Monday, August 31, 2009

Ayn Rand Beach Story

A few weeks ago, I was stunned by the interest in my casual mention of having an Ayn Rand Beach Story. Mostly I used the phrase in a previous post because I liked how it looked, but I do in fact have an Ayn Rand Beach Story.

It's still (barely) August and I was recently at the scene of the Ayn Rand Beach Story incident, so it's time for the story. My apologies if the actual event is anti-climactic.

I don't remember exactly how old I was when this happened, but I was likely between the ages of 15 and 17. One summer day, I was sitting on a beach near my family's house, alone, reading Atlas Shrugged.

I was not reading Ayn Rand because of some teenage Ayn Rand phase. I was working my way through the somewhat meager but not-too-bad collection of literature in my town's public library. I'd already consumed much of the available pre-20th century literature, including Russian literature (which I'd enjoyed, so big books did not dismay me), and was then reading my way through the collection of 20th century American novels. Inevitably, I got to Ayn Rand without really knowing much about her or her philosophy.

I was reading Atlas Shrugged at a very small beach, with only a few clusters of other humans, mostly older people who occasionally arose from their beach chairs to put their toes in the water.

As one of these people -- a man -- was leaving the beach, he stopped by where I was sitting and asked: Have you gotten to The Speech yet?

I did not know what he was talking about, so I figured that either I had not gotten to The Speech yet or that The Speech was not very memorable.

I replied: No, not yet.

I don't remember if we conversed further, however briefly, but I have always felt vaguely embarrassed about the interaction. My fear is that he asked me what I thought of the book so far.

If he did, my reply was likely not very positive. I might have mentioned something about how I thought it was a bit overwrought or that the characters were kind of one-dimensional. I might not have been very articulate.

In any case, he walked on.

His companion, a woman, then came over to me and said: Do you know who he is?

No, I did not know.

She informed me: He (nodding in the direction of the man) was her (nodding at my book) best friend.

She left.

That was it, a small incident, but one that had a profound effect on me, namely that, to this day, I am totally paranoid when I read a book in public. In fact, when I was reading a book on that very beach recently, I checked to see where the author was residing now and was somewhat unnerved to learn that the author had moved from Malaysia to the US, vastly increasing the chance that the author, her relatives, or friends could be on that very beach at that moment watching me read that book, which I didn't particularly like.

On that little beach long ago, when asked what I thought of the book I was reading, I don't think I would have changed my answer to a more glowing one had I known that he was her best friend, but ever since, when asked by random strangers about a book I am reading, I always wonder if they have a hidden agenda.

19 comments:

CurlyO said...

I wonder how somebody so much accustomed to being criticized by reviewers, funding agencies etc can be embarrassed by having to express her mere dislike of an artistic product like a book! :o)

Favela Cranshaw said...

I'm guessing it was Francisco.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such a hilarious story!

Dr. Rural said...

I was reading a newly-published book at a conference a few years ago, when a man walked up, noticed the cover, and asked what I thought of it. I count my lucky stars that I said "Oh, I love it!" since the guy in question turned out to be the author.

Still, if authors and their friends are going to quiz strangers about their books, they'd better be prepared to get all kinds of responses.

Anonymous said...

I was given a Kindle as a present and have been using it to read books. One thing that I didn't anticipate when I started, was how lovely it was to read in public without anyone being able to tell what book I was reading....

Anonymous said...

Holy schneikies! That's a crazier story than I was expecting. Definitely not a let-down. :)

Random said...

Have you seen this blog? Now if you read in public you can potentially be judged by the entire internet...

http://peoplereading.blogspot.com/


(although, I actually like the blog because it makes me realize people read more than I give them credit for)

Anonymous said...

Don't worry -- we already know that you are far too sophisticated to have ever liked Ayn Rand. Of course you preferred Russian literature as a teenager -- we never doubted it!

You go girl!

Anonymous said...

I should think this guy would be pleased that a 15-17 year old was spending her summer at the beach reading Ayn Rand rather than being concerned if her evaluation did not perfectly match his.

And, as Dr Rural noted, if you are going to ask someone their opinion of a book without making clear to them who you are, you should be prepared for to receive any kind of feedback.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder how somebody so much accustomed to being criticized by reviewers, funding agencies etc can be embarrassed by having to express her mere dislike of an artistic product like a book! :o)"

I totally agree with the above comment. And judging from your story the man didn't seem to be offended.

Who was the man supposed to be Nathaniel Branden? Leonard Piekoff?

PUI prof said...

I was reading an English version of Dresden by F Taylor on a train to partake in the 60th commemoration of the firebombing of Dresden in WW2. Since the book was in English and had the thesis that the bombing was justified, and I was on a train full of Germans headed to the same place, I took some paper and wrapped it around the spine and cover while reading on the train.

female Science Professor said...

I suppose we can be quite affected by things that happen to us at an early age. I was not "accustomed to being criticized by reviewers" at age 15-17. That came later.

Dr. Shellie said...

There is a Broadway play about an author sitting on a train with a woman who turns out to be his biggest fan... called "The Unexpected Man". However, she knows it's him right away.

Ms.PhD said...

Also true in science - you never know who knows whom.

I like the Kindle solution to the privacy problem. But I still won't read blogs in public!

Kris said...

Semirelated story: I was working part-time in a great independent bookstore when a woman bought a handful of books I'd perused while working. They were cat cartoons, essentially, not something I usually like, but these were well done and clever. "Oh, you're going to love these," I said as I rang up her purchase. "They're very funny." That's when one of the store owners said, "Kris, I'd like to introduce you to the author of these books," referring to the customer. I blushed red as a barn! I don't think she herself would've said anything had the owner not spoken.

Doctor Pion said...

Thanks for the story. I found it interesting that she had a best friend! Plust, that incident carries with it the suggestion that The Speech might have grown out of conversations with The Friend.

We happen to know a Somewhat Famous Author, and he can handle anything (like Dr. Rural noted) except questions about the true stories that might have led to the fictional ones. Those are off limits.

Besides, I suspect that the authors who can't handle criticism don't even go outside, let alone walk up to someone reading their book and ask for an opinion.

Chem Teacher said...

I had a similar story while at con. My husbandand I were wandering looking at booths and there was one that had some 2001: A Space Odyssey memorablia. The older man stationed at the booth asked if I was a fan of the movie. I said no, that I was a fan of the books and had a hard time ever getting through the movie (I don't think I have!). I might have said I found it incredibly boring. The man got kinda huffy and was obviously done talking to us. Later, as we passed through the area again, I saw a sign at the booth advertising an appearance by one of the actors from the movie - the guy who I had disparged the movie too. No wonder he got huffy! I felt bad, I never would have been that brutally honest had I realized who I was speaking to.

Zarina said...

I discovered that the stretchy bookcovers that are on sale everywhere now for the school kids, are perfect for hardcover books. Those might be a way for you to relax while you read in public. They are also a good solution for people who are concerned with their reading privacy and can't afford the electronic readers.

Frederick Cookinham said...

Count your blessings -- I'm the guy who stands at 45th and Lex every Wednesday at 6 pm holding a sign that reads "AYN RAND TOUR." Lots of interesting reactions. Mostly positive.