Speaking of Anthem

Speaking of Anthem by Ayn Rand, here is my review from Amazon.com.
This is a completely unfair review to make. I'm not a Ayn Rand fan, and I usually try to avoid reviewing books whose authors I am more or less ignorant about and uninterested in. That said--and all readers having been warned--this is one of the few books I have ever read in my life that I completely and utterly and absolutely loathed. If I ever had the slightest inclination to read The Fountainhead, this book squashed that interest to ant-like proportions. I found it narcissistic, chauvinistic (even by my relaxed "Hey, patriarchy has some good points" standards) and bovinely incompetent in its logic. The hero's solution to his anti-individualist society--creating an "I'm the only individual that counts" society (in other words, ANOTHER anti-individualist society)--plumbs the depths of idiocy. I've been told that Ayn Rand did better than this, but I can't bring myself to find out.

To play fair, other reviews are much more positive so keep reading if I've thoroughly annoyed you.
It really is just about the stupidest book I've ever read, and I'm the kind of reader who thinks things like novelizations have the right to exist. I mean, books are great. All kinds of books. But Anthem is a sorry excuse for killing a tree, or a shrub for that matter. It's just SO bad.

My reaction isn't that unusual. Based on the reviews, people either love, love, love the book or hate it. Now, I could almost see liking it (I probably would have liked it as a teen for about two seconds). I just don't get loving it: religiously, as if it's the best book ever written, the most wonderful, insightful, inspiring book ever. I mean, huh? Try the Bible, people. If you're an atheist and The Book of Job doesn't turn you on, try Kafka (I don't know if he was an atheist, but he is very depressing about communal living). If you're still an atheist and think the Bible is the opiate of the masses, try A.E. Housman. If you're anti-corporate, try Feed by M.T. Anderson. If you really want to understand the horrors of communism, try Solzhenitsyn. If you really want to dig into the moral angst of the individual, try Crime & Punishment. If you want something big and hairy and life-shattering, plow through War & Peace. If you want to sink your teeth into the horribleness of mass hysteria, pick up Lord of the Flies. If you want someone to tell you how great the individual is and how horrible the State is, watch Borg episodes of Star Trek. If that is too vulgar and mass culture for you, read Jane Austen. She was invested in the problem of individual integrity, and her novels are classics so you can feel noble and high-falutin while reading them. Austen herself wasn't noble and high falutin, of course, so beware the stern, satirical and non-self-pitying voice.

If you prefer warm and fuzzy to stern and satirical, there's always Dr. Phil to bolster your individualistic ego. If the particular warm fuzzies you are looking for have to do with the masterful, egotistical hero of Anthem, I suggest The WWF, which has the merit of never, ever taking its masterful, egotistical men seriously. Then get Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer out of the library. She doesn't take her masterful, egotistical men seriously either. If you insist on so-called "classic" literature about masterful, egotistical men, there's always Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's a really dumb book too, but at least it is better written. (Actually, the best masterful man of literature is the lover/bad guy/husband of Pamela.) Try Jane Eyre, try Alcott's The Long and Fatal Love Chase. But do not waste your time on humorless, unintelligent dreck like Anthem.

1 comment:

Henry said...

Many of the villians in Dickens are wonderfully masterful egotistical men. Given Dicken's propensity for inconsequential heroes and vapid heroines, his villians have the double responsibility of carrying forward their villianous plots and keeping the books from being snoozefests. I particularly like Mr. Quilp of The Old Curiousity Shop, who dominates the action from beginning to end.

Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White is another great villian, the kind of gifted manipulator who frankly deserves to triumph over the virtuous dullards who oppose him.