Today is the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth. Happy birthday, Ayn!
Her writings, fiction and non-fiction, were, other than my father, the single greatest influence on my life and thoughts and points-of-view from the ages of 15 to 21. I remember cutting class as a sophomore in high school to escape to the local park and read The Fountainhead under a tree. I remember weeping so loudly in my bed while reading We the Living that I brought my dad into my room in alarm. I remember reading Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, arming myself with the moral justifications for laissez-faire capitalism. I think I've read everything Ayn ever wrote.
I really love her earlier fictional works. We the Living and The Fountainhead are still two of my favorite and constant re-reads. I have an especial fondness for her unpublished early works that were collected in The Early Ayn Rand. I never really took to Atlas Shrugged, although the story about the Twentieth Century Motor Company is one of my all-time favorite vignettes. The fact that she wrote that ponderous tome in the midst of an adoring circle of acolytes probably led to its being mired down with unwieldy diatribes and philosophical expoundings that interrupt an otherwise fascinating narrative. I think that it would have been a much more effective novel if the philosophy had been illustrated by letting the events of the story play out without so many soapbox speeches. In other words, show us, don't tell us. That is the beauty of We the Living and The Fountainhead - she gets her points across without whacking you with a 2x4 of philosophical dissertation.
I always ended up liking her "secondary stature" heroes better than her primary heroes. For instance, Gail Wynand is a far more developed and attractive character (IMHO) than Howard Roark. Francisco d'Anconia beats ol' John Galt hollow. Hank Rearden also beats out that pontificating-proned, blowhard-genius as far as being a realistic, charismatic man. And is there really anyone out there who doesn't think Kira a bit of a fool to choose the annoying, dispirited Leo over the sexy, leather-coated, Communist bad-boy Andrei? I can't even imagine having a conversation with her primary heroes, let alone making love with them. They are often too abstract and vague to be appealing. Boy, did my young heart swoon over the Wynands and d'Anconias and Taganovs, though!
In honor of her 100th birthday, I'm going to re-read The Fountainhead. It's been a few years since the last time I read it. I'm looking forward to that warm sense of entering a benevolent universe when I turn to the first page and read, "Howard Roark laughed."
I wonder what the atheistic Ayn thought when she met God face-to-face...