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THE LITTLE WAY OF RUTHIE LEMING follows Rod Dreher, a Philadelphia journalist, back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) in the wake of his younger sister Ruthie's death. When she was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer in 2010, Dreher was moved by the way the community he had left behind rallied around his dying sister, a schoolteache THE LITTLE WAY OF RUTHIE LEMING follows Rod Dreher, a Philadelphia journalist, back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) in the wake of his younger sister Ruthie's death. When she was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer in 2010, Dreher was moved by the way the community he had left behind rallied around his dying sister, a schoolteacher. He was also struck by the grace and courage with which his sister dealt with the disease that eventually took her life. In Louisiana for Ruthie's funeral in the fall of 2011, Dreher began to wonder whether the ordinary life Ruthie led in their country town was in fact a path of hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher. In order to explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife decided to leave Philadelphia, move home to help with family responsibilities and have their three children grow up amidst the rituals that had defined his family for five generations-Mardi Gras, L.S.U. football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described Dreher's journey homeward in a recent New York Times column, Dreher and his wife Julie "decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being part of a community."


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THE LITTLE WAY OF RUTHIE LEMING follows Rod Dreher, a Philadelphia journalist, back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) in the wake of his younger sister Ruthie's death. When she was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer in 2010, Dreher was moved by the way the community he had left behind rallied around his dying sister, a schoolteache THE LITTLE WAY OF RUTHIE LEMING follows Rod Dreher, a Philadelphia journalist, back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) in the wake of his younger sister Ruthie's death. When she was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer in 2010, Dreher was moved by the way the community he had left behind rallied around his dying sister, a schoolteacher. He was also struck by the grace and courage with which his sister dealt with the disease that eventually took her life. In Louisiana for Ruthie's funeral in the fall of 2011, Dreher began to wonder whether the ordinary life Ruthie led in their country town was in fact a path of hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher. In order to explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife decided to leave Philadelphia, move home to help with family responsibilities and have their three children grow up amidst the rituals that had defined his family for five generations-Mardi Gras, L.S.U. football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described Dreher's journey homeward in a recent New York Times column, Dreher and his wife Julie "decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being part of a community."

30 review for The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    I also heard some sort of feature about this book on NPR and thought it sounded fascinating. I am always game to read a memoir about death and the way that people react to it, and I was curious about the issue of community in cities and small towns that is at the heart of the book. I regret to inform that I did not love the book. Aside from the fact that I just don't think it's very well written -- clunky sentences, all kinds of recounting of feelings during conversations/events that are clearly I also heard some sort of feature about this book on NPR and thought it sounded fascinating. I am always game to read a memoir about death and the way that people react to it, and I was curious about the issue of community in cities and small towns that is at the heart of the book. I regret to inform that I did not love the book. Aside from the fact that I just don't think it's very well written -- clunky sentences, all kinds of recounting of feelings during conversations/events that are clearly derived from Dreher's interviews, an overload of people to remember -- I just objected to so many of Dreher's conclusions. As a story of one man's journey, it's absolutely fine. Dreher leaves a small town as a young man because he feels trapped and different. His sister stays and leads a happy and productive life, enriching the community around her. She becomes ill and dies. He returns home and comes to appreciate both what she had done all along and what he could now do. But Dreher seems to be prescribing staying in small towns for Americans more generally. While he acknowledges in one sentence that staying is not for everyone and is clear that he doesn't regret the twenty years he spent away, he pretty much endorses his sister's myopic position that people should stay in small towns and that that is where the only real community is. This is just patently false. While Dreher may not have loved living in cities or found community there (and apparently this is true for many of his urban friends [who, no doubt, are statistically representative] who send him anguished and envious emails when he announces he and his family will be moving home to Louisiana), many people move to cities and fall in love with them because they find acceptance and community there they would never find in small towns. This is precisely because small towns are not always the idyllic places that Dreher describes West Feliciana as being. But also because some people form communities in big cities, they make friends, they care for each other when ill, they volunteer, they live rich and full lives surrounded by communities. Further, not everyone CAN just move home. Dreher is lucky that his job allows him to work from home. And apparently he has a wife who does not work outside the home so does not need to find employment that might not be available in a town of 1,700 (not to mention had no concurrent need to get back to her own home: had she no parents, no siblings, no roots in a community to which she wanted to return? Why was Dreher's home the one that took precedence here?). But many of us who value not only professional success but also doing good in the world or helping others through our jobs are not able to do so in small towns, including the ones where we may have been born. I was certainly moved by the story of Ruthie Leming's death. It was heartbreaking. I cried. But to read this book was to feel like Dreher believed no one had ever died before. I know this sounds petty and heartless, but did these people think they were the first to lose a sister, a mother, a daughter? Or to believe that she was truly special and unique? It read like he was the only writer ever to report on these experiences, which have obviously been around for a while. There was also, particularly about the day Ruthie died, an excessive amount of detail about the precise actions and locations of all family members that was largely unnecessary. (I do not care that one friend passed another on the off ramp to highway 61 speeding toward the hospital.) I actually did not object to the fact that the narrative is heavily influenced by Dreher's religious faith (he is first a lapsed Methodist, then a Catholic, then an Eastern Orthodox), which I do not happen to share, because he was pretty good at not prescribing conversion for his readers. We were allowed to make up our own minds on that count. But in the central lesson-- people love each other more in small-town America, where real community actually exists--not so much.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amy Rogers

    First, let me explain my perspective as a reader. I don't normally read this book's genre: no memoir, no EAT PRAY LOVE for me. I picked up THE LITTLE WAY OF RUTHIE LEMING because of a feature I heard on NPR. I was attracted by the theme of small-town community vs big-city isolation, and my own life experience sounded somewhat similar to the author's. So I cannot compare this book to similar feel-good books of popular wisdom. I bet it compares favorably: Rod Dreher writes well, and this book had e First, let me explain my perspective as a reader. I don't normally read this book's genre: no memoir, no EAT PRAY LOVE for me. I picked up THE LITTLE WAY OF RUTHIE LEMING because of a feature I heard on NPR. I was attracted by the theme of small-town community vs big-city isolation, and my own life experience sounded somewhat similar to the author's. So I cannot compare this book to similar feel-good books of popular wisdom. I bet it compares favorably: Rod Dreher writes well, and this book had excellent editorial support to shape the narrative so it pushes all the right buttons at the right times. It is rich in "telling details", portrays the main characters (including the narrator) as admirable people with just enough subtle flaws to keep them human, and is run through with "light" religious themes that are bland enough to appeal to a wide Christian audience without offending anyone. The truths expressed are nothing revolutionary, and have a sweetness and delight to them. These are probably the features most readers are looking for in this type of book. If you are one of them, you will like it. But I was hoping for more, specifically on the theme of how isolated rural communities are a double-edged sword. Because of their intimacy, they can offer stability, support, love, and a sense of belonging in times of crisis. Conversely, the same intimacy can be stifling, restrictive, judgmental, and petty. Author Dreher makes a few nods to the dark side but overall this book shines a spotlight on the positive. The Louisiana town in this tale is acknowledged as having a few faults but is mostly held up as a place of salvation for the world-weary journalist-author, who in real life chooses to move back to the tiny town after his sister dies. And they lived happily ever after? Maybe. Dreher has two key flashes of insight in this book. First, he notes his error in thinking his sister's life in a small town was equivalent to "living a small life." He was wrong about that; a person's value, happiness, or success are not determined by the size of the community in which they live. Second, he recognizes that he has spent his life building a career in one city after another while his sister built something different, which he likens to a levee that holds back the flood when the crisis of her life comes. These are beautiful truths. But he minimizes the tradeoffs. Small town life isn't for everyone, and it's not just intellectuals like Dreher who might want to get out. If you fit in and your tastes and values conform to local standards, life can be beautiful. The Dreher family had three generations of local homecoming queens. That strikes me as a family that epitomizes the values of its community. But what about other families in town? Do they enjoy the same level of tremendous support, admiration, and love that the Drehers did? Maybe they do, maybe they don't. I think the key point is that Ruthie Leming was an exceptional woman, and the community responded to that. Does that make her community an exceptional community? I live in a city of a million people. Recently a young father of similar stature to Ruthie died suddenly. We are not a small town with deep roots across generations, but the community responded with an outpouring not unlike what Rod Dreher describes. "Small-town values" can and do exist in cities, too. In summary, this is a pretty book, a well-written book, a book I read from start to finish. The first 1/2 to 2/3 is gentle pathos set up to bring a tear to your eye many times. It offers uncontroversial wisdom that readers can nod in agreement with. It mostly tells a story about a loving woman struck down by cancer. It purports to prove that small town life is a balm to many ills, but it dances lightly around the question of trade-offs: what the small town (or big city) gives AND takes away. The "pro" side of small town life gets virtually all the attention. The "cons" are largely ignored.

  3. 5 out of 5

    William

    I found a review of this book in a small journal that none of my friends read (First Things, the Journal of Religion and Public Life. Highly recommended.) So I thought that this book would also be one of those "under the radar" gems. Halfway through the book, I heard interviews on NPR, saw reviews in other journals, and heard reading friends talking about it. Sidebar: "Reading friends" is a retronym. That is a term that used to stand on its own, but due to changing situations, now requires a pref I found a review of this book in a small journal that none of my friends read (First Things, the Journal of Religion and Public Life. Highly recommended.) So I thought that this book would also be one of those "under the radar" gems. Halfway through the book, I heard interviews on NPR, saw reviews in other journals, and heard reading friends talking about it. Sidebar: "Reading friends" is a retronym. That is a term that used to stand on its own, but due to changing situations, now requires a prefix. Example: "Mail." Since we now have email and voice-mail, we now have to describe regular mail as "US Mail" or the denigrating "snail mail." Likewise, reading something longer than a tweet has so dropped off the map of our population, that I feel I have to specify "my reading friends" or it would sound unrealistic. Who talks about books any more? This book grabbed my attention because it deals with the family and friends of a woman who contracts cancer and succumbs to its relentless progression. She lives in a parish community in Louisiana with friends and families that have known each other for generations. Her brother and she are close, but have bickered and injured one another through careless words, and prideful acts through the years. This would be a perfect set-up for the "small town America knows how to do community, which you jaded yuppie city-slickers have all but forgotten." Or the deathbed resolution of all old wounds in a set of tearful confessions and benedictions. The book does neither, almost against the will of the author. I remember playing with magnets and trying to push the two opposing poles together. No matter how you try, they slide away from one another. The author, the brother of Ruthie, appears to TRY to write the "Generous Small Town America" story, and the "All is forgiven" story, but something else appears instead. This is a story of people who desire to be faithful to their God and their vows, but are unable to do so in any sustained way. Rather than rejecting or abandoning these virtues, they struggle on, drawing straight with crooked lines, as the old saying goes.. And by the end of the book, by God, you DO want to simplify a bit. You want to put more attention on sitting around a small table with friends, looking into eyes, and telling the truth, than sending tweets or text-messages. You DO want to forgive more, and unburden a bit. Even if imperfectly. Highly recommended. The story of the smell of roses on the hand of a friend, after the author had prayed for her, still haunts my mind like a melody.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carlea

    I heard this book featured on NPR and thought it sounded lovely. As a person who has family in a small town while I and my family live in the Washington, DC area, I felt like I could relate to that inner conflict the author grappled with before moving back home after the death of his sister. Unfortunately, I didn't love the book. And I hate to speak ill of the dead but I thought his sister came off sounding petty and immature. If anything, this book reaffirmed for me that small town life is not I heard this book featured on NPR and thought it sounded lovely. As a person who has family in a small town while I and my family live in the Washington, DC area, I felt like I could relate to that inner conflict the author grappled with before moving back home after the death of his sister. Unfortunately, I didn't love the book. And I hate to speak ill of the dead but I thought his sister came off sounding petty and immature. If anything, this book reaffirmed for me that small town life is not the place for me or my family. Additionally, since I didn't know much about the author prior to reading the book, I had no idea how religious this book would be. I'm atheist but don't mind reading about folks' religious journeys. This went overboard. I skipped whole paragraphs after a while. I don't think those passages added a whole lot to the narrative.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tonia Metz

    I wanted to read this book because of the connection to my home town. I would see Mrs. Leming at school and church functions. I can not say I had a close personal relationship with her. Seeing how much she was loved in our community made me want to read the story of her life. This was the most emotional experience I have ever had reading a book. Rod Dreher put you in the exact time and place as all the people introduced in the book. I felt the happiness, closeness, bonds, hurt, agony, anger and I wanted to read this book because of the connection to my home town. I would see Mrs. Leming at school and church functions. I can not say I had a close personal relationship with her. Seeing how much she was loved in our community made me want to read the story of her life. This was the most emotional experience I have ever had reading a book. Rod Dreher put you in the exact time and place as all the people introduced in the book. I felt the happiness, closeness, bonds, hurt, agony, anger and most of all the love of all the people in the story. I am very proud to call St. Francisville my home. I will be forever great-full for the sneak peek into Mrs. Ruthie Lemings life. She makes me want to be a better Christian, wife, mother and friends. Thank you Mr. Rod Dreher for sharing your story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    Here's the thing I want you to know about Rod Dreher: He evokes a loving but imperfect family in rural Louisiana, a bucolic oasis along the Mississippi River that paradoxically threatens to drown him in his youth, a life-changing experience at the Cathedral de Chartres near Paris, a brush with death on 9/11, a career climb through the corridors of big-city journalism, a spiritual search along orthodox and unorthodox paths, the small miracles of marriage, the burdens and joys of fatherhood, and t Here's the thing I want you to know about Rod Dreher: He evokes a loving but imperfect family in rural Louisiana, a bucolic oasis along the Mississippi River that paradoxically threatens to drown him in his youth, a life-changing experience at the Cathedral de Chartres near Paris, a brush with death on 9/11, a career climb through the corridors of big-city journalism, a spiritual search along orthodox and unorthodox paths, the small miracles of marriage, the burdens and joys of fatherhood, and the crushing saga of a sister who won't survive cancer, a sister who is the cement of this entire memoir devoted to a search for meaning in contemporary life. Dreher evokes all this wonderfully, and through the binding love of his sister for her community, through the community's reciprocal, abounding love for her -- through this crucible of community, tragedy and celebration emerges a perfect book. Oh, Dreher might have included a bit less of himself, as some have suggested, he might have chased fewer rabbits in his spiritual hunt, he might have made his sister's illness a subtext to grander themes -- but he would have missed the magic of Ruthie Leming's little way, her pathway to a life beautifully lived. Dreher's reportorial zeal in seeking out his schoolteacher sister's character -- from family, students, colleagues and friends -- elevates the story. There's not a lazy bone in this full-bodied, flesh-and-blood examination of what makes families and communities tick. Though the Dreher home place resides in the unincorporated community of Starhill, the cultural center of this memoir is St. Francisville, the historic river community with deep ties to the antebellum South and avian artist John J. Audubon. It's a beautiful place of green hills and clay bluffs, one of my favorite places in the world, but it's also a place of incongruities. A generation ago, The New York Times fixed upon St. Francisville and its county-level jurisdiction, West Feliciana Parish, as a gold-digger's dream: 212 men for every 100 women, the best odds for Miss Lonely Heart in the entire nation. Then came the deflation: More than half the men were full-time residents of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the largest prison, geographically, in the U.S. It's a place that's fiercely fought commercial progress of a kind. Though West Feliciana is home to a massive prison and a nuclear power plant, many of the Starhill faithful fought off a mixed-used development recently that would have buoyed the parish's tax base with new housing and retail stores near the foot of the Western Hemisphere's longest cable-stayed bridge, the $409 million John James Audubon Bridge. From my vantage point 30 miles south in Baton Rouge, such opposition didn't make sense. But a recent visit to St. Francisville reminded my wife and me that Ruthie's little way, writ large across the community, is a thing worth protecting from threats real and perceived. We stayed at our favorite bed & breakfast, K.W. Kennon's Shade Tree Inn, a rustic but luxurious hillside retreat in the same neighborhood where Rod Dreher now lives. At the coffee shop in the town center, we enjoyed a Bird Man Blast and later dined at the Magnolia Cafe, where Baby and the Boomers played a kaleidoscopic mix of George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dwight Yoakum and Van Morrison hits for patrons aged eight months to 82 years. Upon departing Sunday, we drove down Royal Street and I spied through the open doors of the venerable First United Methodist Church sanctuary a sight of standing bodies singing their final hymn. An iridescent light filled the stained glass behind the altar, where Ruthie Dreher's friends kept an all-night vigil before her 2011 funeral. As chance would have it, we forgot our reading material at the Shade Tree Inn when we left. After picking up our cat at my mother's house in a neighboring town, we stopped back in St. Francisville. I knocked on the kitchen door of the Shade Tree Inn and K.W. Kennon was reading The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. He'd been planning to buy a copy and had become transfixed by reading ours. "You know, Rod's a great writer," said K.W., the son of a former Louisiana governor. Indeed, he is. If I read something grander than this book this year or next, or even in the next decade, I shall consider myself as rich as Ruthie Leming herself.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lance Kinzer

    I thought a lot about Walker Percy while reading this book. Walker Percy who teaches that we live in a deranged age where “man had not the faintest idea who he is or what he is doing”; Walker Percy who suggests that “Home may be where the heart is but it's no place to spend Wednesday afternoon”; and Walker Percy who counsels that, “It is not a bad thing to settle for the Little Way, not the big search for the big happiness but the sad little happiness of drinks and kisses, a good little car and I thought a lot about Walker Percy while reading this book. Walker Percy who teaches that we live in a deranged age where “man had not the faintest idea who he is or what he is doing”; Walker Percy who suggests that “Home may be where the heart is but it's no place to spend Wednesday afternoon”; and Walker Percy who counsels that, “It is not a bad thing to settle for the Little Way, not the big search for the big happiness but the sad little happiness of drinks and kisses, a good little car and a warm deep thigh.” I don’t know if Walker Percy had all the right answers, but he certainly asked the correct questions. Rod Dreher’s book is much the same. But, first the book's weaknesses: Is the level of detail regarding mundane matters in the first 100 pages or so a tad much? Is there a tendency toward an occasional mawkishness? Do some passages create in the reader a sense of unsettling emotional voyeurism? Yes, yes and yes. But all that may just be me. Much more important is the fact that this is exactly the right book for anyone who senses that something has gone wrong with the world, that the promises we hold out to our children and even to ourselves about what makes for the good life are really a fools bargain, and that just maybe autonomy and opportunity are not all they are cracked up to be. I’ve read a number of reviews praising Dreher for the book's honesty about human frailty, including his own, and it's emotional punch. All true. I’ve also seen much made of the inclusion of the late revelation that Dreher’s own father made regarding his own life (the nature of which I won’t disclose here). I think there is less to that than meets the eye given the timing and context of those remarks. Finally, I’ve seen a good deal of objection that Dreher’s book has little to say to those who, even if they wished to, lack a thick community to return to. I think those reviewers miss the point. The core of this book is expressed in the sermon at Miss Clophine Toney’s funeral (pg. 252 – 255). Life is about limits and true dignity is found in sacrificial acts of faith, hope and charity. These are lessons anyone can apply. One issue that I have not seen addressed in other reviews is the author's move from Methodism, to Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy. It strikes me that some of the same predilections that caused him to leave home may have contributed to his decision to leave the religious tradition in which he was raised, and subsequently to leave the Roman Catholic Church for Orthodoxy. While I have little theological sympathy with Methodism I do wonder if, for those of us who consider the Kingdom of God our true home, the arguments to stick and stay that Dreher makes so persuasively as to place, don’t also apply with even greater force to the Church. And here I think of Walker Percy again, who wrote: “The churches are disappointing, even for most believers. If Christ brings us new life, it is all the more remarkable that the church, the bearer of this good news, should be among the most dispirited institutions of the age.” Might it not be that some of what makes this true, at least in the American context, results from the difficulty of finding true community in Church’s where members of the body of Christ so commonly engage in self amputation. I’m NOT criticizing Dreher here, just suggesting that his book has implications in this area that I think are interesting to explore. My final word? Get this book and read it. It most certainly asks the correct questions.

  8. 4 out of 5

    The Book Maven

    Someone has to stay home and tend to the family and the farm, and it sure wasn’t going to be Ron Dreher—since he was an adolescent, he had been yearning to escape the small Southern community in which he had been raised. And escape he did, going away to boarding school and college and a thriving career as a journalist. Staying home fell to his younger sister Ruthie, who was temperamentally suited for a life of early marriage, school teaching, and living the good life in her hometown, never stray Someone has to stay home and tend to the family and the farm, and it sure wasn’t going to be Ron Dreher—since he was an adolescent, he had been yearning to escape the small Southern community in which he had been raised. And escape he did, going away to boarding school and college and a thriving career as a journalist. Staying home fell to his younger sister Ruthie, who was temperamentally suited for a life of early marriage, school teaching, and living the good life in her hometown, never straying far. Until she became very ill with cancer, and passed away at the age of 40, leaving behind a husband, three daughters, two parents, as well as a community who grieved profoundly and her brother Ron, who began to realize the value in remaining true to your roots, keeping close to your family, and choosing a life of simplicity. It took Ruthie’s death to draw her brother home and find the courage to accept the past and embrace a different future, and this is the story of how he does this, and how he chooses “the little way of Ruthie Leming”—a way of home and love and community, and how they can make or break our lives. This is the highest praise, really, that I can give this book: I am pretty damned sure that I will pick this up and read it again in my life. It’s an honest book—at times almost melodramatic in its recounting of illness and death and grief—but somehow all the more endearing for that reason. It’s as though the author is simply recounting it all in the course of a real conversation. One thing that surprised me was how much of a role the Christian religion plays in this—not in any overt, holy-rolling sort of way, but in a quiet and dignified way that guides many of the people in the book, and brings them comfort. In the end, it occurs to me that this book was as much of a way for the author to bring himself closure and healing as it was about honoring his sister. And we’re lucky that Mr. Dreher chose to share this story and this “little way” with us.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Although this book speaks a great deal about Christian faith (and I am not of the same mind set), I found it wonderfully written. The story is powerful, and the message is clear: what we really have in life is the love we give and receive. Ruthie chose life in a small southern town which meant she had less excitement, less cultural opportunity, less chance for varied experiences than her more cosmopolitan brother. But when she was attacked by a vicious cancer, she had an entire community of frie Although this book speaks a great deal about Christian faith (and I am not of the same mind set), I found it wonderfully written. The story is powerful, and the message is clear: what we really have in life is the love we give and receive. Ruthie chose life in a small southern town which meant she had less excitement, less cultural opportunity, less chance for varied experiences than her more cosmopolitan brother. But when she was attacked by a vicious cancer, she had an entire community of friends who celebrated her to the end of her life. This author has a real gift for description, conversation, and creating emotions which are not over-written and cloying. He does his soul searching about the meaning of his life and his sister's in a way that allows the reader to dig deeper into the discussion of what matters in the context of a lifetime. My only dislike was the religious fervor he delves into, but that was the basis for his thinking about the way his sister lived and died. It is a very good book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tracie

    What an incredible read! In today's mobile and dispersed society, we underestimate (or simply ignore) the importance of community. Of being part of something, someones that gives new meaning to "I've got your back." Dreher's tribute (not canonization) to his sister, their community, and the relationships within that community will not leave your heart untouched. Read it--you'll be glad you did! What an incredible read! In today's mobile and dispersed society, we underestimate (or simply ignore) the importance of community. Of being part of something, someones that gives new meaning to "I've got your back." Dreher's tribute (not canonization) to his sister, their community, and the relationships within that community will not leave your heart untouched. Read it--you'll be glad you did!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    None of us is ever able to try all the lives we wanted to live. We try to guess which life will lead to the greatest happiness, set off on our course, and hope that if we decide to start over on a new path, we'll realize it before we get too far down the road. When Rod Dreher was growing up, he was sure he wanted out of the small town in Louisiana where he had been raised. His sister Ruthie was sure of the exact opposite. She never wanted to leave. Their paths diverged early and, as is always the None of us is ever able to try all the lives we wanted to live. We try to guess which life will lead to the greatest happiness, set off on our course, and hope that if we decide to start over on a new path, we'll realize it before we get too far down the road. When Rod Dreher was growing up, he was sure he wanted out of the small town in Louisiana where he had been raised. His sister Ruthie was sure of the exact opposite. She never wanted to leave. Their paths diverged early and, as is always the case, they grew into the lives they had chosen. But when Ruthie gets sick with cancer, Rod returns to find the small-town life he had abandoned with little regret was a richer life than he realized. Rod Dreher says this book is about his sister and her journey through cancer, but it just as much about him, or more accurately, about the both of them. It's about the way siblings define themselves in light of and in contrast against one another. It's about the little, unspoken disagreements that rub and irritate and chafe over years of silence. What I appreciated most about this book was the way that Rod conveys his deep admiration for Ruthie but doesn't spare us his perceptions of her shortcomings. Some have criticized his willingness to critique a woman after her death, but I appreciated his assessments. They kept this book from becoming too saccharine, for one, but they also revealed a lot about the author himself and the timeless adversarial relationship between siblings. I was particularly intrigued by Rod's portrayal of the wanderlust that appeared in each generation of his small-town loving family. He inherited his dreamy ideas about Paris from two great-aunts who retired in a little cottage on his parents' property, and he watched as his niece Hannah inherited from him this same vague ambition. I related to her most of all because if anyone in my family had that wanderlust, it was me. I have carried with me the seeds of other lives. I've never planted them, but I have carried them with me nonetheless. I nodded along in LaLaLand when Emma Stone's character gives up on acting because she thinks maybe she's just one of those people for whom the dream never comes true. I knew long ago I was not suited for some of my dreams, and so I never pursued them. But I resonated deeply with Hannah, whose struggles in the wake of her mother's death embody the true conflict in the book, which is the tension between Rod's cosmopolitan vision of the good life and Ruthie's deeply rooted vision of the good life. In the end, Rod returns to the small-town life, realizing that whatever he may have gained in his travels, he was missing out on the benefits of community. I hear that since this book was written, he's moved on yet again, spurred on by his restlessness and a tendency to overanalyze everything. We don't get to live all the lives we want to live and this book reminds us that no matter what lives we turn our back on, we will be missing out on some good things we might have experienced. Ruthie Leming's decision to plant herself deeply in her hometown becomes her greatest comfort under the hardest circumstances, and no amount of world travel can replace that. It's a conclusion I have to agree with.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Russell Fox

    Rod Dreher's new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, is a wonderful bit of writing--part biography (of his younger sister Ruthie, who died cancer in 2011), part memoir (of his own relationship with Ruthie and with their parents and with the tiny town they both grew up in--Starhill, near St. Francisville, in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana--from which he left and she remained), and part reflective essay on the mysteries of the ties Rod Dreher's new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, is a wonderful bit of writing--part biography (of his younger sister Ruthie, who died cancer in 2011), part memoir (of his own relationship with Ruthie and with their parents and with the tiny town they both grew up in--Starhill, near St. Francisville, in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana--from which he left and she remained), and part reflective essay on the mysteries of the ties we feel--and sometimes embrace, and sometimes reject, for reasons both good and bad--between our family, our friends, and the places where we all live. I read it a rush, beginning it last Friday, finishing it on Sunday. I was drawn into this wonderfully readable work in part by the author's voice, of course; Dreher is a fine writer (if neither the most literary nor the most scholarly; the man is a journalist first and foremost), and I know from following his essays and blogging over the years that the observations he makes of our mores and motivations will be reliably interesting, and often wise. But more, I was drawn into the sad and ultimately quite spiritual story he told. Dreher was blessed by his history with, and his love for, his sister Ruthie, and in this book he shares that blessing with all of us. Dreher does a fantastic job bringing to life a person who he explicitly calls a kind of saint (though, as he also clarifies, "not a goody-goody"). Ruthie Leming was one of those essentially decent people, someone with great reservoirs of generosity and enthusiasm and kindness. As a resident of Starhill, she was reliable source of compassion and fun; as a school teacher, she was devoted and patient instructor and counselor and an inspiration to her students. Most of all, to her family and friends, she was a light--always someone willing to take the time to talk, to laugh, to dance, to gently poke fun, to pitch in and volunteer and serve. The incidents that Dreher meticulously records in this book add up; even if there is--as there likely has to be--some element of exaggeration and selectivity at work, one can't come away from this book without deeply wishing that we, too, could have know his Ruthie, and enjoyed her meals and joined in her outings and sent our children to her classroom to be taught by her. (The way old students and colleagues of hers reached out from great distances--California, Minnesota, Texas, and more--to be part of effort to support her struggle, and to mourn her after her death, is a tremendous testimony to the grace and infectious joy of her life.) And this goes for the communities of Starhill and St. Francisville as well. This book isn't a demographic study of West Feliciana Parish, and so while Dreher does refer occasionally to the poverty, drug abuse, and marital dysfunction and discord to be found throughout their communities, he obviously emphasizes the positive elements of this--by all accounts--gorgeous and culturally rich backwater corner of the American south: the Cajun food, the music, the relative lack of crime, the social trust in times of emergency, the beautiful flora, the crazy personalities, the long and happy memories. Whatever he may have elided in painting this picture, what's important is that Dreher convincing shows himself as recognizing--and convinces his readers (or convinced this reader, at least) to similarly recognize--that it was, to a great extent, through the faith and grace and good works of his loving sister, and so many other uncomplicated souls like her, that all these positive attributes were there to be enjoyed. The unity between Ruthie and her neighbors and little beloved place in the South becomes, through Dreher's words, total--and totally believable. Is it a perfect book? Probably not. All questions about narrative choices aside, I would have liked to have heard more from Dreher's wife Julie, and how she experienced this profound realization in their lives. He does quote her occasionally, but I wanted more; Julie is, as it comes out in the book, a child of perfectly conventional middle-class Dallas suburbs, and her perspective on the environment, the traditions, and the protective, somewhat insular communities of West Feliciana Parish, might have made a nice touch. And, given my own interests, I'm also sorry there isn't more politics in the book. There are, to be sure, occasional references to political and economic arguments, but they obviously weren't relevant to this very intimate, family story (though I suspect, on the basis of the occasional aside in the book, that at least one element of the long-standing--but never directly expressed--tension between Dreher and his sister was the way his highly intellectual, somewhat elite, and very contrarian conservatism--opposed to the Iraq war, wary of public institutions, intensely focused on the moral health of America--may have clashed with her and his extended family's no doubt much more conventional, populist, and evangelical views). Finally, Mike Leming, Ruthie's husband, despite the Dreher's best efforts, remains a bit of an enigma; I feel like, as a reader, I see their daughters and their feelings--particularly that of their oldest, Hannah, with whom Dreher has developed a tight bond--more clearly than we see his. But Mike Leming is presented from the beginning as a very quiet, introspective, private man, so perhaps this simply couldn't be helped, and we should be grateful that he opened up to Dreher as much as he did. My final word on this fine book is simply this: it is the best story about home, family, and community I have in a long, long time. When I next teach my "Simplicity and Sustainability" class (next fall), I'm going to present it alongside other memoirs like The Dirty Life or Better Off, not mention classics like Walden, as a way to help my students understand that these "little ways"--ways of tradition and connection--really are available and out there, and aren't just romantic dreams. I can't (and wouldn't want to!) create in my students' hearts the kind of spiritual anguish which powers Dreher's book, but I can, I hope, suggest to them that his realization, whatever one may think of it, is not an exclusive one. On the contrary, little towns with their own Ruthies are out there, and perhaps are, in fact, right in front of our eyes. Most of all, I appreciate very much Rod Dreher sharing with all of us, how he came, at the particular moment in time, came to see what was there to see. May we all, in our own places, do a little bit of the same.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Good read---about families, sibling relations, and hardship, including cancer. I won't forget Ruthie! Good read---about families, sibling relations, and hardship, including cancer. I won't forget Ruthie!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    A story about our people and where we come from, told from the perspective of a brother who is different from his only sister. She loves the land and family and stays rooted there, giving of herself always -- even as she fights a deadly cancer. Her brother, who couldn't wait to get away and see the world, is a journalist. This is about coming home and learning who you are, or can be, and about things you didn't know or understand before. It's about belonging, family and community, and how much w A story about our people and where we come from, told from the perspective of a brother who is different from his only sister. She loves the land and family and stays rooted there, giving of herself always -- even as she fights a deadly cancer. Her brother, who couldn't wait to get away and see the world, is a journalist. This is about coming home and learning who you are, or can be, and about things you didn't know or understand before. It's about belonging, family and community, and how much we all need that, even when we don't think so.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ann Lardas

    When you lose your parents, it's like someone stole the roof. But, that's supposed to happen, and by the time we reach that point and stand there vulnerable and exposed, we will be able to rise to the occasion and fashion safe havens for ourselves and our loved ones. When you lose a sibling, it's a different loss, because we foolishly think we will have them forever and we use them as part of the collective memory. They can finish our sentences and tell us which uncle it was who said what. They When you lose your parents, it's like someone stole the roof. But, that's supposed to happen, and by the time we reach that point and stand there vulnerable and exposed, we will be able to rise to the occasion and fashion safe havens for ourselves and our loved ones. When you lose a sibling, it's a different loss, because we foolishly think we will have them forever and we use them as part of the collective memory. They can finish our sentences and tell us which uncle it was who said what. They get our punchlines without us having to retell the joke. And when they are taken, too early for our liking, it is like a chunk of your own heart, memory, self, has been wrenched away. There no longer is someone to "remember that time when" with you. And when those times were not always rosy, the loss leaves you with nobody but God with Whom to work things through. How does the brain reconcile itself and the heart heal after such a loss? I don't know yet (except, with God's help and the love of our friends and family). But I was fascinated by this book, which comes at the whole issue from the other direction. I lost my older brother to cancer at the end of 2009, and many of the issues that I have been working through are covered in depth and detail in Rod Dreher's book "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming". You don't have to be Orthodox or lose a sibling to get a lot out of this book, and in fact, if you haven't lost a sibling yet, you should go and read it now. No time to waste. "Like" is the wrong verb for this book, but I very much enjoyed reading this book which Rod Dreher wrote about his sister's life, death, and legacy, and I think I benefited from encountering it. Mr. Dreher and I are both converts, we both lost a sibling to cancer, and we have lived within a few hours of each other at different times and know an overlapping set of people. And so for me, this book was like looking at photos someone else took of a seminal event in ones life. It is an extremely intimate look at his relationship with his sister, and it asks important questions about how people drift apart and what brings them together. In his case, it was he who was the intellectual with the degrees who traveled the world while his sister stayed home, married, taught. My brother was the one who did that, finishing Jordanville, getting his Ph.D. at Brown, and teaching in Missouri and at Princeton, while I spent most of my life in Roslindale, MA before going to parishes in Houston (11 years) and Stratford, CT (14 years so far), after going to Wellesley College and marrying my husband, whom I met while visiting my brother at Seminary. My choices mystified my brother and his puzzled me, up until he became a monk and archimandrite and the happiness which had eluded him before became something he poured fourth from the abundance of his wealth. And so for me, this book is a blessing, the whole issue examined from the other side. But if you don't have this set of life experiences, you have your own, and this intimate portrait of a town, a family, siblings, love, loss, and the answers to questions we can't ask anyone but God. I hope that you read it, and find it as healing and revealing as I did.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Charlane Brady

    A powerful story. One that disrupted my life and forced me to take a step back. I started reading The Little Way of Ruthie Leming on a flight back to San Francisco from visiting my Mom, my sister and my niece for Mother’s Day. When I got home, I sat down continuing to read the book. I finished at 4:00am. I identified. I laughed. I cried. I craved. And at the end, I prayed. I identified with the nuances of a small, Louisiana town and that disagreeing with someone was often mistaken for rejection. A powerful story. One that disrupted my life and forced me to take a step back. I started reading The Little Way of Ruthie Leming on a flight back to San Francisco from visiting my Mom, my sister and my niece for Mother’s Day. When I got home, I sat down continuing to read the book. I finished at 4:00am. I identified. I laughed. I cried. I craved. And at the end, I prayed. I identified with the nuances of a small, Louisiana town and that disagreeing with someone was often mistaken for rejection. (My childhood was spent questioning.) I laughed when I read Ruthie was a homecoming queen that knew how to skin a buck and run a trotline. (A prerequisite for Homecoming Queens in my hometown which I take pride in.) I cried for my own sibling that passed away when I was a kid. (His name was Rod and his death left me questioning even more.) I cried for my own making of relationships with my Mom and my sister. (Thankful for Dreher's honesty and self-reflection; my own family). I craved my hometown of Olla. (The whole lot of it!) I prayed for grace and harmony. (I heard Dreher’s message loud and clear with regard to the seasons in the lives of persons and of families. “Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given – and to give each other grace.") At 5:00am I canceled all of my morning business meetings to take a step-back, if only for a morning right now. Not to re-evaluate my past. To evaluate my today. I love a powerful story that disrupts my way of thinking and my way of living. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming did just that. Thank you Rod Dreher. I love me some Ruthie Leming.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Have you ever disliked someone because she was too sweet, too good, too perfect? That's how I felt about Ruthie Leming until she died. There, now that I've confessed that, I can go on and share what I did like in this book. I liked the author, the brother of the sainted Ruthie, whose story kept me reading. He deals with confusion and asks probing questions about relationships and about choices made and about what is real. I appreciated that realness. This is a true story, but I didn't believe tha Have you ever disliked someone because she was too sweet, too good, too perfect? That's how I felt about Ruthie Leming until she died. There, now that I've confessed that, I can go on and share what I did like in this book. I liked the author, the brother of the sainted Ruthie, whose story kept me reading. He deals with confusion and asks probing questions about relationships and about choices made and about what is real. I appreciated that realness. This is a true story, but I didn't believe that while reading about Ruthie during the first half of the book -- I believe Rod Dreher, though, and that is why the second half of this book, Rod's story, compelled me to read and ask some of my own questions. Ideas thought about: "Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you, you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want -- no, you need -- to be able to say...'We're leaning, but we're leaning on each other.'" "They refused the discipline of place and community, and because of that, they could never know humility. Without humility they could never be happy...if I wanted to know the inner peace and happiness in community, I needed to practice a rule of stability. Accept the limitations of a place, in humility, and the joys that can be found there may open themselves."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Frank Richardson

    The author Rod Dreher left his native southern Louisiana as soon as he could and began a career as a writer, columnist, blogger, etc and lived in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Dallas, etc. He married and had a family. His sister, Ruth, stayed home and married her childhood sweetheart, and taught school. This was the type of family structure that the Dreher's had until Ruth was stricken with terminal cancer shortly after she turned 40. Rod make the decision to uproot his family again and move them to h The author Rod Dreher left his native southern Louisiana as soon as he could and began a career as a writer, columnist, blogger, etc and lived in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Dallas, etc. He married and had a family. His sister, Ruth, stayed home and married her childhood sweetheart, and taught school. This was the type of family structure that the Dreher's had until Ruth was stricken with terminal cancer shortly after she turned 40. Rod make the decision to uproot his family again and move them to his hometown in southern Louisiana to give up the opportunities of the big city for the closeness and comfort and hopefully, the love of his hometown of 1700 souls who join together to care for his sister and her family after her passing. In her last days, he gives her comfort and she seems to respond because they had conflicts in the years past. He takes his oldest niece on a gift trip to Paris and during this trip she confides to him that his sister continued to hold resentment toward him even as she was welcoming him home and she further opines that he will probably never be accepted back home by her siblings and Rod's reaction to this is what makes the last 75 pages of this book the crowning touch as the author gives a deep recitation on the meaning on love and family and loss. Frank

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lady Jane

    I was disappointed by this book, having looked forward to reading it for a long time. The first 3/4 or so read awkwardly like an overly long, hagiographic obituary of the author's tragically deceased sister. I read that the author began interviewing subjects only 4 months after she died and wondered if he would have written the same book had he given himself more time to complete the bereavement process. Additionally, while I know that Rod Dreher is a very good writer, this long section of the b I was disappointed by this book, having looked forward to reading it for a long time. The first 3/4 or so read awkwardly like an overly long, hagiographic obituary of the author's tragically deceased sister. I read that the author began interviewing subjects only 4 months after she died and wondered if he would have written the same book had he given himself more time to complete the bereavement process. Additionally, while I know that Rod Dreher is a very good writer, this long section of the book seemed as though he constructed it by piecing together interviews like a patchwork quilt. However, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming became gripping for me when it transitioned into Rod Dreher's personal analysis of the value of community v. some of its constraints and dark underbelly. In Dreher's case, born into a family whose roots in the same, small town spanned several generations, community for him was returning to the small town in which he was raised and where his family remained. Community for others might look different. I think anyone pondering similar issues might find Dreher's insight and experience a helpful tool.

  20. 5 out of 5

    The American Conservative

    "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming isn’t quite what one expects. The title alludes to the little way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but Ruthie Leming was not a saint. She has no little way that could be wholeheartedly endorsed as a universally valid spiritual practice. And the pathos of the story derives not so much from her own story, gutwrenching as it is, as from the struggle of her only brother—the author—to come to terms with it." Read the full review, "How Rod Dreher Went Home Again," on our webs "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming isn’t quite what one expects. The title alludes to the little way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but Ruthie Leming was not a saint. She has no little way that could be wholeheartedly endorsed as a universally valid spiritual practice. And the pathos of the story derives not so much from her own story, gutwrenching as it is, as from the struggle of her only brother—the author—to come to terms with it." Read the full review, "How Rod Dreher Went Home Again," on our website: http://www.theamericanconservative.co...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shelli

    There was so much to relate to in this book. I was the one who "went away" and have always felt a strong sense of "place" , and I think it's true for some of us, that we may need to leave in order to truly appreciate what we have. This story really captures sibling relationships and the struggles we bear from our youthful perceptions of each other. Can we really warn our children to nurture this relationship while they are young, or do we all have to learn the hard way? :) This was a heart break There was so much to relate to in this book. I was the one who "went away" and have always felt a strong sense of "place" , and I think it's true for some of us, that we may need to leave in order to truly appreciate what we have. This story really captures sibling relationships and the struggles we bear from our youthful perceptions of each other. Can we really warn our children to nurture this relationship while they are young, or do we all have to learn the hard way? :) This was a heart breaking story in many ways, but so real and worth the reading journey!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ladybute

    This book was absolutely beautiful. Yes, it makes you cry, but not in a sentimental over done way. It is very intense, very honest and I cannot imagine there is a person out there who cannot relate to the authors struggles between wanting roots, but still wanting to be himself, to loving our families dearly, but sometimes not being able to relate to them well. There is so much to ponder in this book

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Can's say enough about this book. Loved it. Cried like a baby during much it - hit home in an intense way. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time, I think. Can's say enough about this book. Loved it. Cried like a baby during much it - hit home in an intense way. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time, I think.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ed Brenegar

    Living in the Worlds of Ruthie and Rod Rod Dreher's memoir of his sister, Ruthie, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, is a simple story as the subtitle suggests of "A Southern Girl, A Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life." Yet, it is much more. It is a story of many layers, dealing with the realities of small town life, how we as modern people deal with death, and ultimately, in its own way, a mirror of America in the 21st century reflecting the fragmentation into societal enclaves of rich and Living in the Worlds of Ruthie and Rod Rod Dreher's memoir of his sister, Ruthie, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, is a simple story as the subtitle suggests of "A Southern Girl, A Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life." Yet, it is much more. It is a story of many layers, dealing with the realities of small town life, how we as modern people deal with death, and ultimately, in its own way, a mirror of America in the 21st century reflecting the fragmentation into societal enclaves of rich and poor, urban and rural, communal and individualistic, and the local and the global. The story is told through the perspective of Rod, Ruthie's older brother, who grew up as the son who sought adventure through the world of ideas as a journalist, living for two decades in Washington, New York, Dallas and Philadelphia. His ambition was viewed with suspicion by his sister, who thought him "uppity" for leaving the small Louisiana town of St. Francisville and their families corner of that rural world, Starhill. As the teller of the story, he shows his frustration at being mistrusted for his longing for new worlds, as if the world of home was not enough to build a life upon. As Rod tells this story, this conflict between he and his sister is never truly resolved. Ruthie dies without Rod and her truly reconciling the differences that had existed since childhood.This makes their story more indicative of the way families actually are. This isn't a story with a Hollywood ending, though there is much wisdom and goodness to be discovered in it. Their relationship rings true as symptomatic of many modern relationships. Each are individualists, even Ruthie in her singular focus on family and homeplace, could not see beyond her own individualistic preference to see that her brother was pursuing his own desire for meaning in life. Her care for her students, believing in those from the most impoverished, least advantageous backgrounds, stands in contrast to her relationship with Rod. Having spent some time with Rod as he came to Asheville on his book tour, I identify with how family relationships are sometimes much more difficult than our social and professional relationships. In effect, there was only an upside in believing that her students could become anything that they set their mind to doing. But there is conflict within a family when the family traditions are not sufficient to hold some members at home. I see this attachment to the past, which is what it is, as a way many people refuse to address the realities of the contemporary world, and as a result end up denying not only their responsibility to a wider world, but also their potential for making a difference that matters. For me this relationship between Rod and Ruthie is the most interesting in the book, and worth reading by families so that conversation about expectations can be had. We also see that small town life, for all its communal closeness, is not idyllic. There is a tendency not to be able to see beyond one's own self-interest and that that of one's clan. Urban and suburban communities can be just as self-interested, just as easily denying an obligation to care for those who are less well off. However, what distinguishes this story is the character of Ruthie Leming. For all her narrowness about her small town, she was a woman of extraordinary love and caring for people beyond her family. In fact, it is quite evident that her impact is global and not just local because of the care she gave to her students. It is people like Ruthie who make communities worth living in. The question is why are there not more like her. I hope the book inspires people waiting for something to move them into action to become more like Ruthie. Small towns have advantages that big city life has a much more difficult time providing. Namely the closeness of family and friends who meld into one's family in ways that a cosmopolitan existence cannot afford. The ease that people move in and out of the Leming household during and after her death from cancer; how the community rallies to raise money for Ruthie's hospital bills through a concert, and how the spirit of Ruthie served as a bond for community that made life in their little community richer, are pictures of life in rural communities. Rod tells his own story as a contrast to Ruthie's. He is like many people I know who are very cosmopolitan in their tastes. They find it easy to move between various cultures, finding commonality with people from all points on the globe. Yet, as his sister goes through her bout with cancer, the pull of family and Louisiana eventually uproots the Dreher family from their life in Philadelphia as they move home to Starhill. Family and place are two of the three themes that make this book a thought-provoking, engrossing read. However, it is the question of the communal and familial nature of death and dying that is played out in Ruthie's illness which may be the most important insight that Dreher provides. As an ordained minister, who has been in and out of pastoral roles in churches over the past three decades, I can say that we American's do not deal with death well. For Ruthie, she faced it by denial. She trusted her physicians to do the right thing. She went about her life as if the cancer did not have a hold upon her. As a result, she did not talk with her daughters about her illness. As Dreher notes, she answered her daughters questions truthfully, what few questions they did ask. So, she proceeds on with life and then it ends suddenly without notice. What is clear is that death affects families differently than one's circle of friends. Her friends come to the home and celebrate her life the next day. But her family lives daily with her absence. Life never being quite the same without Ruthie at the center of it. Reading her story, I was taken back to my own parents' deaths. My mother at the age of 48 in her sleep while on vacation. My father just three years ago this week from a sepsis infection that he acquired following knee surgery. For my mother, I had not seen her in two weeks. She was gone without any time to prepare. I am still numb 35 years later. For my father, we knew he would not survive, so my sisters and I had the time to say good bye. In both cases, the relational vacuum created by their passing is never filled. I'm certain this remains true for the Dreher and Leming families of Starhill. As I had time with Rod last weekend, we talked about Ruthie. I told him that I had a strong identification with her. Her relationships with people are similar to mine. Her belief in people is very much like mind. I have said in many settings that "I believe in people so they can believe in themselves." I would have loved to have known her, and even though I did not, I miss her. I understand her, her motivations and the way she led her life. I also understand the choices that Rod made as a young man, the course of his life, as I made similar choices that led me away from my family to seek a course in life that we often call ambition or purpose. There is not a simple, single choice to be made between country or city living, or between family and ambition. There are choices we make every day about the kind of person we wish to be, and the life we want for ourselves and our families. In effect, life is lived one day at a time, one relational encounter at a time, with intervening moments of decisions that mark the long course that our lives take. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming is an important book. It is a book to be read and savored in conversation with family and friends. Rod Dreher's story isn't about everyone moving back to their home town. It is rather about being much more conscious that all our decisions carry with them both positive and negative implications. Ruthie Leming's life made a difference that mattered to the people of West Feliciana Parish. Rod Dreher's life through his writing is also making a difference by the telling of Ruthie's story. And we the readers of his fine book are the beneficiaries of both of their lives, and for that reason we are richer for it. In Addition Here's an additional thought that I had about the book that I posted to my Facebook page. Been thinking about The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, by Rod Dreher. It is such a honest and real book. It is one of truth as it deals with the pain and suffering of life, which is, in large part, familial and relational. I've been having conversations recently with people my age about how many of us in our 50s and 60s are really unhappy. The people I'm thinking of have achieved everything that wanted. Yet, to talk with them there is a hard edge of bitterness lingering in the background. They aren't happy. I've come to the conclusion that this is so because all their relationships are structured to be professional and non-intrusive. The conversations are built around opinions and making distinctions between people who are with us and those who aren't. It is such a defensive posture to life. No wonder they are unhappy. In Rod's book, it is James Toney, son of Miss Clophine Toney, his childhood friend, who became an evangelist who says it best as he eulogizes his mother. "She was carrying a cross, ... because let me tell you something, if you don't sacrifice for your brother, if you don't sacrifice for your neighbor, you not carrying your cross." "Aunt Grace told me the other day that of all the presents she got from everybody, those (Miss Clophine's) meant the most. ... Why? Because there was so much sacrifice. She sacrificed everything she made, just to give." You have to read the book to get where this is going. I wonder about these people I'm thinking of and their unhappiness. Do they have anyone whom they truly sacrifice to love? What is it that they are giving up for others? Or do they see their giving and sacrifice as a kind of victimization? This is the hard truth of love, that without sacrifice, there is no love, just connection. First, I hope you'll read this book. Second, I hope you'll give this book to family and friends. Third, I hope you'll find someone in that group of people with whom you can talk about the wisdom that can be found in this book. Happiness isn't a commodity you buy at the store. It is a product of relationship and living a life where giving, and, yes, sacrifice, are part of what gives life its joy. In a recent blog post, What Defines Us? , I ended with these words, To live is to love. To love is to give. To give is to live a life where meaning, happiness, health and impact flow from the daily experience of seeking to fulfill the potential that we each have to make a difference that matters. Read the book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kara Larson

    Read for book club and really loved this thought provoking story on community, family, big vs small town life, vocation, conflict, siblings, religion and overall how the choices we make in life and the way we treat others affects our life. Highlights P11 “She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.” P15 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They didn’t have a lot of money, but there was always room for m Read for book club and really loved this thought provoking story on community, family, big vs small town life, vocation, conflict, siblings, religion and overall how the choices we make in life and the way we treat others affects our life. Highlights P11 “She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.” P15 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They didn’t have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table. People dropped by constantly, and stayed for dinner—and sometimes into the night, even during the week. They wanted to be around Mam and Paw, who were boundlessly hospitable.” P16 “Paw was a stretch disciplinarian, but he didn’t have to do it often because we had such respect for him and for Mam. He was the kid of man you wanted to please because he seemed so strong, so wise, and so good.” P51 “I can’t let you feel sorry for yourself. If you feel sorry for yourself, you’re going to give up.” P100 “Right now on this very day, ask forgiveness of those you’ve offended, and offer it to those who have offended you. Be reconciled, if you can. Don’t live as if you have all the time in the world, because you don’t. None of us do. Change your life. Repent. Love. It’s urgent. You have no idea how urgent until you get a phone call like I receive this morning.” P 102 After the diagnosis per Mam, “ It was the most horrible day of our lives, but we could feel the love of all these good people. There was nothing we could have wanted or needed that wasn’t done before we asked. And they were there. Do you know what that means? People were there.” P 104 Ruthie to her children, “ Girls, we are not going to be angry at God.” P105 I cried ugly tears at this one when Hannah says to Mam, “ Oh my God, Mam, our Mam is your baby!” P 127 “I wanted to wrestle this [cancer diagnosis/treatment] to the ground, but she was happy just to be.” P130 The oncologist’s opinion of how a patient’s positive or negative attitude shapes their response to treatment. P149 Teaching children empathy by example is key “You have to understand how much it hurts to be left out, and looked down on.” P201 “No matter who you were, Ruthie made you feel like you were it. You were her family, you were always comfortable... Everybody was welcome in her house. You knew you were at home there, and everything was good.” P205 “What you’ve seen here is because of who your sister was, but it’s also because of who your mama and daddy are.” P206 is a full page about how our culture and vocation influence use to move away. “Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. when suffering and death come for you—and it will—you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want—no, you need—to be able to say, ‘We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.’” P253-254 recounts a story of bouille and how sacrifice and giving in to family will never cause regret because there will come a day when they are gone and you’d do anything to sacrifice that again. P262 “There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay—or to stay away—forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given—and to give each other grace.” P267 Only a family and community can and will cook for you, pick up your house, help your kids, prayed with you, allow you to die in peace. Ruthie’s love was given and return in “steadfast acts of ordinary faith, hope, and charity.”

  26. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    My husband mentioned this book to me when it was published, since he thought it would be of interest to me. I liked the Kindle sample, but I have this issue with paying $13 for an e-book, which is my preferred reading medium, and my library didn't have an electronic copy. I eventually got my hands on a paperback and read it that way. (Sidenote: I certainly do purchase books, but when I read just enough to make purchasing every book cost prohibitive, I try to use my library unless the author is a My husband mentioned this book to me when it was published, since he thought it would be of interest to me. I liked the Kindle sample, but I have this issue with paying $13 for an e-book, which is my preferred reading medium, and my library didn't have an electronic copy. I eventually got my hands on a paperback and read it that way. (Sidenote: I certainly do purchase books, but when I read just enough to make purchasing every book cost prohibitive, I try to use my library unless the author is a favorite of mine or I have reasonable expectations of revisiting it.) I really should jump on my husband's recommendations sooner - another book I put off for the longest time was A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It sat on my bedside table undisturbed for months until I grabbed it for airplane reading on our NYC anniversary trip. Again, my only hesitation was that it wasn't an e-book, and I wasn't interested in starting a book right before bed when I was already going to bed too late. But I devoured it on that trip, even having to restrain myself from weeping while I sat next to a stranger on a plane when reading a poignant passage detailing the significance of Jesus' healing of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. I can still get emotional when I discuss that part in particular with friends; the entire book greatly impacted me and made the rounds of friends as I regularly pushed it on them. Naturally, I bought the Kindle version, in case I wanted to revisit it while our copy was loaned out. So back to The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. This book is thoughtfully written. Dreher is a journalist who writes this beautiful account of his sister's life. She is diagnosed with cancer, and through watching her face it, and her consequent death, Dreher is wrestling with the value of family and place. He left his small town at a young age and never intended to return, whereas Ruthie never left and the community came together spectacularly to support the family. Dreher wonders what he has sacrificed by leaving behind people who know him and where he came from in order to pursue his career. Here in Wisconsin, we love much about finding ourselves here. Eric enjoys his students and colleagues, we found a home perfect for us that allows us to be welcoming, and we have found a community of good friends. However, we do regret our distance from family (we live around 5 and 7 hours away from family, respectively), especially with our young daughters not getting to interact with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents on a more regular basis. We even admit we feel a loss when we compare ourselves to those friends fortunate enough to have family in the area, and we've had this conversation with others in a similar boat. However, this is where we find ourselves, as we have deemed the sacrifice meaningful. So we work to establish ties here. I can understand Dreher's point, though. When Jon committed suicide, although I had gotten involved with the church in my college town, there was no doubt that I would seek comfort in my home church ten miles away. Indeed, when walking up to the church, I was met at the door with loving arms and shared tears. These people loved and knew us and loved and knew Jon. My college church would have been sympathetic, had they known, but my home church was shaken and grieved alongside us. We lived in Indiana, over 7 hours from family, when we lost our daughter Katherine. And yet, even with the distance, and even though we had only been in Indiana two years at that point, we felt completely surrounded and cared for. In fact, I remember some faculty members from my department confessing to me, as they looked around at all the people that had filled our church for the memorial service, they had no idea if they had that kind of support structure should they face tragedy, and they had been around much longer. Dreher shares an account from his mother that resonated with me: "We were surrounded by so much love," Mam recalls. "[When Ruthie was diagnosed with a malignant tumor] It was the most horrible day of our lives, but we could feel the love of all these good people. There was nothing we could have wanted or needed that wasn't done before we asked. And they were there. Do you know what that means? People were there." This struck me as similar to what we experienced after Katherine's death, especially. We were volunteering with the high school ministry, and they coordinated all the details of the memorial service when we were in shock, knowing we wanted to mark her short life but having no concept of where to begin. One student left directly from the service to mow our lawn. My knitting friends remembered my original due date and took us to dinner then. And on the anniversary of Katherine's death, they pooled together money to treat us to a nice meal, knowing we would be fragile and would want to be alone. It was a brutiful time, but we were surrounded with people who were supporting us, as I expounded on in even more detail here. Having community is so important, and Dreher felt that he and his wife lacked that, given that they never stayed in one place long enough to establish such connections. For us, when we lost Katherine, while I'd never considered cremation before then, it was no question what we were going to proceed with for our daughter - we couldn't handle burying her in a place where we wouldn't be long term. This might be reading as a censure of those of us who are away from home and family. Dreher does say this, though: "There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay -- or to stay away -- forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given -- and to give each other grace." He did have some tension with family, particularly with his father and sister, issues that they all ignored and tiptoed around when he made trips home. However, Ruthie's diagnosis made him realize they needed to try to regain peace and he worked to reestablish wholeness with his family and anyone he could think of where there was brokenness. While I could continue to expound on the book and share more quotations, I'll leave it at that. This book struck me, and I did find myself brought to tears at times. Some of that might be me being overly sensitive, as I finished the book on the eve of the anniversary of my brother's death, and it brought up so many memories of loss and generosity that I will forever hold close. But I don't believe I'd be alone in appreciating this story of his beloved sister's impact on those around her and lessons we can learn.

  27. 5 out of 5

    E

    Rod Dreher presents a frank yet tender look at the events surrounding his sister's death from cancer and his own family's return to live in the small Louisiana town where he grew up and the rest of the family continued to live. Dreher left for good reasons, and returning was not easy (to see just how difficult, read How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem), yet it seemed the right thing to do for the good of all involved. Dreher's sister, Ruthie, was not Rod Dreher presents a frank yet tender look at the events surrounding his sister's death from cancer and his own family's return to live in the small Louisiana town where he grew up and the rest of the family continued to live. Dreher left for good reasons, and returning was not easy (to see just how difficult, read How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem), yet it seemed the right thing to do for the good of all involved. Dreher's sister, Ruthie, was not a perfect person, as he makes clear, and yet she was a remarkable woman, well worthy of this memoir. She was compassionate and generous, yet always had a chip on her shoulder regarding her brother's moving away. The tension was not resolved before her death, and it clearly weighs heavily upon Dreher. Yet it took a lot of humility to return home, and Dreher and his wife, Julie, were not unaware of the challenges. You can see the beginnings in this book of what Dreher has gone on to call the "Benedict Option," the creation of strong Christian communities to serve as an alternative to mainstream culture. Dreher is a compelling writer (and prodigious! just check out his blog) who can be too introspective at times, yet I appreciate his honesty.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Unchong Berkey

    Themes of growing up, family tension despite deep love for one another, and small town living-all interwoven in the true story of Ruthie Leming and the cancer that took her life. It hits all the melancholy notes, and it will move you. I’ve never known this side/story of Rod Dreher, author of Benedict Option, and his little sister, who chose to stay in the very town she was born and raised in while Rod took off for city living as soon as he got the chance. I’d love to discuss this book with other Themes of growing up, family tension despite deep love for one another, and small town living-all interwoven in the true story of Ruthie Leming and the cancer that took her life. It hits all the melancholy notes, and it will move you. I’ve never known this side/story of Rod Dreher, author of Benedict Option, and his little sister, who chose to stay in the very town she was born and raised in while Rod took off for city living as soon as he got the chance. I’d love to discuss this book with others.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    So touching. I think I cried most of my way through Ruthie's storie. Her si pimple approach to life was refreshing. It reminds you that family is more important than things. She saw good in everyone. The characters were real and the love for each other was strong. A good recipe for life. I will read this again later in life. So touching. I think I cried most of my way through Ruthie's storie. Her si pimple approach to life was refreshing. It reminds you that family is more important than things. She saw good in everyone. The characters were real and the love for each other was strong. A good recipe for life. I will read this again later in life.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Larson-Doornbos

    The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (NetGalley) Rob Dreher release date: April 9, 2013 "When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another," writes the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry. "How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another's stories? If they do not know one another's stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, a moreover they fear one another. And thi The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (NetGalley) Rob Dreher release date: April 9, 2013 "When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another," writes the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry. "How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another's stories? If they do not know one another's stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, a moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now." Writer Rod Dreher has turned my head a couple of times: once when commentator David Brooks called him "one of the country's most interesting bloggers" (link) and again with what I think is his allusion to St. Therese, the little flower, in the memoir's title. Because I've had a sort of a crush on David Brooks for years (my husband knows that Friday's Newshour when Brooks shares a spot with Mark Shields is a sacred time). And as an adult convert to Catholicism, I seriously considered Therese as my confirmation name because of her devotion to doing ordinary things with extraordinary love. Dreher recounts his life growing up in St. Francisville Louisiana and the restlessness and discontent that small town life brought him. As many young people do, he rather clumsily made his way out into the wider world, shaking the dust from his feet and hurting (although never intentionally) the ones who loved him most. As a successful journalist, Dreher came to write for The National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Post, among others; he lived the life he loved in New York, Washington D.C., Dallas. Or so he thought. It was the illness of his younger sister, Ruthie Lemming that brought him back to St. Francisville. Ruthie adored Rod as little sisters typically do, despite that fact that for all of Dreher's turning inward, she was bent on reaching outward and touching lives, and just as he spurned small town life, Ruthie embraced it. And embrace it she did--because whether she was baking, fishing, star-gazing, or dancing, Ruthie lived life as few people do. She was head over heels for her high school sweetheart, her children were the apple of her eye, and friends were for life. Co-workers adored her and her church family was just that: family. Ruthie gave her heart to the children she taught with passion and there was no problem that couldn't be fixed with love. All this made reading of her illness (a particularly virulent lung cancer) even more devastating. For this Little Flower suffered much--physically, of course, but even more in the knowledge that her illness and death caused those she loved so much pain. Typical Ruthie, Dreher would say. But Dreher is wise enough to know that no saint, even Ruthie, is without those frailties that worry us all. There was friction with her teenaged daughter Hannah and an unspoken rift between Ruthie and Dreher for years. It's that honesty that made Ruthie's story so compelling. The story of Ruthie's life and death is especially powerful in the way it gives the reader (this one anyway) pause to examine his or her own life. That was certainly true for her brother, who mindfully returned with his family to the home town he once left. The question I kept coming back to was whether or not my life impacts others as Ruthie's did. Sadly, many of us might not want to know the answer. I also became drawn to Dreher's idea of community, something so lacking in contemporary American culture today. My hope for other readers is that Ruthie's life, and Dreher's can serve as a road map, of sorts, leading us to find that "place where you know, and are known ... [where] we're leaning on each other."

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