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.
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.
9 months ago