on literary dealbreakers (sort of)

A couple of weeks ago, I was perusing my Facebook news feed, as I do sometimes, and I came across a link: Holy Shit: They’re Making Atlas Shrugged Into A Movie. The article begins like so:

When it comes to dating, I have only one simple rule. If I go over to a girl’s house and she has a copy of The Fountainhead, or — god forbid — Atlas Shrugged, then I’m out the door in 0.5 seconds. Liking Ayn Rand novels is a guaranteed sign that someone is crazy, and though crazy people are often good in bed, it’s really just not worth it.

This made me remember the following:

Look. We all have dealbreakers, and if seriously, out of all the writers in the world, a guy’s absolute favorite is Ayn Rand, then I just know it’s not going to work out. Reading Ayn Rand is one thing, and placing Ayn Rand above all others in one’s own personal pantheon of favorites is another thing entirely. And I’m sorry, but if you love Ayn Rand’s books that much, then dude, we have some serious fundamental differences in the way we view the world, and while I think relationships can work between people whose philosophical outlooks differ, I know myself well enough to be absolutely certain that mixing myself up with someone who loves Ayn Rand that much could only end in ruination and despair. And while ruination and despair can make for some entertaining stories later on in life when I’ve found myself to be emotionally-distanced enough from said ruination and despair to find humor in it, I think perhaps I am over ruination and despair as an outcome. I’d like to try something else perhaps. To experiment. You know. For science. 1

But then I thought about myself. Because if I’m going to be so snap-judgmental, then it’s only fair that I consider the possibility that others are snap-judging me. I have several favorite writers (I think most people do) and if someone were to ask me, “Hey baby, did you wash your pants in Windex? Because, um, I mean, who’s your favorite writer?” 2 I could pick one of several and not be lying, but these days I’d still probably go with my homeboy, William Faulkner. I’m trying to figure out what this says about me. I keep making this face:


It’s kind of funny how the face I make when I’m trying to figure out what it means that I love Faulkner like I do is pretty much exactly the same face I make for… well, many things (I do bite my thumb, sir); it’s kind of like my Blue Steel. 3 Does liking Faulkner signify someone very few people like due to a high degree of difficulty? Perhaps. Me, I think it speaks to my fondness for bourbon and the fact that people often don’t get when I’m joking. 4

Anyway. Remember when I declared myself the world’s only living authority on the hotness of reading material? Maybe you don’t remember. It’s okay. But I did. I declared myself to be the world’s only living authority on the hotness of reading material, and since I’m officially an authority, I do what all authorities do: sit around and wait for the speaking engagements to roll in. I’m sure it’s going to happen someday, and I can give lectures on what books are hot and then have question-and-answer sessions at the end where I can say things like “Sure, read that if you want, but if you take that book out in public with you, you are never getting laid.”

If people only knew how in-demand my brilliance would be if they would just demand it, they would start demanding it already. 5


Right. So, since we define ourselves for the public by what we like (or at least by what we say we like), I think it’s important to take literary favorites into account, though I’m not sure it’s necessary to judge people by their bookshelves. I have all kinds of things on my shelves that I haven’t read. Out of the books I own, I’ve read more than I haven’t, but I’m going to admit here that I’m probably never actually going to pick up that copy of Infinite Jest and work my way through it 6 though it does make a handy bookend and I have used it to prop things up on occasion. I really like Nabokov, but I still haven’t finished Pale Fire. I’ve started it several times and I always really like it, but then I get distracted. I have read all those Jane Austen books, some more than once. I do wish I hadn’t decided that I had to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in the original Spanish because if I’d gotten a copy in English, I might’ve finished it by now, but instead I pick it up every so often and read the same 50 pages and then my brain hurts and I give up. So one could judge me by the books on my shelves or not, but I’m not sure what conclusion there is to make. 7 And I don’t know if I care too much, because if a guy is perusing my bookshelves, he’s already trapped in my evil lair. Muahaha… ha… ha… hm. And I don’t assume that other people have read all the books they own, either, and reading something doesn’t necessarily mean liking it.

When I started writing this post, I had a point, though right at this moment I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is. Had you guessed that I’d lost the plot somewhere in the middle of this? Maybe you hadn’t guessed and I shouldn’t be telling you that I have no idea what I’m going on about. Alas, perhaps. But if I’m going to have a point, if that’s necessary, and it seems like I should after all of these paragraphs, then it would be this:

Seriously. Ayn Rand?

1. I am, after all, nothing if not a scientist.

2. Last night, I got hit on by a guy who made a flower for me out of Kleenex. And then he asked how old I was, because I think he wanted to know if I was legal or not. He was a series of dealbreakers.

3. It’s pretty good, referencing Shakespeare and Zoolander in the same sentence, isn’t it? You liked it. Admit it.

4. Or maybe just the bourbon thing.

5. Oprah should call me.

6. I mean, seriously, it’s longer than Ulysses. It took me more than a year to read that one. I have the attention span of a gnat. I’m saying now that it just ain’t happening, unless perhaps I find myself stranded on an island with Infinite Jest and nothing to do but figure out how to make margaritas out of island things and read. Even though I am a fan of footnotes.

7. I mean, other than about the Samuel Beckett. I like him a lot. Because I have a sunny disposition and a cheerful outlook on life.


17 thoughts on “on literary dealbreakers (sort of)

  1. But do you bite your thumb at US or just in general?

    And dude, I’m with you on Infinite Jest. I tried to read it, I really did. But it was horribly unpleasant going, and I’ve put it up there – along with Atlas Shrugged – among the books I rate “if you loved this, you probably won’t love me.”

    I was pretty amused when I posted that link, though, because I think it almost started a fight or two. There’s some magic to facebook where you THINK you MAYBE know the opinions and attitudes of the people you’re sort-of-but-not-really friends with, but then they come out of their disguises and reveal themselves to be weirdos when you state an opinion.



  2. Amen on Rand being a dealbreaker. Not having the stupid books on the shelf, mind you, I have some strange shit on the shelf myself, but having her as favourite author (or anywhere near the top uhm, 100? 1000?). Seriously? Crazy. And I’ve read the whole (well, except I skimmed the long speach at the end) of Atlas Shrugged, so I should know. Definite dealbreaker.


  3. Patrick — Back at ya.

    Linda — I know, right? I tried with Ayn Rand as well, I guess as a form of due diligence, but… seriously? She’s awful.

    PK — No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I do bite my thumb, sir.

    Also, I don’t know if I can count Infinite Jest as a literary dealbreaker, since my most recent ex loved that book. LOVED. Like, owned four copies of it and I think always had one in his car? Yeah. And I still had a relationship with him for several months. So, not a dealbreaker. But even so, I know I’m never reading it. I tried a couple of times, but there are just so many pages in that book and… no. Just no.

    Also also, the comment thread on that link was pretty amusing. But then I like when people reveal themselves to be weirdos because, well, it’s good to know these things.

    Mirthful — It’s pretty unforgivable, placing Ayn Rand at the absolute TOP of the list. (Unless it’s a list called “WRITERS I HATE”.) It’s right up there with kicking puppies in the face.


  4. Dude! You are so awesome and I’m glad I read your blog!

    My dad wanted me to read The Fountainhead in high school for a scholarship…. read it and write an essay in a month :-O Yeah…. that didn’t happen. I feel like I should read at least a few chapters of one of her books so I know what the crazy is about and be able to say more about her than just that I’ve heard of her.


  5. i think i’d also pick faulkner, if forced to choose. somehow, though, i’ve noticed i always seem to end up dating girls with a preference for steinbeck.

    also: is it really possible to love books and not being at least a little bit of a jerk when people insist on loving the crappy / crazy stuff?


  6. acwmaiden — You know horrible food that you try once even though you know you won’t like it just so you can say that you tried it? Ayn Rand is the literary equivalent of that.

    matt — I have a problem because I have a hard time not being a snob about books and music, and yet I hate snobs. So I try to be positive and encourage people to like stuff that doesn’t suck, even as I quietly judge them for liking utter crap.

    But anyway, yes, Faulkner. I don’t know very many people who appreciate him. Mostly I know people who read 10 pages (or less) of The Sound and the Fury and gave up. I know the word gets overused, but what a genius. I love him. (Though I also hate him for writing As I Lay Dying in six weeks. I mean, what a jerk. Love. So complicated.)


  7. as i lay dying: exactly! and that was the first faulkner i read. i remember distinctly thinking ‘good god, he may well be drunker than shit, and yet there’s no way i could write a single sentence that’d fit in here.’
    in hindsight, i’m glad that’s the faulkner i started with, rather than the sound and the fury – it’s a little more immediately accessible, you know? genius, definitely.


  8. I started with The Sound and the Fury and while it may not be the ideal Faulkner book to cut one’s teeth on, the bonus is that the other ones seem really easy in comparison. It’s my favorite book of all time. And even though I’m no Faulkner, it’s inspiring to me as a writer that he saw the novel as a progressive string of failures and he kept plugging away at telling the story. And writing is so much about being persistent. Of course the difference between me and Faulkner is that when I think what I’m writing is bullshit, it’s usually bullshit; it doesn’t wind up being one of the best pieces of writing ever. But still, that persistence thing is key.

    As I Lay Dying is kind of a perfect little book, though, with that frustrating, inevitable ending. I think I actually said “Ha, you fucker,” when I finished it.


  9. I tried a couple of times, but there are just so many pages in that book and… no. Just no.

    That is what I say about anything which is more than a page, which I think is very true. We shouldn’t be required to read anything more than a page. And it should be in 14 point font and letter size page.

    I like Calvin and Hobbes. But that is very much about it. I also like strawberries. So sometimes I read Calvin and Hobbes while eating strawberries.


  10. I mocked a friend mercilessly when I heard she was reading Ayn Rand because a cute, “smart” boy thought Rand was the best writer ever. She got over him about halfway through the book.

    I think I must have had a favourite book at one time, but not now, it seems. Now it depends mostly on my mood. Choosing one book over another is like choosing among wine and beer and scotch. Dubliners or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter or the Iliad — such different flavours.

    As for your Hotness of Reading Material consultancy, you should check out Julie Wilson’s Seen Reading blog (she doesn’t get into the hotness aspect, but she does do the “in public” part).


  11. ArvindWe shouldn’t be required to read anything more than a page.

    Well, outside of school, we’re not actually required to read anything. Brilliant. In any case, I like Calvin and Hobbes and strawberries too.

    Andy — As long as you don’t put them in the same glass, you should never have to choose between wine and beer and scotch. Though that sounds like the recipe for kicking off quite an evening.


  12. OK… adding something a bit more substantive than my initial outburst…

    While I liked to read in grade school for the certificates of achievement (mostly books about war and weapons and such as Combat was one of my favourite television shows), I somehow managed to get through high school without reading a single book. I tried giving an oral book report once based on the movie adaptation (naturally, it went down in flames). I hated to read at that time in my life for some reason. My parents weren’t readers—despite that my mother was an avid crossword puzzler—so, I suppose it rubbed off on me and my brothers.

    I didn’t read my first literary book until I got into college: The Brothers Karamazov. The weird thing about it was that it wasn’t required reading for any class; it was entirely elective. I was huge into Bob Dylan at the time (I was a major collector of rare recordings of his, so also collected and consumed almost anything in print as well), so I’m guessing I’d read somewhere about Dostoevsky, in general, or more specifically, Brothers, in an interview or something and decided to buy the book. Reading it, I felt like I needed a scorecard to keep track of all the names (and name changes), but I loved it. I feel as though getting through that challenge of a novel, ignited my desire to read. I haven’t read as much since my engagement to the internet about six years ago, but I want to. (I’ve been whittling away at Kerouac’s On The Road: The Original Scroll for the last couple of months, after taking a year or so to read John Irving’s latest.

    I’m pretty sure, though, that based on what I’ve read here, as well as an interview I watched a few weeks ago of Ayn Rand by Phil Donohue, I’m not likely to read any of her books. I recall that a woman I dated in college loved Fountainhead, but even that isn’t likely to sway me. Or maybe it is, so fickle I am.


  13. I have a copy of The Fountainhead. I got it for free a long time ago, I think maybe when I was in high school or so, and I vaguely knew her name as someone famous so I figured, why not? At some point I learned what she was about and the book sits, untouched, on my shelves. I suppose I should try some of it to see what all the crazy is about, but why waste my time reading that when I could be reading much better stuff?
    Point being, yes, I don’t think someone should be judged for what’s on their bookshelves, but when their favorite author is Rand, there’s definitely a problem.
    (Also, what’s with the name Rand and people being douches?)


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