SURPRISE! This is not a drill – Bad Books, Good Times is reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
Well, it’s gonna be a little different than usual. We already read two books for the blog, and I don’t want to start up a third book that I won’t be able to update regularly. So it’s not on the blog yet, because I want to write enough of it first that so it can be.
What if I don’t care about things like “regularity” and just want to read whatever you’ve got now?
Ah, would you be surprised to learn that you can? Our Patreon supporters – who make up most of our income and help keep this blog afloat – will get an exclusive first look at this new series. In fact, the first chapter is up on Patreon now for everyone donating at last $3 a month.
But it will be on BBGT and free for everyone eventually, right?
Yes! But I don’t want to start posting it here until I have enough to do so on a regular schedule. And it’s a long, sloggy book. And we’re already reading two other books for this blog, so it’s a very “whenever I have time” thing. It could take a while.
So Patreon supporters get to read them first, as you write them?
Yep! Along with the other benefits of supporting our Patreon, like the other exclusive content we write over there, copies of our eBooks, and the thrill of throwing a couple bucks our way to help us pay for the expenses and time it takes to keep this blog going. There’s other rewards at higher tiers too, but all you need to donate is $3/month to get Fountainhead Fridays.
Why are you calling it Fountainhead Fridays?
Alliteration is fun!
So why The Fountainhead?
We could spill metric fucktons of ink over this – which would be fitting, given that’s exactly how Ayn Rand writes – but here’s the crash course. The Fountainhead was published in 1943. It was Rand’s breakout novel that served as a vehicle for her philosophy, Objectivism. The core tenants of Objectivism are the pursuit of self-interest and personal greatness, and the rejection of personal sacrifice or sense of social obligation; that the talented individual owes no compromise or value to society; basically “fuck you, got mine”. The Fountainhead is a novel about an architect that’s better than everyone else, and his struggles to have his genius understood. The main character was partly inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, who not so secretly hated it. The Fountainhead is a favorite novel of people like Paul Ryan and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. This is information that makes the world make a distressing amount of sense.
There’s obviously more to be said, but that’s enough for us to ask the question we always do over here: but how bad is it?
No, I mean, are you just reading The Fountainhead because “Fountainhead Fridays” has alliteration?
Anything else you want us to know?
I mean, I want you to know how awesome this is going to be, so why don’t you read the first half of this first chapter right now?
BECAUSE IT’S FOUNTAINHEAD FRIDAY.
The Fountainhead: Chapter 1
Howard Roark laughed.
He stood naked at the edge of a cliff.
Ok, we’re off to a fun start.
He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead.
Oh, Christ, this book is going to be overwritten as fuck, isn’t it? (Looks at the page count) Over 700 pages. Oh yeah. This is going to be painful.
He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. There were questions to be faced and a plan of action to be prepared. He knew that he should think about it.
I mean, obviously you don’t want to give everything away in the first few pages, but a fun experiment you can do at home to see if the opening to your novel might be too vague would be to see if it works as an opening for literally any novel. “He knew that times would be difficult, there would be questions about it, he should think about it.” Congrats, this is how literally every story ever starts.
Howard Roark looks at the surrounding nature, noticing granite “to be cut” and “made into walls”, trees “to be split and made into rafters”, and you see where this is going. The Fountainhead is not subtle about its themes.
These rocks, he thought, are here for me […] waiting for the shape my hands will give them
Very not subtle.
Roark jumps off the cliff, but it’s just barely over a lake that he goes swimming in. Weird, and here I thought the main character was going to kill himself on the third page. We learn that he’s lived there for three years, but that morning he’d been expelled from the Architectural School of the Stanton Institute of Technology. Hopefully you enjoyed getting those firm details about what Roark’s life is like, because The Fountainhead is almost masturbatory about describing things as indescribable.
People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring after him with sudden resentment. They could give no reason for it: it was an instinct his presence awakened in most people.
Like, there is a lot of this.
“Mr. Roark, I’m so sorry about […] your being expelled from the Institute.” […]
He stood looked at her. She knew that he did not see her. No, she thought, it was not that exactly. He always looked straight at people [but] he made people feel as if they did not exist. He just stood looking.
[His] were sketches of buildings such as had never stood on the face of the earth. […] There was nothing to be said of them, except that each structure was inevitably what it had to be.
I guess this is supposed to make Roark this enigmatic presence, but the effect is a much more amateur writing problem: if your story is about someone with genius ideas, you have to actually describe said genius ideas. The best you can do is sound incredibly vague or, worse, make it contradictorily vague.
The structures were austere and simple, until one looked at them and realized what work, what complexity of method, what tension of thought had achieved the simplicity.
Like that. Bonus points if you give up on describing the end product and just start telling the reader that the creator is just brilliant, ok, please trust me on this (“what tension of thought had achieved [this]” ok Ayn we’ll all pretend to be very surprised at the surprise party).
Roark is brought to a meeting his his now former Dean, who only gets to be referred to as The Dean, so clearly Roark’s genius is too great for him to be stuck here much longer. The Dean expresses his regret that the department voted for Roark’s expulsion.
“Professor Peterkin, your critic of design, made an issue of the matter. He went so far as to threaten us with his resignation unless you were expelled.”
Boy, I can’t wait to learn how this professor who almost quit over this twenty-two-year-old undergrad is actually the one in the wrong here.
The Dean explains how Roark’s attitude was “the trouble” – that Roark prioritized engineering and the sciences and refused to take his design classes seriously. The Dean asks why he would “neglect what may be termed the artistic and inspirational side of your profession”, saying that he’s trying to help Howard see what all went wrong.
“Every project you had to design [is] done in that – well, I cannot call it a style”
You could seriously make a drinking game out of every time Ayn Rand has to write around having to actually describe Roark’s genius.
“It is contrary to every principle we have tried to teach you […] You may think you are what is called a modernist, but it isn’t even that.”
Want to read the rest of the chapter? Check out our Patreon! And, hey, have a great Friday