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I Love The South. Especially Athens, GA

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That was the sign this afternoon outside Avid Bookshop [2] in Athens, Georgia. What a great bookstore. Go, the South! And look, if there is a friendlier bookstore clerk anywhere in the country than Frankie, I don’t know where she would be.

We had a small group at the Avid signing on this rainy Sunday, but it was one of my favorite events so far, because it was so intimate. Noah172, one of our best blog commenters here, drove in from a long way away with his beautiful wife. We got to talk for a bit before showtime, and he thanked me for occasioning a great community here. Even though we argue a lot, he said, there’s just something about the regulars in the comboxes that feels right, and neighborly. I consider that high praise, and thank him for it. I can’t tell you readers how great it is to finally meet people whose names I’ve been seeing here for ages and ages. Thank you for reading, and thank you for coming out to support The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming [3]It really feels like I’m meeting old friends — because, you know, I am. I met a new friend and reader of this blog, Imran, at the Decatur signing. You know how there are just people you feel like you’ve known forever? That’s the deal with him. And I feel that way about lots of y’all that I’m meeting on this tour. So again, thank you. It’s hard to express how gratifying this is to me as a writer.

Noah172 and his wife invited me out for a glass of wine, but alas, I had to hurry up back to Atlanta for a phone interview at the hotel, which just concluded. I was on a conservative news talk station in Denver, and had a wonderful time talking to Matt & Krista of Backbone Radio [4]. It’s still early in the Little Way release, but I’m still blown away by how the message of this book — which is to say, the message of my sister Ruthie’s life, and of the love the people of West Feliciana Parish showed to her and my family there — makes ordinary politics seem so unimportant. It’s like the conservative thinker Yuval Levin said in his NRO review [5]:

…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.

People get it. When you see people react to a catastrophe like the cancer that tortured and killed my sister Ruthie — I mean, when you see how Ruthie reacted to it, and the active love it inspired from everyone around her — it becomes hard to think in terms of liberal this and conservative that. It’s not that politics becomes unimportant, of course, but rather, as Yuval perceives, it becomes so much less important that the truth and beauty revealed in the courage and joy with which Ruthie endured her suffering, and in the sacrificial love her community gave her, till the very end, and beyond.

The people who loved Ruthie and her family through this were conservatives and liberals both. That doesn’t matter. What mattered is they were her neighbors. They went to church with her, they shopped in the grocery store with her, they taught school with her, they went to the creek with her, they watched their kids play softball together — in short, they shared their lives together. And they shared Ruthie’s slow dying together.

There’s a politics in that.

Anyway, the Avid Bookshop is terrific, and if you want to order one of the signed copies of Little Way I left there, you can do so at their online store [2]. Here’s another reason they’re great; they are:

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I bought that bumper sticker at Avid for Julie. There’s a campaign in Athens to get the city to overturn its ridiculous anti-chicken-raising rules. Fight the power! And yes, Ashley Fox-Smith, I bought you one too.

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10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "I Love The South. Especially Athens, GA"

#1 Comment By k On April 14, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

Rod I’m out in the Pacific NW and will probably never see or meet you, but I’ve finished reading your book and it has blessed me in some very surprising ways already. Happy for you, and thankful for what you do!

#2 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 14, 2013 @ 11:22 pm

I think there’s something neighborly about Noah too. I wouldn’t vote for him for congress, but we could do some great barbecues. I don’t think he’d really mind that my favorite barbecue cook is a woman of African descent either.

#3 Comment By JonF On April 15, 2013 @ 6:14 am

As someone suggested on the DC thread, maybe we groupies of this blog should think about getting together for local meetups. Ta Neisi Coates’s readership (AKA “The Horde”) have a private Facebook group and hold periodic get-togethers. I went to one such last month, a dinner hosted by a young couple in Annapolis. Of course that group is more homogenous politically than Rod’s following (though there has been an occasional clash, including one that produced by sole ever use of a f-bomb in writing). So we’d have to watch our topics of discussion and eschew the fire water.

#4 Comment By SBar On April 15, 2013 @ 10:09 am

Love that bumper sticker! I need to find a few for this area. Shreveport is very anti-chicken too!

#5 Comment By Imran On April 15, 2013 @ 11:06 am

Wow, thanks for the kind words Rod. Likewise. By your writings about the combox community, I’ve been inspired to join in this community rather than just reading from the sidelines. Y’all could use an ECLA Lutheran who is center-left on the political scale, right? 😉 I am happy that you are finding the book tour so soul lifting!

#6 Comment By Blog Goliard On April 15, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

It was great to meet you, to hear you speak of Ruthie and read from the book. Good to meet Noah as well.

I used to comment and e-mail you much more frequently when you were at other places online; I’ve resolved to be much less of a stranger around this blog. (And around Avid Bookshop…why had I not visited them before?)

Come on back to Athens anytime. LSU’s coming in here in September, for instance…and the humble end zone seat next to me would be available if the right out-of-town visitor wanted it.

[Note from Rod: Oooh, let’s keep talking, then! I would love to swing that. — RD]

#7 Comment By Noah172 On April 15, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

Rod,

Thank you for your kind words about me and my wife. When you first announced your tour schedule awhile back, I thought that I might be visiting the NYC area during your opening week, and I figured that I would make it to your opening. That didn’t work out, and at first I was disappointed. Now, meeting you yesterday in such an intimate setting, getting to chat with you one-on-one, I realize that my aborted vacation plans were a blessing in disguise. Obviously, for your purposes the largest crowd possible is best, but still I am pleased that it went off the way that it did.

(BTW, for everyone else: this book event was really intimate. I’d be surprised if that bookstore exceeded a thousand square feet; the total crowd, including Rod, his publicist, and store employees, was about a dozen.)

[Note from Rod: I was just thinking about how the Avid Bookshop event was the smallest of all my tour events, but it was one of my very favorites, because I got to really talk to you and to others for a while. If you think about it, that’s a very “Little Way” point. I was warned by my publicist in NYC not to be disappointed if not many people show up for a weekend signing, because they’re the hardest ones to fill for some reason. I’m glad things worked out like they did, though. — RD]

#8 Comment By Noah172 On April 15, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

Siarlys,

I don’t think he’d really mind that my favorite barbecue cook is a woman of African descent either.

Hey, some of my best friends are of African descent! 🙂

On a serious note, political opponents of Patrick Buchanan who have spent time with him in person have remarked on his personal charm, warmth, and kindness. I’ve heard similar things about Ron Paul.

Barbecue sounds great. We’ll knock back some Beast and reminisce about Debs, the Wobblies, and Fighting Bob LaFollette. Then maybe a mean game of pickup chess with your “black” friends 🙂 .

Here’s to neighborliness, and neither of us ever making it within a country mile of a congressional seat.

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 15, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

I have a distant cousin of my grandparents’ generation who served one term in congress. He didn’t run again after listening to the people who wanted to finance his next campaign — and what they expected in return.

#10 Comment By sdb On April 16, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

I’m between Athens & Asheville, but I couldn’t get away this past weekend to get to a signing. I’m disappointed that I missed you, but I am glad to hear that the book tour is going so well. Given the terrible recent news and increasing polarization nationwide, it is gratifying seeing the healing power of your words about your sister’s remarkable life.