Tears As A Guide To Literature
The second time through and I still tear up reading Rod Dreher’s “Little Way of Ruthie Leming.” Get it and read it, if you haven’t.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) July 7, 2013
I thank Dr. Moore, the new head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, for his generous remark.
I continue to be surprised by the intense emotional reaction Little Way evokes from readers. At a dinner I went to last night, a woman told me that a friend of hers in Alabama read the book on a car trip, and sobbed for hours. Every couple of days, I get an e-mail from someone who said they read it on a plane, and cried so hard people around them stared.
That’s hardly a recommendation for a book! But they mean these comments as praise. Nobody complains that it’s an emotionally intense book; in fact, they all say how much it means to them to have read a book that was so important, affecting, and memorable. A friend from my own town told me someone here read the book, and commented, “I didn’t know this was my own town.” In other words, the reader didn’t realize until she read Little Way that so many things that meant the world were going on here in her own village. I love that comment, because it encapsulates one of the main themes of the book: that we so often overlook the goodness and the greatness in ordinary life, and the opportunity all of us have to participate in it. Everybody who reads this book, whether they live in a tiny town, in a suburb, or a big city, has the same opportunities open to them. I hope Little Way opens their eyes.
I heard also last night that at a medical school graduation last week, they read from a Little Way passage about Dr. Tim Lindsey, Ruthie’s amazing hometown physician, and his philosophy of being a doctor in a small town. It pleases me to think that new doctors are learning from Tim’s example.
At the dinner, a couple of people said the thing they hear from their friends who have read Little Way is an appreciation for how “raw” it is, and for how I didn’t sugar-coat anything for the sake of a sentimental happy ending. This accounts for the emotional intensity the book brings about in its readers. The thing is, I would figure normally that this kind of thing would be good for sales, because it signals to people that this book will take them to an unusual place, though a beautiful one. On the other hand, maybe it’s not good for sales, because most readers want something narcotic. I don’t know.
What do you think? If you’ve read Little Way, do you think its rawness and emotional intensity help or hurt the book? More generally, do you think emotional intensity, period, helps or hurts books. I would think it would help, but then, when I consider whether or not to invest my time into a book or movie, its reputation as a tearjerker puts me off. It’s not that I mind stories that engage my emotions, even to the point of weeping, but that if I’m going to take the risk of going to that place, of involving myself emotionally in the lives of its characters, I want to feel like I’m going to get something deeper out of it philosophically, beyond stirred emotions. You?
Little Way does that, I believe, because it raises profound questions about place, family, faith, and what it means to lead a good life, and embeds them in the lives of real people, and actual events. Your mileage may vary.
When are tears a guide to worthwhile reading, and when are they a signal that the work in question is sentimental dreck? Serious question, readers.