I’m really on top of the world tonight after the day I had in DC with Little Way (which is running up the Amazon.com list). The turnout at tonight’s signing was great. I saw so many friends from this blog community. “Hi, I’m JonF from the blog.” “Hi, I’m Joe Marier.” “I’m Caroline Nina.” Et cetera. It was so great, and it really meant the world for me to know that I have so many friends I had only previously “met” online. I saw old friends from elsewhere, too, and two old, old West Feliciana friends who now live in northern Virginia showed up. One of them, Lisa Roberts, was in Mike Leming’s class, and read the book earlier this week. She told the audience (when I asked her to say a few words) that everything in the book about how much Ruthie and Mike loved each other in high school was completely true. She saw it. Everybody knew it.
I rode back into the District with some expatriated Southern friends, and we talked about the book, and our experiences outside of the South. One of them is a pastor. He said that the overwhelming problem he faces in dealing with his congregation of young, highly educated, high-achieving professionals, is an overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety about their own worth, and direction in life. He said that they really, really want to be “good,” but what this culture has taught them about what it means to be good — achieve, achieve, achieve! — is making them completely miserable.
Little Way is the book for them. I mean, look, you expect me to say this, but seriously, listening to him talk about the struggles of his parishioners in this extremely competitive city, I thought, Ruthie has so much to teach yet.
Back at the hotel, I ran into EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, who had finished taping his broadcast across the street, and had stopped in to say hi to a friend. Raymond is an old Louisiana friend, and it was great to see him again. He told me he’d read the first couple of chapters, and really liked them. I hope he likes the whole thing, and invites me on to talk about St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed F.X. Seelos, who figure into Ruthie’s story.
I came upstairs to get ready for bed, and saw this terrific comment from Wick Allison, on the D Magazine blog, down in Dallas:
Believe me. This is one of the most powerful, emotionally riveting, and spiritual books you will ever have the good fortune to read. To give you an idea of what I think about this book, I bought 60 copies to give away here at D World Headquarters.
Thank you, Wick! And then I saw this, from Yuval Levin, writing on National Review Online. I’ve never met Yuval, but he is one of the conservative writers and analysts that I most respect. This took my breath away, and I apologize to K-Lo for quoting the whole thing:
Rod Dreher’s new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which describes the life and tragic death of his sister, is the most powerful book I’ve read in years. It overflows with that inexplicable mix of joy and pain that a writer can only achieve when he is telling the truth. And it speaks especially profoundly to the power of home, and to the mixed blessing that is a life lived among people who know you at least as well as you know yourself. If, like me, you live very far away from the place you were born, you will at times find this book almost unbearably difficult to read. But only almost, because you will also find in it a moving affirmation of the sense that most of us can only discern rarely and vaguely in the bustle of our daily lives—the sense that beyond our petty vanities and momentary worries, beyond arguments and ambitions, beyond even principles and ideals, there is a kind of gentle, caring warmth that is really what makes life worth living. It is expressed through the words and acts of people who rise above themselves, but it seems to come from somewhere deeper. Maybe it’s divine, maybe it isn’t, but it’s real, and it effortlessly makes a mockery of a lot of what goes by the name of moral and political philosophy, and especially of the radical individualism that is so much a part of both the right and the left today. And it’s responsible for almost everything that is very good in our very good world. If I had to define what conservatism ultimately means for me, it would be the preservation and reinforcement of the preconditions for the emergence of that goodness in a society of highly imperfect human beings. But politics is of course only one very crude way to strengthen and protect those preconditions. A powerful story that brings us face to face with that mysterious something can do far more. And this book tells a mighty powerful story. Well worth your while.
The most powerful book I’ve read in years. Yuval Levin — Yuval Levin! — said that. I am so humbled by this review, and grateful. Truth is, it’s not me at work here. It was Ruthie. It was our Mama and Daddy. It was the people of St. Francisville. It was — it is — God. I am just the guy who saw it and lived it and wrote it all down.
Washington area friends — especially readers of this blog — thank you so much for coming out tonight to support Little Way. On to Asheville in the morning. See you at Malaprop’s tomorrow night. And then, on Saturday, to the Eagle Eye in Decatur, Georgia (suburban Atlanta). Check out RodDreher.net for complete tour information.