This summer Jim and I both did a lot of reading, including some classic fiction. In this post and the next we will take turns commenting on some of those books.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand—This book is what I would describe as philosophical fiction, a novel whose main purpose is to present the philosophy of its writer. It centers around the character Howard Roark, a rogue architect who refuses to conform to the prevailing opinions of his profession. It is a story of what happens when the individual dares to rise up against conventional wisdom.
On the one hand, I think Rand offers profound insights into the nature of liberalism and the evils it can cause. As I read, I felt almost as if the novel were coming to life before my eyes with regard to the manipulation of public opinion through a variety of media outlets. When it comes to politics, Rand seems almost prophetic.
On the other hand, however, I strongly disagree with Rand regarding religion. A devout atheist, Rand considered religious devotion a weakness, something whose demands for the sacrifice of one’s individuality greatly resembled similar demands on the part of communism. Contrary to Rand, I see belief in a higher power as consistent with the valuing of individuals. It is simply that, in my opinion, our value and ability to achieve greatness comes not from within but from above.
I recently saw a posting on Facebook mocking politically conservative Christians for admiring the works of Rand. This seems a bit hypocritical for those who supposedly value a variety of voices in the public share. As for me, I will take truth where ever it may be found and there is much to be found in The Fountainhead.
Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane—I picked this up after looking through several “Top 100” lists and realizing I had apparently missed reading this one in high school. It was a little off-putting that the first time I brought it to the lake to read someone asked, “Are you reading that…voluntarily?” It was a bit slow to start but I quickly found myself swept away by the horrors of war. Having read a good bit about the Civil War, it was an important reminder that whichever side you were on, there was a great and bloody price to pay. I especially appreciate that Crane presents the protagonist’s experience of battle with a perfect balance of realism and sympathy. You have compassion for his moments of cowardice and celebrate his moments of bravery. I was glad to cross this off of my “Need to Read” list and feel wiser for the experience.