Flannery O’Connor: Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Ayn Rand (1960)

In a letter dated May 31, 1960, Flannery O’Connor, the author best known for her classic story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (listen to her read the story here) penned a letter to her friend, the playwright Maryat Lee. It begins rather abruptly, likely because it’s responding to something Maryat said in a previous letter:

I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.

The letter, which you can read online or find in the book The Habit of Being, then turns to other matters.

O’Connor’s critical appraisal of Ayn Rand’s books is pretty straightforward. But here’s one factoid worth knowing. Mickey Spillane (referenced in O’Connor’s letter) was a hugely popular mystery writer, who sold some 225 million books during his lifetime. According to his Washington Post obit, “his specialty was tight-fisted, sadistic revenge stories, often featuring his alcoholic gumshoe Mike Hammer and a cast of evildoers.” Critics, appalled by the sex and violence in his books, dismissed his writing. But Ayn Rand defended him. In public, she said that Spillane was underrated. In her book The Romantic Manifesto, Rand put Spillane in some unexpected company when she wrote: “[Victor] Hugo gives me the feeling of entering a cathedral–Dostoevsky gives me the feeling of entering a chamber of horrors, but with a powerful guide–Spillane gives me the feeling of listening to a military band in a public park–Tolstoy gives me the feeling of an unsanitary backyard which I do not care to enter.” All of which goes to show that Ayn Rand’s literary taste was no better than her literature.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in June, 2014.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

Related Content:

When Ayn Rand Collected Social Security & Medicare, After Years of Opposing Benefit Programs

Christopher Hitchens Dismisses the Cult of Ayn Rand: There’s No “Need to Have Essays Advocating Selfishness Among Human Beings; It Requires No Reinforcement”

Ayn Rand Helped the FBI Identify It’s A Wonderful Life as Communist Propaganda

Rare 1959 Audio: Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction’ (c. 1960)

by | Permalink | Comments (11) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (11)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Shaun says:

    If only Ayn Rand had really been a bad writer we wouldn’t’ve had to struggle against her pernicious ideas for the last

    fifty years.

  • Tibor Sallai says:

    I’m not forbid anything to read for my friends. Because they are my friends. Besides it seems open culture can’t read between the lines: listening a military band in a public park… isn’t a nice thing to do. (too loud, theatrical, simple, earthbound and not fitting in a public park, where you usually go out to jogging, playing, having picnic with friends…) She recitated some of the most important writers of the past centuries compared to a bumpkin guy, to show how much you can accomplish with writing.

    Anyways: how can you criticize a person’s taste writing if you never read them? You call someone a bad writer because she didn’t like Tolstoy?

  • Gorby says:

    Open Culture could do better. This pseudo article can´t even tell why she was that bad, why her opinion was lousy, why her taste is bad, feels like an unfinished homework from a 2nd grader, no arguments, ideas or concepts, just plain hate (or is it ignorance?) I have never read her so i was looking for an explanation and all i found was literary pompousness, superficial observation and bad reading comprehension from the poor soul who published this as a finished piece… GET A LIFE! There must be something you can do better than trying to write about books, authors and ideas.

  • MP R says:

    Always fun to see the different ways this blog masks their pop culture politics. It’s just a shame they’re too busy following the herd instead of thinking for themselves —
    one of the many lessons Rand conveyed in her works, if you bothered to read any of them.

    Open Culture: the BuzzFeed of the blog-o-sphere.

  • Nick in London says:

    Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Hugo are all brilliant writers.. how can you say otherwise ? Odd to include Mickey Spillane in this list..never read him. Sounds like pound-shop Raymond Chandler.

  • Mike says:

    If you haven’t read Rand you can’t know how self-evidently bad her books are. Your homework assignment: read one and report back.

  • caren says:

    The article is written for people who have read Ayn Rand’s work and are familiar with her ideas.

  • Lynn says:

    Any Rand’s entire perspective was as an individual who was oblivious to any purpose other than to serve that individual. Ignorance of advantage of groups/community/family, etc. made her crippled and blind to opportunities that most of us experience on a team or as a member of an effort such as a country or a school or fundraising non profit corporation.

  • Dan Gallivan says:

    I have read Rand’s books just to know what the hell she was about. It sickens me to know many conservatives like Ryan have such disdain for individuals that sorely need a hand up. It was painful but was finally clear Rand was nothing. Being nothing she had all her time to herself. No expectations of ever sharing, just taking back what she and now our Speaker of the House Paul Ryan considers is their , he is Nothing. He will take all he can into the empty space of his mind. You have to ask yourself why didn’t someone give him a comic book like Archie and Jug head. Where he assimilates the character of Jug head and no longer feels the desire to hurt people.

  • karen says:

    Did that and had a book burning time.

  • TJ says:

    I enjoy Ayn Rand’s books. She’s an eloquent writer.

    I have literally never come across a criticism of her writing that presents a legitimate reason against her. Just a lot of lies, out-of-context generalizations, and hollow attacks.

    “Ayn Rand’s literary taste was no better than her literature.”

    What’s wrong with her literature? Or with the literature she mentioned?

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.