I schlepped up the stairs of Keynes College the next day, passing the bar and lamenting the fact that I had to go to class and couldn’t just go to the bar for a couple of hours. I made it up to the seminar room, walked inside, and saw that I was one of the first ones in there. There was a girl across from me, attractive, short brown hair, and I recognized her from the doomed fiction reading last term and nodded.
A few minutes later, a couple other people trickled in—one guy who looked like he hadn’t slept last night, and the untucked shirttail and the stamps on his hands backed up that thought—right before Todd. Todd’s a guy about my height and build with James Joyce glasses and a skeptical face. He started off the conversation with a resounding, “So. You guys read Atlas Shrugged? Big piece of crap, huh?”
A deafening silence filled the room. The Brits weren’t used to this—and, frankly, I wasn’t expecting to have an American as a professor here. As far as I knew, the Americans on staff were in the Politics department. Anyway, the British professors were very British about their teaching method, as far as I could tell: Stoic, reserved, business as usual types who’d rather be doing anything else than working, and, frankly, didn’t care that much about what you were working on. To hear a professor come in with a statement that decried a work so fully instead of something like, “While this text is flawed, we must take into account that” etc etc, was—even to me, who’d had a screenwriting professor call Michael Bay “the biggest sack of cow dung ever to crawl out of the sewers,” this was jarring. But, that was probably because of the time that had lapsed between when I’d been in America and when I’d been in Politeness Land.
“So...” said the guy who looked like he’d just come from the club, “does that mean we don’t have to read the book if we haven’t started yet?”
“What?” asked Todd. “You—yeah, you still have to read the book. Well, I guess I wouldn’t know you hadn’t if you didn’t write about it for the final essay, but, you know, read the book.”
“Huh,” said the guy.
“I know a guy who read it for fun,” I said. This is how I added to conversations in literature courses, which also explained how I never made above an A minus in them. “He was a huge fan of Ayn Rand.” I punctuated it with a nod.
“Oh, hey, you’re American. Where you from?”
“Nashville and Ohio.”
“No shit? What part of Ohio?”
“Cool, my people are from there.”
For a moment, I envisioned a group of literature professors and writers, as a tribe, coming from Akron—which was a quasi-industrial city most known for tires and their Triple A baseball team. It was an odd image, and, briefly, I wished that my brain would stop sending these things instead of something useful.
“So,” he said, “what’d you think?”
“I think it’s interesting that Rand has such a staunch hatred of government, yet took aid herself. But yeah. Big ole pile of crap. 500 pages of terrible dialogue, yadda yadda,” I waved my hand through the air, seeming to dismiss the whole thing from my high horse of literary knowledge. Of course, I hadn’t read the book at all, but I had read several articles online about how crap it was, and I’d learned from a professor my sophomore year that it was all about how well you could bullshit.
“I know, right?” Todd said. He made a retching sound. “And people take this stuff seriously. By the way, this will essentially be the tone of every discussion we have. Let’s go through the syllabus.”
We did. Every novel was met with a sardonic remark about the author’s hypocrisy, the fact that ranting didn’t make for good reading, and then, to close, a collective wish that people had better senses of humor. We left the classroom, and I called Giggles to see what he was up to.