I found this slightly disturbing anecdote about an innocent reader getting accosted by Ayn Rand’s best friend the other day. I’ve never interrupted someone I’ve seen reading one of my books and asked them how they were getting on with it (and I don’t suppose any of my friends have either), but the story did remind me of when I lived in London and would prowl bookstores, surreptitiously rearranging the displays so that my novels were sitting in prime position at the front of all the tables. (Of course, by the next time I went back they had always migrated back to their proper place, so I had to start all over again.) Having sabotaged the shop’s carefully-thought out display, I would then wait for someone to pick up a copy.
And they did, you know. Oh yes, they picked ’em up. I would watch as they read the blurb on the back, examined the cover, opened a random page – and then put the thing back down again and move on.
I stopped doing that after a while.
My only actual interaction with a potential reader (apart from at readings) happened very early on. Christina and I were in a bookshop and I just happened to be standing near a display of my first novel when a lady took a copy off the shelf. I edged towards her and said, my throat dry with terror, “That’s terribly funny. You’ll really enjoy it.”
She looked at me strangely. “You’re the second person to tell me that,” she said.
“Really?” I said, brightening. This was excellent news. Word was getting out!
“She said exactly the same thing,” said the woman. She pointed at my wife, who by then had her nose in something else. “Do you know her?”
I nodded dumbly. “Hmm,” said the woman, and put the book back on the shelf.
So I stopped doing that, too.