowing them for another 7 pages or so.

But today I'm posting to happily report that I've finished a book I devoted my January to reading: Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead." In my Rory Gilmore Book Challenge list, I haven't even gotten up to the episode where Rory talks about "The Fountainhead" (Season 2, Episode 13, when she and Jess share a picnic lunch and discuss literature). Rory claimed to have read it at the mere age of 10, but (understandably) had no idea what the book was about and reread it age 15.

I first picked up the book (after having watched "Gilmore Girls," of course) when I was about 17 years old and got through probably the first 15 pages or so before putting it down. I then found an eBook version of it before I went to Taiwan and made some efforts to read the book while abroad. While in Taiwan, I discussed the book with my friend Max, and we made an informal pact to read the book together. That helped.

In any case, I finished all 694 pages of the book ... it took over a month, and I wasn't always happy doing it, but it's done! Have I been scared off of reading another Ayn Rand forever? No, surprisingly. I won't claim to know if I really "got" the book, but there were times where I felt very close to the literature, and felt very close to the characters. I don't think Ayn Rand was a particularly great writer (the word "subtlety" didn't seem to exist in her vocabulary), but that's subjective. I believe, as with all art, as long as the consumer gets something out of the creation, it's got some value and worth.

So ... onwards with my favorite quotes/excerpts. Many probably won't make much sense out of context, though I will tell you that the general theme of the book is principled vs. no principles and collectivism vs. individualism. It's a story about burgeoning architects in New York City.
Her words did not disturb him as much as her smile. It was not a smile, it was a permanent smirk raising the corners of her long mouth, making her look like a sly, vicious imp.
"And, Keating, I want the house to be ugly. Magnificently ugly. I want it to be the ugliest house in New York."
"The ... ugliest, Miss Cook?"
"Sweetheart, the beautiful is so commonplace!"
"Yes, but ... but I ... well, I don't see how I could permit myself to ..."
"Keating, where's your courage? Aren't you capable of a sublime gesture on occasion? They all work so hard and struggle and suffer, trying to achieve beauty, trying to surpass one another in beauty. Let's surpass them all! Let's throw their sweat in their face. Let's destroy them at one stroke. Let's be gods. Let's be ugly."
She had always hated the streets of a city. She saw the faces streaming past her, the faces made alike by fear -- fear as a common denominator, fear of themselves, fear of all and of one another, fear making them ready to pounce upon whatever was held sacred by any single one they met. She could not define the nature or the reason of that fear. But she had always felt its presence. 
The battle lasted for weeks. Everybody had his say, except Roark. Lansing told him: "It's all right. Lay off. Don't do anything. Let me do the talking. There's nothing you can do. When facing society, the man most concerned, the man who is to do the most and contribute the most, has the least say. It's taken for granted that he has no voice and the reasons he could offer are rejected in advance as prejudiced -- since no speech is ever considered, but only the speaker ..."
"... I never have any definite destination. This ship is not for going to places, but for getting away from them."
"I often think that he's the only one of us who's achieved immortality. I don't mean in the sense of fame and I don't mean that he won't die some day. But he's living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they're not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict -- and they call it growth. At the end there's nothing left, nothing unreversed or unbetrayed; as if there had never been an entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect a permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard -- one can imagine him existing forever."

She thought of the change she noticed in him again aboard the ship ... She looked at him in the deck chair. She thought that relaxation was attractive only in those for whom it was an unnatural state; then even limpness acquired purpose. 
"People make too damn much fuss about freedom ... I think people would be much happier in a regulated society that had a definite pattern and a unified form -- like a folk dance. You know how beautiful a folk dance is. And rhythmic too ... That's what we need. Pattern, I mean, and rhythm. Also beauty ... what makes people unhappy is not too little choice, but too much," said Mitchell Layton. "Having to decide, always to decide, torn every which way all of the time. Now in a society of pattern, a man could feel safe. Nobody would come to him all the time pestering him to do something. Nobody would have to do anything. What I mean is, of course, except working for the common good."
"The saint in a cloister sacrifices only material things. It's a small price to pay for the glory of his soul. He hoards his soul and gives up the world. But I -- I took automobiles, silk pyjamas, a penthouse, and gave the world my soul in exchange. Who's sacrificed more -- if sacrifice is the test of virtue? Who's the actual saint?"
"And isn't that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but precisely the absence of a self. Look at them. The man who cheats and lies,  but preserves a respectable front. He thinks himself to be dishonest, but others think he's honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand. The man who takes credit for an achievement which is not his own. He knows himself to be mediocre, but he's great in the eyes of others. The frustrated wretch who professes love for the inferior and clings to those less endowed, in order to establish his own superiority by comparison. The man whose sole aim is to make money. But money is only a means to some end. If a man wants it for a personal purpose -- to invest in his industry, to create, to study, to travel, to enjoy luxury -- he's completely moral. But the men who place money first go much beyond that. Personal luxury is a limited endeavor. What they want is ostentation: to show, to stun, to entertain, to impress others. They're second-handers. Look at our so-called cultural endeavors. A lecturer who spouts some borrowed rehash of nothing at all that means nothing at all to him -- and the people who listen and don't give a damn, but sit there in order to tell their friends that they have attended a lecture by a famous name. All second-handers."
"That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers. They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They're concerned only with people. They don't ask: "Is this true?" They ask: 'Is this what others think is true?' Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing ..."
It's only a bottle cap, thought Wynand looking down at a speck of glitter under his feet; a bottle cap ground into the pavement. The pavements of New York are full of things like that -- bottle caps, safety pins, campaign buttons, sink chains, sometimes -- lost jewels; it's all alike now, flattened, ground in. It makes the pavements sparkle at night. The fertilizer of a city ... I am a man of the twentieth century and I became a bit of tin in the pavement, for the trucks of New York to roll over."
He felt an iron grate under his feet and an odor struck him in the face, an odor of dust, sweat and dirty clothing, worse than the smell of stockyards, because it had a homey, normal quality, like decomposition made routine. The grating of a subway. He thought, this is the residue of many people put together, of human bodies pressed into a mass, with no space to move, with no air to breathe.This is the sum, even though down there, among the packed flesh, one can find the smell of starched white dresses, of clean hair, of healthy young skin. 
I read afterwards that Ayn Rand originally wanted the novel to be titled "Second-Hand Lives." Very interesting.

I don't know which book from the Rory Gilmore Book Challenge is up next, since I'll probably be focusing the next month or so on two Zadie Smith novels I've read halfway over the course of the past ten years. It's time to finally clear off my plate!

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