This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 12, 1997

March 12, 1997 - First Annual Ayn Rand Beer-fest

It started when a school librarian posted a question on "libnet," an Internet-based bulletin board. A principal had asked her to come up with a list of titles that high school students should read before they go to college.
What books would we recommend?

Over the next week, some two or three dozen titles were offered, all-in-all, a fascinating exercise. I recommended (among others) Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn (to rhyme with "pine") Rand. Abruptly, the bulletin board bristled with impassioned attacks -- and defenses -- of Ayn Rand's writings. Some people saw Ayn Rand as a sort of childhood disease. She was something they got exposed to, and affected them strongly, but from which they eventually recovered.

Others spoke of her works warmly, with profound respect, but admitted that they had significant disagreements with Rand's philosophy (called "Objectivism").

I felt entirely justified by the furor. I love that book, which is one of the reasons I've read it 37 times. Forty years after its publication, Atlas Shrugged still rouses the most fervent reactions. This is what a book should be: an intellectual challenge to every philosophic premise you hold, an absorbing and altogether intriguing plot, heroic characters, exciting and dramatic action.

What happens after you read it, of course, is up to you.

But in this exchange of views on libnet, it finally became clear that about 8-12 people wanted to get together and argue about Rand some more.

So it was that FAARB-Fest (the First Annual Ayn Rand Beer-Fest) came to be. It was held on Saturday, March 8, 1997, at the Il Vicino brew pub in Salida, Colorado, "the town that checks its premises."

Among those attending this historic event were Ed Quillen (whose columns appear in the Denver Post), and Nancy Bolt (the state librarian of Colorado). But I was pleased that we pulled in people all the way from Denver to Montrose to La Junta.

One of our attendees had actually met Ayn Rand at a book-signing as well as seeing her speak several times. He described the encounter like this: "Her eyes were huge. I was a nobody and yet she was very attentive. It wasn't like a politician; she wasn't glazed or phony. There was a moment of genuine interest and engagement. She impressed me."

This same person attended many of the sessions of the Nathaniel Branden Institute. Nathaniel Branden was the man that Rand, 25 years his senior, had designated her "intellectual heir." Until 1968, Branden shared space with Rand's husband on the dedication page of "Atlas Shrugged."

In 1968, Rand broke off all contact with Branden, a story told movingly and insightfully by Barbara Branden (Nathaniel's ex-wife) in her book "The Passion of Ayn Rand: a Biography."

And perhaps the break was a good thing.

Before 1968, Nathaniel Branden, by many accounts, had become an arrogant cult leader. If one of the many young students drawn to Rand's ideas raised a question that wasn't perfectly orthodox "Objectivism," then that student was likely to be psychologically deconstructed before a glassy-eyed and tightly repressed audience.

The True Believer followers of Ayn Rand, it turns out, were also known (by outsiders) as "Randroids."

But then, you can't blame the founder for the followers. Or not entirely.

Other FAARB-Fest topics included: Is it intellectually inconsistent to love the works of Ayn Rand but work for tax-supported libraries? Did Hank Rearden and Francisco D'Anconia really remain celibate for the rest of their lives? Could the ideas of Ayn Rand have been the source for the race of Vulcans in the fictional universe of Star Trek?

Whatever your take on Rand, I am confident that her place in history is secure. It's not too soon to get in your reservations for the Ayn Rand Beer-Fest II (date to be determined). But I've got dibs on the T-shirt concession.

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