Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Back to the books...

I've had so little time to read until just recently. I feel like a famine victim sitting down to a feast--too many choices, everything tastes wonderful, and I don't really care what I'm eating as long as I'm shoveling in nourishment as fast as possible. I no longer remember little details such as moderation or satiation. Just bring on the words, and I'll read them.

This is how it came about that I read We the Living by Ayn Rand in less than 24 hours. This is the second of Rand's books that I have read. I've previously read Atlas Shrugged twice. This book is interesting to read, because it is actually her first published novel, and the ideas that are fully developed in Atlas Shrugged appear here in their infancy.

Rand said that this book was the closest thing she ever wrote to an autobiography, and yet it is not the details of the life of the main character, Kira, that are autobiographical, but her ideals and convictions. What those ideals and convictions are...well, my resonance with them is extremely limited. Ayn Rand's convictions are not mine. As far as she is concerned, selfishness is a core virtue of humanity, and altruism is a gross immorality. I don't accept that fundamental principle, so I do not enter into her philosophy with sympathy.

Nevertheless, the mental horror of post-revolutionary Russia is fascinating. The struggle for any individual to maintain his (or her) integrity in the face of an all-powerful state is limited by the personal strength and resources he possesses. It is horrifying to watch as one by one, all the characters succumb to the de-humanization imposed on them by the state. The manner of their capitulation varies, but in the end, they are diminished. This book was written in 1936, and I can't help wondering what kind of an impact it made on readers who read it then, knowing that it was a present reality to hundreds of thousands of people, and not the historical episode that it is to me.

This book is a prelude into making another go at Solzhenitsyn. I've never managed to finish any of his books that I've started, but maybe this time I will. My interest in Russian literature has been kindled by War and Peace, which I still haven't finished, but have been working on again recently. My "to be read" pile of books is getting out of hand, but I'm beginning to think I'd have more time to read books if I read fewer blogs...

Perish the thought!


At 1:09 PM , Blogger Lady Liberty said...

Those are the only two books I have read of Ryn's also. I still need to read Fountainhead. Though I do not agree with it as a personal philosophy. I do agree with it as a political philosophy.
I was wondering at what age do you think "We the Living" can be read and understood?


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