Rolling out these blog posts like a boss! Well sorta, at least for me anyways. Anyway, you might recall (or might not, that’s coo too) that I mentioned that while I was still existing within the age of 24 I wanted to re-read a book I read at 14 that had changed my perspective on various things in life. That book being The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It is a beast of a book and took me nearly a month, in which I was constantly worried I wouldn’t finish on time but I did and that means I’m here to talk about it.
Now if you know the material, you might see 14 and think, “Isn’t that kinda young?” and yes it probably is but you can thank Rory Gilmore for this. In one of my favorite episodes from Gilmore Girls, ‘They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They’, Rory says to Lorelai (who is determined to beat Kirk at the towns 24 hour dance marathon), “My mother, the Howard Roark of Stars Hallow.” And since I felt the need to understand as many of the pop culture references in the show I did some research and found The Fountainhead, which my mom was a little hesitant on because it’s she had heard something about “adult scenes” in it but I ignored that. Plus when part of your English grade as a 9th grader is determined on the number of pages you can read and this behemoth is around 700 pages you consider that a win-win.
At 14 though I had zero understanding or knowledge of Ayn Rand as a person and her belief system, which is a bit scandalous and not something I, as 25-year-old much aware of it all, subscribe to. While in some small aspects I can see where she was rooted in her thoughts but I can’t agree with her fully and live in that idea of Objectivism. Which made re-reading the book all the more interesting because truthfully I tried to recall as much as I could about the experience of my first time reading it and I couldn’t remember much. I knew there was Howard Roark and Peter Keating, two architects at vastly different ends of a spectrum and it showed how they maneuvered their lives and careers over a period of time. But nothing specific stuck out to me like any of the buildings they built or other important characters or big plot twists. The only thing I remembered was that it was a book that really made me think and analyze the content in a way I never had before. So despite the slight taboo around Rand and her works I still always credit The Fountainhead as one of my favorite books and one that left a major impact on me.
When taking stock of being almost 25 I realized it had been 10 years since I first read the book and thought it’d be kinda cool to re-read it as an “adult” and see how living 10 years of my life; growing and maturing and learning could make me approach the material in a new light. I read a handful of comments and reviews that said the book was best read at a young age before one could fully understand because once you do the book shines less and becomes less beloved or inspiring, and to a degree that’s true. As I read it now I can see ideas and points that when I was younger seem really deep and philosophical now seem really selfish and a little pretentious. However I still enjoyed re-reading the book and getting to experience it a second time.
Getting to experience the parallel of Howard Roark and Peter Keating over quiet an extended period is exhausting but worth it. I can’t say I truly cheer for any character within the novel but there are times when I find myself hoping for certain positive aspects in their lives. The character growth of everyone around Howard who stays pretty stagnant the entire time is something I personally find fascinating, even if it further showcases him as Rand’s “hero” of mankind and perfect man. Because when it comes to Roark I feel polarizing feelings; on one hand I admire him for knowing who he is and standing his ground to keep his integrity but on the other I think without a little bit of growth and understanding towards others we fail ourselves more than others.
One of the more well-known lines of Roark is , “I could die for you. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t live for you.” and I remember thinking it was this mind-blowing thought to say to someone, particularly someone you considered a close friend. Now I still think it’s pretty intense but not in the same way, I understand it a little more and don’t necessarily see Roark as this grand character for stating it but for being someone who is just honest and understands the kind of stock that puts in the person he is addressing.
Peter Keating however I think I had a little more sympathy for during my first read through and how I will never understand. It’s definitely pity and slight disgust that followed him throughout the book this time around. There were times I was mad at him but you can’t stay mad at him because you know he is just a coward and weak and it’s not worth it to waste an emotion like anger on him. All of this does make him a great foil for Howard though so while I kinda hate he has to be so pathetic it makes for good story telling.
In general though I think I almost enjoy the book now than I did at 14, just for very different reasons. At that age you’re still able to believe it when they tell you the world is black and white; right and wrong, good and bad. But as you age you have experiences, learn a ton, and your view shifts with each step. A character in the book, Steven Mallory, says it a little bit more negative than I do but it speaks to a similar idea.
“You know 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.”
For me I like being more aware of the many, many, faults of these characters and Rand’s philosophy as a whole. It makes me read the book more in-depth and think about what I am reading and why it pulls out such strong emotions in not only me but thousands of people over the last 80 plus years since its release in 1943. I’ll pick apart characters as they spout on monologues or short little cutting dialogue because what’s being said is striking a chord and I need to know why this particular sentence, paragraph, or phrase is making me pay more attention. I couldn’t remember the specific endgame of the novel so I was anxious to get to the end and see where all these characters end up and who gets their due and who doesn’t.
It was a bit of an adjustment from the (mostly) YA novels I had been reading since the start of the year, ones I had been devouring in a day or two but that’s good for me. Picking a new pace that’s a bit more of a challenge in its own ways and not allowing me to get complacent. Not to mention it was just fun to revisit a personally important book years after it left its first effect on me with a new perspective and outlook. And without the re-read I wouldn’t have gotten to discover a quote I let slip past me last time that I really love and am going to leave you all with.
What a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier.