Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lessons in (il)Literacy: Ayn Rand

This post is the first in what I cynically expect hope will become a series of my favourite bad quotes in literature/academic writing. I have a few examples ready to go but hopefully I'll find more as I go along. Basically the idea is just to share the best examples of terrible writing by widely liked respected known authors. To start things off with a bang, I want to share an old favourite quote from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Slight disclaimer: I haven't actually read Atlas Shrugged in its entirety. I tried to get through it just to experience the batshit-crazy curious objectivist philosophy, mostly because my interest had been piqued by the game Bioshock. However, about 80 pages into the "timeless" classic I put the book down in disgust, partially at the politics but more so at the writing. It was just so... I'm not sure what the right word for it is. Pathetic, disgusting, amateur, horrendous, these are all words that come to mind, but none of them seem quite right. I'll just let the quote below speak to the general quality of the prose. It's always stood out to me as one of the most simultaneously painful and hilarious few sentences I've ever read, so hopefully you can get some sort of kick out of it too.

Eddie Willers shook his head, as the screech of a -rusty mechanism changing a traffic light stopped him on the edge of a curb. He felt anger at himself. There was no reason that he had to remember the oak tree tonight. It meant nothing to him any longer, only a faint tinge of sadness—and somewhere within him, a drop of pain moving briefly and vanishing, like a raindrop on the glass of a window, its course in the shape of a question mark.


  1. I tried reading this shit so that I could enter an essay competition (prize: $10,000).  Not even for $10,000 could I get past the first chapters.  Honestly.  Physically painful.

  2. 100% agreed. I actually got my copy of the book from a mutual friend of ours (hint: large, loud, philosophy major, part of a certain "illustrious" group-of-seven) who had purchased the book for exactly the same reason as you. He couldn't finish it either.

    Note: I'm going to eventually do a follow-up to this post. I realized after publishing it that I need some commentary to really make my point, and for some reason I failed to include that here. Weird for me, must have been a little over eager to get some content up on here. Oh well.