Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Fountainhead

It's been quite a while since my last post about an audio book I've read (er...listened to). I had to look back to see that it was on June 17th. Well, that's because it has taken this long to finish my latest audio book, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. As I've mentioned before, I will often chose an audio book that is a "classic" because I don't read those all that often. This time, when I was at the library to make my choice, I found mostly abridged versions of books and I just won't read/listen to those if at all possible. If it's not presented the way the author wanted it, (and the editors and publishers and marketers and other assorted staff members that help to manufacture a book these days) then I don't want to read it. So even though this book was 26 disks long, I decided to give it a try.

26 discs! That's a lot of hours of listening to one story. It is truly a testament to the quality of a novel, as well as the reader and the production quality of an audio book, that it can keep your attention for so long. This novel did just that for me. I can honestly say this has been a wonderful experience.

I had always heard of Ayn Rand and I had seen her large major works at the book store, and I had even done a little research on her to see what all the hooplah was about her philosophy of objectivism. So I really didn't know what to think when I began this book. Would it read like a super-long essay with a thin plot spread over the top? Would it be a "preachy" novel? Could I even last through the first disk? I was prepared for almost anything except what I got which was a nicely developed story with wonderfully complex characters.

On the surface, this is a story about architecture and the men and women of that industry in early 20th century New York. But really it's about a handful of characters who represent certain archetypes that Ms Rand uses to codify her objectivism philosophy. Howard Roark is the perfect man in her philosphy, unwilling to compromise one iota for his art even if it means near starvation as an architect. He is indifferent to the opinions of others and therefore "the one who is as man should be." Peter Keating is "the man who couldn't be successful but doesn't know it." Unlike Roark, he patterns his art after others, rationalizing that if he does the same thing then he will also be successful. Ultimately he is passed by because he just doesn't understand the neccessity of originality. Ellsworth Toohey knows he will never be successful in the same vein and so becomes successful at destroying others. He is the "man who couldn't be and knows it." And then Gail Wynand is the "one that could have been." Rising from poverty to be a powerful media mogul, he chooses to try to control others rather than create for himself. I'll leave it to others to debate the relative merits of Ms Rand's philosophy but for me, the characters and how they interact are prime; a great novel is a great novel because of the writing, the setting, the characters, the style, the plot, etc. And this is a great novel.

Is it perfect? No, I don't think so, even if one ignores the underlying phiosophy and only looks at it from a novel writing perspective. There are long passages where one character spews forth their point of view, detailing their particular philosophy on the nature of what makes for a good society, or a good relationship, or even on the very nature of good and evil, etc. Some people say this is "stilted" dialogue and I concur. It just wasn't realistic.

The novel is broken down into four parts, one for each of the main characters. That section tends to have more of the story presented from that person's point of view but the overall plot is consistent and chronological. The plot itself is masterful and includes elements of revenge, intrigue, power plays, romance, and courtroom drama. The pacing is spot on, driving the plot towards its powerful conclusion. I highly recommend this novel, whether reading for sheer pleasure or for a launching platform for philosophical discussions.

I have a long 3-week vacation coming in September so I will need to ensure my next audio book selection is much less lengthy. (But no abridgements!)

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire