Best Book Ever: Purity vs. The Fountainhead

Book cover of Purity by Jonathan Franzen and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

How fun that a book all about ascetics like The Fountainhead is paired against a book called Purity. While both authors portray characters desperately seeking ideals, one does it just a little better than the other.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Purity is Franzen’s 5th novel. With 4 of the 5 down, Purity seemed like the pick for Franzen’s entry into the list. As always, Franzen gives his characters full sets of neuroses and quirks making them the “people you know” instead of the “heroes you want”, You’re exasperated and embarrassed by them, unbelieving that they could have possible been so uncool as to have done that.

In Purity, a modern millennial of the same name seeks her biological father. While Purity’s relationship with her mother has always been strained, it’s also been loving, and her mother absolutely forbids her finding out her full parentage. Cue the start of the hunt which morphs into a torrid tale of sex, lies, more lies, internet deception, and a whole lot of discussion on what is the nature of truth in the modern world and how do we feel about people who reveal truth when those people are kind of despicable. With thinly veiled references to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, Purity could have easily become too preachy. Instead, it’s a questionable but timely, framing all of our greatest concerns of self and state.

  • Goodreads Score: 3.
  • Length: 2 – I enjoyed every page I read of Purity, but at a whopping 562 of twists and turns, it’s a little long.
  • Readability: 2.5 – The plot continuously intertwines with layers upon layers, you’ll be too busy trying to piece together what happened in the last 50 pages to put together what you’re reading now.
  • Language: 4 – Frazen knows how to turn a phrase and make you laugh. Even when you’re drowning in piled plot, you’ll love the language you’re working through to get there.
  • Characters/Plot: 3.4 – My favorite part of Franzen is his characters. They’re all so perfectly irritating, like “Karen, would you please shut up!” And yet, I love them for it because they’re so real. I too hate Karen with the picky needs! And if you make it all the way to the end, you come to appreciate how the hunter laid his trap when all the pieces fall into place.

Overall Score: 15.49

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Ugh, don’t even get me started. I know, I know -Ayn Rand is for indigent teenage libertarians. While the author herself may have been too extra, she brings up some good questions for Americans to consider. Are you really in charge of your ideas? Do you really wield the liberty you think?

In The Fountainhead bad boy architect Howard Roark won’t play by anyone else’s rules. Refusing to participate in the good ole boy tradition of, “Do what you’re told and you’ll be rewarded”, Roark strikes out on his own choosing, as any good artist would, to keep his integrity rather than bending to the man. At first, he’s rejected but over time his genius is recognized, causing strife and insecurity in his foremost competitor, Peter Keating. At the climax, Roark envisions the perfect design for efficient community housing but threatens to destroy it all when the building committee wants to modify it for fluff. Is it his right to decline modification of his product? The Fountainhead offers its answer.

  • Goodreads Score: 3.87
  • Length: 3 – Unlike it’s other cohort on this list, The Fountainhead ranks as comfortably manageable.
  • Readability: 3 – Sometimes Ayn Rand is preachy, other times she’s punchy and clever. If anything, she’s got good pace..
  • Language: 3.5 – If you want a good discussion on human nature, Ayn Rand has got it for you. Maybe she’s primarily popular with adolescents because she’s got that good dose of tongue in creek criticism that appeals to the young, but I can’t help it, she makes me laugh.
  • Characters/Plot: 3.75 -In a perfect contrast to Purity’s characters, I love Ayn Rand’s characters because they are so very unreal. They’re unreasonable and staunchly idealistic. While it’s soothing to read about such perfection, I would hate these people. But her fight for individualism holds strength to this day.

Overall Score: 17.12

The Verdict

“If one doesn’t respect oneself, one can neither have love nor respect for others.” Such excellent advice for a teenager to put you well ahead of many “adults”, I had little doubt The Fountainhead would win this round. If you can get over Ayn Rand’s rose colored glasses view of communism and capitalism, she has a lot of good things to say about believing in yourself even when the world doesn’t believe in you. To The Fountainhead and freedom goes this round.

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