Thursday, November 19, 2009

Roark and Baggins

by Jessica

Two recently published biographies of Ayn Rand have been getting a good deal of attention recently. It’s unusual that two so similar books have been published more or less simultaneously, and the net effect is to make it seem as if we are in the middle of a Rand resurgence. Thomas Mallon writes in the New Yorker that “most readers make their first and last pilgrimage to Galt’s Gulch....sometime between leaving for Middle Earth and packing for college.” Another reviewer (who it was, and the precise words he used, I can not now remember) said that Rand’s books have made it on to the mysteriously constituted but broadly understood unofficial reading list of adolescence. Both observations made me laugh, in large part because they seemed spot on. I read both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in early high school; who recommended them to me, I can’t, for the life of me, recall. Certainly not my parents, though they noted my choice of reading with some bemusement. I wasn’t in search of a political philosophy, and I emerged from my sojourn in Galt Gulch with no die-hard allegiance to Objectivism or snappy habit of wearing a cape. Ditto Middle Earth. I do, now wonder, where this unofficial reading list came from: for me in addition to Rand and Tolkien, it included generous helpings of Daphne DuMaurier (where is the gothic novel today, I ask?); Gone With the Wind; The Hitchhiker’s Guide; The Princess Bride; Down and Out in Paris and in London; Look Homeward, Angel; Lost Horizon. Note that I’m leaving off the books that were part of the official curriculum, such as Hiroshima, Death be Not Proud, A Separate Peace and assorted other death-related tales that I now suspect compose the reading-list-approach to undermining the adolescent sense of invincibility.

But I wonder what made it on to your unofficial list of adolescence? Did you read Rand? And what do Howard Roark and Bilbo Baggins have in common? Also, if anyone can tell me what article I’m paraphrasing, I’d be grateful.


  1. I love the "unofficial reading list" concept! Hitchhiker's Guide and Princess Bride indeed. However, I read Tolkien in 3rd grade, and didn't read Rand until college...

  2. Nope, didn't and still haven't read Rand (except for The Art Of Fiction and The Art Of Nonfiction).

    But . . . Martin Eden and Lord Jim (gifts from my father -- I still have both and revisit them from time to time); Andersonville and Signal 32; Lady Chatterly's Lover; Peyton Place and Harrison High (talk about unofficial!); The Catcher In The Rye; Wanderer (by Sterling Hayden); The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich; Hemingway, Faulkner, F. Scott you-know-who; Mailer; Steinbeck; Kerouac; Maugham. I see that I date myself. :)

  3. Stranger in a Strange Land was my high school bible, along with Friday, and I Will Fear No Evil (All Heinlein). I also read The Fountainhead several times, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I didn't read LOTR until college, though.

  4. I never Rand's books but I have recently had them suggested to me.

  5. I read Rand in college; high school was strictly science fiction. If there was an "unofficial reading list" no one gave me the secret code!

  6. Oddly enough, everything I've ever read by Rand was because it was on an official high school reading list. I didn't care much for her writing and haven't read any of it since.

    I love the unofficial high school list. For me and a lot of people I know, it included Kurt Vonnegut in copious amounts. The Lord of the Rings was middle school to early high school, and Shakespeare, CATCHER IN THE RYE, GRAPES OF WRATH, and Hemingway all tended to be assigned reading. But Vonnegut was huge, as was Jane Austen. Asimov all over the place as well. Toni Morrison to a lesser extent. I still like all those books!

  7. I DID read The Fountainhead. My mother mentioned in passing to one of her friends that she loved it, and I searched for it in our "library" at home. (I was in college.) I adored it. My mother died a few years later, and that book has always held a special place in my heart. I still have my mother's copy.

    I tend to hold it now and then.

  8. Ah, high school fun reads. I loved the Hitchhiker books, as well as Terry Brooks' Shannara series, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, and Ender's Game. LOTR was read in elementary school, but I never did get around to reading Rand. I do plan on it in the next few months.

  9. The Catcher in the Rye, The Fountainhead (and Atlas Shrugged), Bernard Malamud's The Fixer, and a whole ton of Sartre that I could never bear to actually read. Anything Russian was on the list, with Dostoevsky and Chekhov way at the top. I loved Daphne DuMaurier's books, but for some reason I was ashamed of this by the time I was fourteen. I thought gothic heroines were trivial compared with Raskolnikov and Prince Mishkin.

  10. I read Ayn Rand in high school as well. No idea who recommended her, but it must have been a teacher, since I went to HS long before the Internet. My friends and I also passed around our copies of The Godfather, Watership Down, Stranger in a Strange Land, Tropic of Capricorn, and Don Juan by Carlos Casteneda (hey, it was the Seventies). Women authors included Colette, Erica Jong, and anything by Joan Didion...

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