My theory about the attraction many of my generation had with Ayn Rand (I noticed this particularly in college) was that the people who became enamored of her just simply had read little else. Their estimation of her as a novelist--Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, etc.--was hampered by their lack of having read other novels--or at least their lack having read any very good ones which they could have used for comparison.
Upon reading Roger Kimball's own personal testimony about Rand--that he read never actually read her books, partly because he started one or two and simply couldn't get through them and partly because he was dissuaded by the testimonies of critics who found her literary skills to be severely lacking, I find myself in much the same position: I tried The Fountainhead, and after several chapters just put the sorry thing down, wondering what it was that had so transfixed so many of my friends.
I would have tried harder, but I had already read Whitaker Chambers famous literary take-down of her books written more than 50 years ago now in his review of Atlas Shrugged:
Since a great many of us dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does, many incline to take her at her word. It is the more persuasive, in some quarters, because the author deals wholly in the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly. This kind of simplifying pattern, of course, gives charm to that most primitive story known as: The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In modern dress, it is a class war. Both sides to it are caricatures.
The Children of Light are largely operatic caricatures. Insofar as any of them suggests anything known to the business community, they resemble the occasional curmudgeon millionaire, tales about whose outrageously crude and shrewd eccentricities sometimes provide the lighter moments in boardrooms. Otherwise, the Children of Light are geniuses. One of them is named (the only smile you see will be your own): Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian dAntonio. This electrifying youth is the world's biggest copper tycoon. Another, no less electrifying, is named: Ragnar Danesjold. He becomes a twentieth-century pirate. All Miss Rand's chief heroes are also breathtakingly beautiful. So is her heroine (she is rather fetchingly vice president in charge of management of a transcontinental railroad).
So much radiant energy might seem to serve a eugenic purpose. For, in this story as in Mark Twain's, "all the knights marry the princess" — though without benefit of clergy. Yet from the impromptu and surprisingly gymnastic matings of the heroine and three of the heroes, no children — it suddenly strikes you — ever result. The possibility is never entertained. And, indeed, the strenuously sterile world of Atlas Shrugged is scarcely a place for children. You speculate that, in life, children probably irk the author and may make her uneasy. How could it be otherwise when she admiringly names a banker character (by what seems to me a humorless master-stroke): Midas Mulligan? You may fool some adults; you can't fool little boys and girls with such stuff — not for long. They may not know just what is out of line, but they stir uneasily. The Children of Darkness are caricatures, too; and they are really oozy. But at least they are caricatures of something identifiable. Their archetypes are Left-Liberals, New Dealers, Welfare Statists, One Worlders, or, at any rate, such ogreish semblances of these as may stalk the nightmares of those who think little about people as people, but tend to think a great deal in labels and effigies. (And neither Right nor Left, be it noted in passing, has a monopoly of such dreamers, though the horrors in their nightmares wear radically different masks and labels.)
Those and his other comments made me think the effort unlikely to yield any greater appreciation. Why read this kind of thing when there are so many other more worthy contenders for my time?
The silly names alone reminded me of having the misfortune of seeing one of the "Left Behind" movies one night while scanning the channels when I was staying at a hotel: Rayford Steele, Nikolai Carpathia, Ivy Gold. If you ever find yourself in a room with more than one or two names like this, you may be in a bad novel.
Now a Randian could argue that I have not read the books, and that therefore I cannot judge them, to which I can only say that I am not judging them. I am only explaining why I have not read them: because I have never yet encountered anyone whose literary tastes I respected say they were worth reading--and plenty whose tastes I did respect who assured me I needn't bother.