In The Goal of My Writing
Ayn Rand writes:
I writeand readfor the sake
of the story.
My basic test for any story is: Would I want to meet these characters
and observe these events in real life? Is this story an experience worth living through
for its own sake? Is the pleasure of contemplating these characters an end in itself?
In this statement, Ayn Rand is implying
that, when we read fiction, we in some sense experience the story as if it were really
happening, that we in some respect live through the story. But of course we do
not literally live through the story; we do not, for instance, literally dive off the
cliff Howard Roark dives off at the opening of The
Fountainhead. One question I will answer in this essay is: Precisely in what respect
does one, or should one, live through a story one reads?
My answer to this question will take the
form of prescribing an entire method of reading fiction. I will show how reading according
to this method enables the reader to live through the storynot literally, but in a
certain important respect.
The reading method presented here is
employed, at least to some degree, by all good readers. However, a good reader might use
his method only implicitly; he might not have an explicit understanding of it, just as
someone who forms concepts effectively might not understand explicitly the process of
concept-formation. This essay seeks to help a good reader gain explicit knowledge of his
method and thereby learn to use his method even more consistently and thoroughly.
This essay also has a second, briefer
part. In The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand
identified what man needs from art. After presenting my method of reading, I will explain
how this method ensures that the reader will in fact reap from fiction what man needs from
To illustrate my method, I will apply it
to passages from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I
will read these passages as if for the first time. Though a novelist may not expect a
reader to grasp every subtlety and implication on the first reading, a novelist writes to
make his story understandable and enjoyable on that first reading. Likewise, a reading
method must work for a first reading. My method also works on a second or even a tenth
reading. But here, let us imagine we are reading the passages for the first time.
The remainder of this 15,000-word essay
is available by purchase only. For information on ordering an e-copy for $30, click here.