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I think Old School is one of the best books I've read recently and enjoyed your selection of quotes. I'd never heard of Ayn Rand and feel no inclination to read any of her books.

I read Sue Gee's The Mysteries of Glass about 3 years ago and so far as I remember I thought that was very good too - it'll be interesting to see if I still think the same. And I'm looking forward to reading Kipling's stories as well. I visited his house Bateman's a while back - it's just as he left it and I could imagine him there in his study.


BooksPlease--I loved the story that Big Jeff wrote that won him the hour with Ayn Rand--that cracked me up. I had heard of Ayn Rand when I was younger (I think she's always been an author that younger people tend to read or latch on to), but never felt the desire to pick up her books. I've liked the Kipling stories I've read so far--but the collection is pretty big so don't think I'll get to all of them. Did you post photos of Kipling's house on your blog? I would love to see them! It seems I saw a photo somewhere of his study (maybe that Guardian article from a while back). I need to order the Gee book as I don't think it's available in the US and I'm glad to see it is in paperback.

Dorothy W.

I think you're quite all right staying away from Ayn Rand -- I read her when I was a teenager (when a lot of people go through their Ayn Rand "stage") and I'm sure will never feel the need to read her again. But Hemingway is another matter! :) I'm looking forward to picking up Ruth Hall.


""The people I knew, and the families I knew, were all more or less beset. And none of them--not one--seemed capable of the perfect rationality and indomitable exercise of will Ayn Rand demanded as a condition of respect. Nor, I had to admit, was I. Everyone was troubled, nobody measured up..."

Exactly why one would /want/ to read Romantic Realist literature like Ayn Rand's. One does not deal with the neurotics, the cowards, the drunks, the compromisers, the alternately shameless and guilt-ridden people one deals with everyday. One is provided a glimpse of what man could be, rather than what most men have chosen to be.
I disagree that this puts Ayn Rand out of touch with reality. Whilst her work is Romantic, that is, idealised, it is also Realistic, which means that is based on what men can perfectly be capable of.

No, most men do not find themselves given the choice to, say, blow up one's building rather than see it built in a mangled, contorted form, but the point is that a man could logically come to such a situation, and could deal with it in the manner that Roark did.

I can't speak for Ayn Rand's literary reviews, having not read half the books she recommended. Those I have, for example, Les Miserables, I find myself in agreement on the essential characteristics of the novel that she picks out, so I have no reason to dismiss that she did have a deeper, reasoned meaning behind any comments she made, but again, I cannot qualify them, nor account for why she may describe an author as this or that. All I can say, is that she hated Naturalist writing, and that I can understand and empapthise - one has enough of the sick, sad things in life, and an artist may recreate those things, but I do not feel any deep joy or pleasure from reading such things, except for the technical skill, such as the metaphors or clever style of the author.

In direct response to what I quoted of you saying above, Ayn Rand gives a good defence of herself, compiled in the Lexicon under 'Naturalism':

Instead of presenting a metaphysical view of man and of existence, the Naturalists presented a journalistic view. In answer to the question: “What is man?”—they said: “This is what the village grocers are, in the south of France, in the year 1887,” or: “This is what the inhabitants of the slums are, in New York, in 1921,” or: “These are the folks next door.”


One last thing, I know bloggers don't like people hijacking the comment section for their own ego trips. I hope I don't come across as such, I just wanted to argue against what you said, because I believed it gave an unjust view of Ayn Rand. To paraphrase the woman herself: your presentation of the facts was correct, but your judgement of them was not.

Thanks for allowing me the space here on your blog to argue against you.


I didn't get to participate in Cornflower's Book Discussion Group this month, but this book sounds really good. I hope to be able to participate with the short story collection for October. We'll see. But, thanks for this review. I agree with you on Ayn Rand -- I'll just pass.


I read The Fountainhead years ago and it made my transatlantic flight feel even longer. I don't think I'll be reading more by her.

Now, Sue Gee is an author I want to read more by... Have you read any of her books? I read The Hours of Night and it was just so moving. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this latest one!

I'm off to add Old School to my wish list :)


I have never read Ayn Rand. In my high school junior year, for Christmas break we were given an extra credit assignment of writing a paper on the Fountain Head. I aborted the book after the first 50 pages. It was dreadful.

I'll have to jump right into Old School because I love academic setting. Subtle themes are also very appealing to me.


Only Tobias Wolff could make me want to take another look at Hemingway (an author I'm not nuts about.) And only Rand could make him look gentle and subtle!

Tobias Wolff is one of my all-time favorite authors. His memoir, This Boy's Life, and his short stories are standouts in American literature. Thanks for the great review!


Dorothy--For some reason Ayn Rand's work just never really appealed to me. It seems a lot of young people are attracted to her--maybe there is a sense of radicalism to her work? I am very curious about Hemingway and still hope to perhaps read something by him this year. And I have started Ruth Hall and really like it!
Rory--I have no problem with anyone leaving a comment as long as it presented in a friendly manner. I like discussion and hope to always be open to hearing another side to an issue or a different opinion. I admit the picture of Ayn Rand that was presented in Old School was not very flattering and not knowing much about the author I can't really attest to its accuracy. Certainly the response the narrator had to the 'character' of Ayn Rand was, I thought, honest to how he was presented in the story and what he thought. It seems like Rand's work is very idealized? I don't mind seeing the darker, grittier side to life (though I admit I have my own limitations). While I still don't think I would be likely to pick up her novels, it might be interesting to learn more about Ayn Rand herself. And as I am currently working on Les Misérables, I wouldn't mind also hearing what she had to say about it. Thanks for the link and your verty thoughtful comments.
Lisa--If you ever do get a chance to read Old School, it's a very well done work! I hope to get to more of Kipling's stories as well, though I don't think I'll get all the stories read.
Iliana--Sue Gee is an entirely new author to me, so I am looking forward to reading her. And I think you would like Old School!
Matt--It looks like many people have tried Ayn Rand's works at least, but I never seemed to get around to picking up her books. I loved the setting in Old School too, and interesting place and period. And I love books that have something working below the surface and give you something to think about!


JB--I'm so glad to have discovered Tobias Wolff and plan on looking for more of his work. I've heard very good things about his short stories--that they are even better than his novels, so I'll definitely be looking for those. Your comments about Hemingway made me laugh--I've not read him since high school (when I read The Old Man and the Sea), and I'd like to try something else about him. So many people have strong opinions about him that I'd like to give him a try.

Vipula Gupta

Wow..i did not know that there were so many people who did not like Ayn Rand or want to read her works.In my circle of friends reading 'Fouhtainhead' & 'Atlas Shrugged' is a rite of passage you go through when you enter your adult life.It was the first book that I picked up after school got over and I did not put it down till I finished it.It was shocking and liberating.Rand celeberates life.The way its meant to be.Yes according to her books we are lesser being..not the complete man or woman. But thats okay. Its very refreshing to see a character who is who he is and not apologetic for it.
I mean there are situations in our lives where we have to step back from what we stand for to resolve a problem , to get things done.And we wish we did not have to.Thats when you think of Howard Roark( the protagonist of Fountainhead)He is quite idolized you know :)
But it was really nice to read that there was a counterview to what I thought was universally acclaimed philosphy and literature


Vipula--I think that many younger people do go through an Ayn Rand phase. I certainly remember looking at her work (perhaps thinking it was somewhat subversive and I should read it...), but I think the length of some of her works just scared me off. Later I found that the subject matter just didn't appeal anymore. I am curious about her as an author, though, after this discussion. And I think if you asked more people you might easily find many readers who were drawn to her work and had the same reaction as you. Reading is such a subjective activity. I always wonder if there is some universally beloved work, but I can never quite think of one that won't have readers with the opposite opinion!


Danielle, going off the top of my head, she said that basically, Victor Hugo had one great flaw, but besides that, he was the greatest writer ever.
The flaw, she said, was implicit in his Christian premises, that man is a creature of sin, that he never really escapes sin until he dies and joins the creator.
This comes out in the novel, with Valjean constantly on flight, only maintaining a few moments of rest before he is hunted again. Hugo was saying that a man can redeem his soul, but that he will never be able to live happily in /this/ life, which was the only life Ayn Rand was concerned with.
However, his intellectual ideas aside, he was a 'better artist than a thinker' as I think Ayn Rand put it, and he ended up writing thrilling stuff and great works of art in spite of it all.

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