My cousin told me this weekend that he’d run into a pal at a wedding the other day, and knowing that he knew me, she was gushed about how much she loved The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming. She told my cousin that she’d bought the book for a plane trip, thinking it would be a sweet story about St. Francisville, a town she liked. She ended up crying so hard the man seated next to her on the flight asked her if she was okay. She told my cousin that the book was so unlike what she expected, and so much deeper and more profound.
Little Way has not sold as well as we had hoped. My guess is that the lack of TV coverage really hurt sales. This book ought to have been a shoo-in for shows like The View, and anything Oprah, but they all passed. A different friend thinks this story might explain why. She writes:
Possibly this is the problem the book had, in terms of marketing; it looked like a different book. I don’t think the cover, title, etc could have been done better, but the book just isn’t what people think it is going to be; it’s something original. It’s something people haven’t encountered before.
I think my friend is onto something. So many people have told me some variation of this story: they bought the book thinking it was going to be a sentimental, feel-good tale of family, small town, and homecoming, and they discovered that it was something much deeper and more complicated. They mean this as praise, and I take it as such. In fact, a Michigan reader messaged me on Facebook yesterday to say his church book group discussed Little Way this past weekend, and they all agreed that the book starts out simply, but grows in emotional and thematic complexity.
Yesterday I received a moving e-mail from a reader in Minnesota. It began:
I just finished reading The Little Way of Ruthie Leming last weekend, and I wanted to take a moment to join the chorus of readers who have thanked you personally for sharing her tale with all of us. While I already agreed with much of the book, it drove home many important messages in a beautiful way, both simple in its telling and unfathomably deep in its implications. Because it has only the briefest glimmers of detached analysis and theory, Ruthie’s story (and your story) is in many ways superior to any attempt to spell out the lessons of her life into some sort of philosophy. Put simply, it reflects the stunning wealth and diversity that we can find in everyday life, so long as we know where to look.
The reader went on to tell me that he took the book to his younger brother’s grave, and read part of it there. That got to me. I read his letter aloud to my mom and dad yesterday at Sunday dinner, and it deeply moved and comforted them. It seems like every day brings news of someone else who was comforted, challenged, or healed by Ruthie’s story. I gave a talk the other night in Baton Rouge, at the Foundation For Historical Louisiana, and got a teary hug from a lady whose daughter and son-in-law are moving back to Louisiana with their kids after 13 years of wandering, because of Ruthie’s story. “I want to thank you for doing with this book what I wasn’t able to do in 13 years,” she told me.
“It’s Ruthie,” I said. “She did this.”
So there’s a lot more going on in this book than what many people apparently think. I’d like to ask you who have read Little Way if you agree with this assessment, and if you agree that the book has a marketing problem in that people think it’s about one thing, when really it’s about much more than that one thing. I find that most people who read the book rave about it — but the trick is getting them to read it. Come to think of it, if I were coming to this story cold, I might not pick up the book, because I would think it was a sentimental, feel-good story, instead of a deep and complex meditation on suffering, home, family, community, hope, and the difficulties of love. Mind you, I don’t know how we could have presented or marketed the book differently, but I get some variation of “I was surprised by the content” often enough that I wonder if without meaning to, we concealed this book’s virtues. What do you think?