Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Books That Live Inside You

There are books that live inside my brain. Movies and television shows, too, sure, but mostly books.

Sometimes when I read a book, I know right away that it will set up a camping spot inside my head and issue occasional flares into my daily life that light up and say, "Hey! Remember this? Remember that? Remember when Anne broke her slate over Gilbert's head? Remember when Mr. Gilbreth painted the solar system in scale on the walls of the vacation house and left Morse code messages for the kids to decipher?" And I'll reply, "Of course I do, thanks for reminding me!" and go back to whatever I was doing.

Because I am a collector by nature, my brains are filled up with a jumble of characters and events and language and imagery that never really happened. Not really. But these particular characters and places and happenings I read about actually resonate with my very soul and so it feels as if they did happen after all. It's nice; I like having company in there.

The first amazingly great work of literature to stick around in my head was To Kill A Mockingbird. (I was about 11 years old.) Scout, Jem and Dill romp around in my memories as if they had been real kids I knew in my childhood. Atticus Finch--stalwart and true, doing the right thing whether he was helping a neighbor conquer personal demons, shooting a rabid dog in the street, or defending an innocent man--Atticus Finch parked himself right next door to my conscience. When I encountered a difficult situation, before I had solidified my moral code, I would think of Atticus and try to imagine what he might do, if he'd be proud or ashamed of my choice. I liked making him proud.

Years later, I met Howard Roark from The Fountainhead. Howard Roark actually shocked me and like many who encountered Roark in those vital teenage years, I fell half in love with him as I read the novel for the first time. But only halfway in love. The novel blew my mind because I could not figure out where Ayn Rand was going with it. Everything I knew in my life up to that point told me that this novel could not end well. Oh, I wanted it to, because my love for Roark was strong, but I was so afraid he'd compromise or the world would come and trample on top of him and so I couldn't let myself really love him. And then. . . he brought the world down himself and didn't compromise one minute of his life and I was head over heels! Roark and Atticus Finch became great neighbors.

And then I heard something fantastic. The Fountainhead wasn't even Ayn Rand's best novel! How on earth was that possible? But I wanted to know more, because I was still reeling from the liberating, confusing experience that was The Fountainhead. Somehow--how?--my grandparents had an old battered copy of Atlas Shrugged in their house and they let me take it home with me. It was the summer before college, the summer before I would finally finally! be free and on my own (a moment I had been anticipating since nursery school), when John Galt, Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, Ragnar Danneskjold, Hugh Akston and OMG YES! Francisco D'Anconia walked into my head and built not tiny neighborhoods of isolated homes, but a city.

No, not a city--a new world.

It's impossible to capture in a mere blog post the myriad scenes and moments from Atlas Shrugged that nudge at me every single day. So here are just a few of my absolute favorites (and I'd love to hear yours!):

  • Riding the John Galt Line for the first time--triumph!
  • Three children running to meet each other at an old oak tree
  • Wyatt's Torch and his message
  • Francisco. Um, yes. Francisco.
  • The bracelet of Rearden Steel--and all it signified
  • Hank Rearden raising himself off of his desk by sheer will
  • Rearden carrying the Wet Nurse--Tony--in his arms
  • The new twists on old fairy tales
  • The absolute joy of Galt's Gulch, the breath of fresh air and happiness that is in everything there
  • Akston's diner
  • Discovering the motor
  • The train tunnel

This book is a constant in my life--a motor, if you will, that never shuts down. Reading it for the first time that summer, all I kept thinking (and shouting) was, "Yes!" I simply cannot find the words to convey how much I identify with the characters, the events, and most of all--the message. There is almost nothing that happens in my life about which I can't find a corresponding event in Atlas Shrugged. Those events are present in my happiest moments with my love, my family, my work and they are there, too, in my moments of struggle.

In those significant moments, big and small, that's when all of the Atlas Shrugged characters sidle up to Roark and Atticus and together they all whisper, "It's all true. She was right." And I whisper back, "I know. Thanks for reminding me."

Atlas Shrugged is 50 today. Since I wrote this post in Ayn Rand's honor, I will let her close it out:

The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours.

But to win it requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence of that which is man: for his sovereign rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.

Atlas Shrugged, page 1069.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Jenn. I am not surprised about the Fountainhead or Atlas; I remember them all the time too. But To Kill a Mockingbird made me give a little gasp of remembrance too. It gets a place in my mind right next to Anne and Sam Gamgee.

Kelly

David Elmore said...

What a fun, terrific post, Jenn. I got a thrill out of each scene that has stuck with you. Here are some of my favorite books and what precious gem I've gotten out of each.
1) Fountainhead: Roark's unfailing individualism and selfishness.
2) Atlas Shrugged: The celebration of the greatness and sovereignty of the human mind.
3) Count of Monte Cristo: The satisfying exacting of justice.
4) Pride & Prejudice: The honesty of two courageous but slightly faulted people to correct their irrationality and live happily ever after in extraordinary respect and benevolence.
5) Anne of Green Gables: Indomitable optimism, selfishness and happiness.
6) To Kill A Mockingbird: Benevolence and fortitude in the face of abject ugliness.

David Elmore said...

What a fun, terrific post, Jenn. I got a thrill out of each scene that has stuck with you. Here are some of my favorite books and what precious gem I've gotten out of each.
1) Fountainhead: Roark's unfailing individualism and selfishness.
2) Atlas Shrugged: The celebration of the greatness and sovereignty of the human mind.
3) Count of Monte Cristo: The satisfying exacting of justice.
4) Pride & Prejudice: The honesty of two courageous but slightly faulted people to correct their irrationality and live happily ever after in extraordinary respect and benevolence.
5) Anne of Green Gables: Indomitable optimism, selfishness and happiness.
6) To Kill A Mockingbird: Benevolence and fortitude in the face of abject ugliness.

Flash said...

Jenn,
I crashed into you blog totally by accident and found your post to be just great.. I have read just about everything Ms Rand wrote - in fact, what I truly enjoy is playing the money speech by Francisco to my daughter - she loves it! I have it on a CD version of Atlas Shrugged read by Edward Herman, truly the perfect reader for the job..

At any rate, I am essentially an Objectivist as well. I hate labels, but I have to admit my growing and almost complete understanding of it meets with my world-view in almost perfect sync.

Thanks for the neat post, and I'll leave you with a letter you may not know about (but perhaps you do?).

Scottsdale, Arizona
April 23, 1944


"My Dear Miss Rand:

I've read every word of The Fountainhead. Your thesis is the great one. Especially at this time. So I suppose you will be set up in the marketplace and burned for a witch. Your grasp of the architectural ins and outs of a degenerate profession astonishes me. There is a lot of intelligent research visible back of this work of yours: a very real passion for your very real Cause. The Individual is the Fountainhead of any Society worthwhile. The Freedom of the Individual is the only legitimate object of government: the Individual Conscience is the great inviolable.

Well-the theme is as old as civilization but now buried under aeons of rubble in the upward struggle of Man, in spite of our experiment in the USA. You are digging in that rubble for our salvation as a people. And while you sensationalize your digging, what else is a "novel" for?

Your novel is Novel. Unusual material in unusual hands and, I hope, to an unusual end.

So far as I have unconsciously contributed anything to your material you are welcome.
We can now watch the usual performance of omitting the message while gaudifying the pictures. Hollywood ruined The Devil and Daniel Webster, knocked the lesson out of The Remarkable Andrew, missed the real idea in The Pied Piper, etc., etc., ad libitum, ad nauseam. I am afraid you are down the same street.

Thanks for Ellsworth Toohey. A great portrait. His time is up.

Sincerely yours,
Frank Lloyd Wright"

Flash said...

Oh, one other thing before I vanish..

One of my favorite passages in A.S.:

"There was a time when men were afraid that somebody would reveal some secret of theirs that was unknown to their fellows. Nowadays, they're afraid that somebody will name what everybody knows. Have you practical people ever thought that that's all it would take to blast your whole, big, complex structure, with all your laws and guns—just somebody naming the exact nature of what you're doing?"

Rational Jenn said...

Flash--thanks for stopping by (don't vanish!). AS is such a great book. I've never heard the audio version, but I understand that Hermann does an excellent job. And thanks for that Wright letter, too--I'm not sure I'd seen that one before.

Thanks for your comments and come back soon!