Two recently published biographies of Ayn Rand have been getting a good deal of attention recently. It’s unusual that two so similar books have been published more or less simultaneously, and the net effect is to make it seem as if we are in the middle of a Rand resurgence. Thomas Mallon writes in the New Yorker that “most readers make their first and last pilgrimage to Galt’s Gulch….sometime between leaving for Middle Earth and packing for college.” Another reviewer (who it was, and the precise words he used, I can not now remember) said that Rand’s books have made it on to the mysteriously constituted but broadly understood unofficial reading list of adolescence. Both observations made me laugh, in large part because they seemed spot on. I read both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in early high school; who recommended them to me, I can’t, for the life of me, recall. Certainly not my parents, though they noted my choice of reading with some bemusement. I wasn’t in search of a political philosophy, and I emerged from my sojourn in Galt Gulch with no die-hard allegiance to Objectivism or snappy habit of wearing a cape. Ditto Middle Earth. I do, now wonder, where this unofficial reading list came from: for me in addition to Rand and Tolkien, it included generous helpings of Daphne DuMaurier (where is the gothic novel today, I ask?); Gone With the Wind; The Hitchhiker’s Guide; The Princess Bride; Down and Out in Paris and in London; Look Homeward, Angel; Lost Horizon. Note that I’m leaving off the books that were part of the official curriculum, such as Hiroshima, Death be Not Proud, A Separate Peace and assorted other death-related tales that I now suspect compose the reading-list-approach to undermining the adolescent sense of invincibility.
But I wonder what made it on to your unofficial list of adolescence? Did you read Rand? And what do Howard Roark and Bilbo Baggins have in common? Also, if anyone can tell me what article I’m paraphrasing, I’d be grateful.