Friday, March 20, 2009

Recap of Last Night's Reading

When I said "I'll be reading from my novel. It's a thriller," there was some eye-rolling, but thankfully the groans were barely audible.

Whoever said know thyself should have followed it up with "know thy audience." The literary crowd that attended the Open Mic last night was there to hear their classmates and fellow English majors recite their villanelles, sestinas, triptychs, their flash fiction written for senior seminar, etc. They weren't there to hear an excerpt from Chapter One of a paranormal thriller written by the weird older dude that graduated from college eight years ago and who shouldn't have been anywhere near a campus, let alone hanging out in the student lounge.

Thankfully, I wasn't the only alum there, and the event turned into a reunion of sorts. I hung with some old friends I haven't seen in awhile, including John Slinka who also very recently entered the blogosphere.

There were a lot of good readings from the students last night, and it's great to see how the arts have taken root at Widener and grown substantially since I was an undergrad there who spent way too much of his free time reading Ayn Rand and arguing with everyone.


seanag said...


Well, congratulations on getting through the reading. From my perspective, you aren't really a anything like a weird old dude, but I understand the sense of feeling that way.

I did my first and only reading last summer at the Henry Miller library--it ended up okay, and in fact, like you, the kind of hanging out portion was the best part, but I have to say that reading freaked me out. I don't think that I would have had any big problem reading someone else's work, or talking even off the cuff, but reading your own work is basically hell. The odd thing is that you can hear the voice of the story in your head, but even though you wrote it, you can't replicate it.

I remember reading it to the best of my ability, and thinking okay, this is practice, and being so grateful that it had come to an end. But people seemed to like it, despite all my misgivings. It doesn't come across, in other words, as you think it comes across. I think you just do it, take what side-benefits it gives you, and go on.

Brian O'Rourke said...

"The odd thing is that you can hear the voice of the story in your head, but even though you wrote it, you can't replicate it.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Why is this?

I chalked it up to my not being a trained, or an untrained, actor.

marco said...

Ayn Rand?
Hope you got better

Brian O'Rourke said...

Marco -

I did get "better." There's still some things I like about her fiction, especially The Fountainhead, which I consider to be a very good book in terms of structure and plotting.

seanag said...

At first I read that as 'I didn't get better', and thought I was going to be witnessing a full out Rand war.

I have never read her, though have been subjected to people's ecstasies about her, or loathing of her a few times. I think she plays a crucial stage in some people's intellectual development, for some reason. I remember seeing her on Phil Donohue, trying to explain what she meant by the 'virtue of selfishness'--which needless to say was a hard road to hoe.

As for the whole reading thing, I do think the fact of not being a trained actor is part of it. Voice control would seem to be one aspect. I know that in the small portion of the story I read, I felt that I had climbed atop a runaway horse that I had almost no control over, and could not wait until I could get off. And I have to say that in advance, I had no real presentiment of this. Now I would.

It didn't help that my reading was in the first person character of a man, and a particular, finicky type of man, so there was definitely a sense of needing a talent for mimicry that I didn't have.

But I think that there is a persona of the narrator of the story and that it is invariably different from our own persona, and we don't necessarily become aware of the gap until we try to broach it.

Brian O'Rourke said...


Don't worry, there won't be an all out Rand War here, unless an Objectivist shows up to do battle.

There are problems with Rand's fiction, strictly in terms of her aesthetics. All of her characters tend to be mouthpieces as opposed to honest-to-god human beings with real emotions. They're spokespeople either for or her against her philosophy, so many of her scenes devolve into intellectual debate. And of course all of her heroes are charming, good-looking, fit, tough, etc, while her villains are usually sniveling, bureaucratic, needy, neurotic, not that attractive, etc. If this were poker, she'd be accused of stacking every card in the deck.

Then there is the philosophy itself, which is of course impossible to ignore because too often it's telegraphed or she's beating you over the head with it every chance she gets.

When you're a young man, say 18 years old and looking for answers to the tough questions, there is something very appealing about her heroes and their deep-founded beliefs that they can accomplish anything they want to. That it's good to dream and noble to strive to succeed. Which goes back to what you were saying - "I think she plays a crucial stage in some people's intellectual development, for some reason." Despite some of the more off-putting things of her philosophy, in a strange way she was a romantic.

But back to the reading discussion - I really liked what you said about the persona of the narrator being different from our own persona. Which is really strange if you think about it, because the voice of the narrator comes from somewhere within the writer.

seanag said...

I think what it probably really points up is that our 'everyday persona' is just another voice too.

Nice analysis of Rand. It jibes with my sense of the appeal of her books, and also why people may disdain them. There is a very good novel called Two Girls, Fat and Thin, which shows the helpful side of Rand's philosophy--or at least it was a Randlike character--I don't remember.

I believe that Rand had some connection with or at least was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright as a kind of stellar example of all she believed. I've been finding it odd that there are right now two bestselling books about FLW and the women in his life, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and T.C. Boyle's The Women. I've seen a bit about his biography, and don't have any great interest in going further, though.

Brian O'Rourke said...


I believe Rand used FLW as her inspiration for Howard Roark, architect/hero of The Fountainhead.

I can't recall in detail what happened when the two met in person, but I seem to remember that FLW fell far short of the mark Rand's mind had set for him.

I'm glad you mentioned Two Girls, because I noticed it at some point at the bookstore or online and considered buying it. But it fell by the wayside, and your mentioning of it just jogged my memory. I should check that out.