Monday, April 15, 2013

Rod Dreher: Live at Tyson's Corner

Once again heap big thanks are in order. This time they go out to The Man From K Street, who epitomizes the high journalistic standard we have here at Est Quod Est with his live account of the one-and-only Rod Dreher doing a book-signing for The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (LWoRL) at the Barnes and Noble bookstore at Tyson's Corner in Fairfax, Virginia. There is video content which goes along with this piece, but we don't have it ready yet. So please be patient while we get that prepared.

Rod Dreher Live!
by The Man From K Street

First off, I have seen Rod in person before. The last time was about twelve years ago, at a very well-attended National Review panel discussion downtown. Even in that packed room, you could hear earnestness in his voice as he talked about his emerging ‘crunchy’ thesis, enthusiasm about Dubya and about fresh, local vegetables. And there was, in that energetic delivery, no trace of an accent.

It was a much older man who spoke Thursday night at the Barnes & Noble superstore at Tysons Corner, and he did not come across as very enthused. Perhaps he was just road-weary.

I counted the crowd at about eighteen people who were in attendance for all or at least part of the event (perhaps this is why the pic on Rod’s blog was a zoom in showing only a few chairs). That number does not include: the obvious minder from the publisher, Father and Mrs. Mathewes-Green, a couple of people who looked suspiciously like sales clerks asked by their manager to remove their tags and fill out a respectable audience number, and some young women who periodically scanned the shelves on one side of the gathered assembly and retreated with their intended purchases. Yes, by coincidence, or karma, it was of course the “Teen Supernatural Romance” section that was closest to Our Working Boy’s dias.

But for this Southern Gothic Teen-angst Horror Story, however, the average age of the attendees was probably a fraction south of 60, and I believed nearly every one of them would have described themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. My first observation/prediction regarding this book is that the audio version will have to have a professional actor as reader, for Rod, in the intervening dozen years since I last heard him speak in person, has regressed to a stultifying monotone that makes paying attention difficult. (see attached video for a few seconds’ worth of an example—stopped after a few seconds to save a) battery power and b) my sanity) An accent has reasserted itself into his speech—not an unpleasant one, but a gentle one reminiscent of the late Shelby Foote. But if one doesn’t modulate their delivery, going up or down in pitch and faster or slower in speed, to match the subject matter or its tone, then even the intended drama of a deathbed reconciliation scene ends up sounding like the Deputy Sheriff of West Feliciana Parish reciting a manifest of rusted farm implements at a foreclosure sale.

Thus Rosco P., er, I mean Rod, read two excerpts from the book, both of which he claimed would be short, but subjectively seemed to drag on interminably. The first, of course, was Ruthie’s Forgiveness of Rod (he neatly omitted the later revelation that this was entirely insincere—I think it might have spoiled the Oprahesque appeal of the book for the non-cognoscenti in attendance). The second excerpt was the scene most tailor-made for the Lifetime adaptation—those damn candles in the graveyard.

Along with all but the minder and one of the attendees, I declined to ask any questions afterwards, but chose to have my own fun by playing a new game—Dreher Bingo. I imagined a bingo card with all the spaces filled with all the Rodian clichés we’ve all come to love, and waited to see how and when each one would be filled. I didn’t have long to wait:

The Scandal. Of course this was going to come up, but I figured it would have to be shoe-horned in, in some completely appalling way—and Rod delivered the goods. His angst stemming from his investigative journalism in 2002 was set out as a Plutarchian parallel to Ruthie’s excruciating chemo- and radiation therapy.

Andrew Sullivan. Rod made it clear that immediately after Ruthie’s pseudo-absolution, overwhelmed by the power of forgiveness in a broken world, the very first thing he felt compelled to do was reach out and give that same pardon to—another family member who over the decades might have shared some of Ruthie’s grievances? A lifelong neighbor who might have been wronged in some indelible way? A former LSU co-ed whose subsequent romantic and sexual life was forever warped by a traumatizing night of Rod’s antics? No. There is no one in his Real Life circle who speedily needs his apologies as much as…another blogger. By the way Keith, I’m convinced you are right that getting Excitable Andy front and center is a deliberate strategy to get in front of the ‘homophobia’ charge that is poison to the Gotham tastemakers that will make or break this book’s prospects: Rod told the audience that he needed to assure Sullivan of his undying friendship—despite their disagreements on what he would only refer to as “certain social and political issues”.

An Infinity of Personal Pronouns. For a book about Ruthie Leming, even the most casual of listeners to a presentation by this author has to note that absolutely no other word in his vocabulary sees as much as 1% of his use of a single-lettered word—a vowel that is neither “A”, “E”, “O” or “U”.

MTD and Me”. At no point in either his excerpts or his discussion did Rod make any direct reference to any organized expression of religion. Not his native Methodism, not Catholicism, and not Eastern Orthodoxy. LWoRL seems in its entirety to be a thorough embrace of a treacle-like, sentimental, undemanding, non-denominational worldview where nearly everyone will be going to heaven because they’re “nice”. I suspect the average reader of this book would be shocked to learn of any of Rod’s real preoccupations of the past decade or more—liturgical fetishism, food’s value as a signifier of moral advancement, and homosexual priests.

Tiresome Cross-marketing. “You get a mawkish tear-jerker about Ruthie’s death! Now how much would you pay? But wait, we’ll throw in this lovely local map as an endpaper! You’ll love it so much, you’ll just have to have the wall version! Here’s the address—operators are standing by!”

Le Revanchisme de retour. The listener must simply get used to every plaudit heaped upon St. Francisville or West Feliciana Parish being an exercise in veiled anger: “I just love the way these people are, DESPITE the way I was made to feel like such an outcast when I was young.” “I felt no anguish at all when I made the decision to bring my family to my hometown, even though perhaps I should have given my long history of alienation from it caused by the way I was treated.” Rod’s going to make you, the reader, know all about every slight he suffered as a young man, whether you thought you were buying a book about Ruthie or not. If I didn’t already know he was married with three kids, I’d simply assume this book was yet another example of that genre beloved by the NYT Book Review editors: the story of the sensitive literary young man from flyover country who must grapple with his feelings of being an ‘outsider’ and ‘different’, i.e. the Gay Coming-of-Age Novel. Who am I to say how this book will be received, either by the critics or the buying public? For all I know, it’ll be a bestseller. But if it is, I will laugh uproariously—not out of surprise, but from the cosmic irony of an author succeeding by coming to embrace nearly every cultural trend that he has spent the last several years of his life decrying as a signifier of civilization’s decline.


  1. Congratulations to the Man from K Street! You are a better man than me. I could not tolerate such a phony! He is no better than a man who pretends to be in the SEALS when he does not know the first thing about it.
    Jonathan Carpenter

  2. MFKS you are positively demonic. you even throw in some french! rock on dude.

  3. Did he read the part about Ruthie throwing her bra onstage at the C&W concert?

  4. I just want to know two things: How does Ruthie's husband feel about this book (if my brother-in-law did this I'd be on the warpath) and who is getting the money?

  5. I was tempted to suggest asking Dreher if he'd considered the possibility that Ruthie never leaving her small town is what gave her cancer in the first place. Not because I think that's true, necessarily -- though it's possible, since I know some small towns can be aptly described as "toxic" in every sense of the word -- but because every unsupported assertion in his book (and they are all unsupported) could go in the opposite direction.

    1. Meant to reply to this earlier, Kathleen: I'm told southern Louisiana has an unusually high number of cancer cases. Supposedly related to air pollution.

      We lived in Louisiana for three years. The food is fabulous, but the state is a mess.

  6. Pauli, that would have been fun. But perhaps not quite the tone Rod was aiming at. Although it would have helped validate the reviewer who called it a 21st c. "Steel Magnolias".

    -TMFKS (who probably would have bought the book if a reviewer called it a 21st c. "Fried Green Tomatoes")

  7. Quote: "…the cosmic irony of an author succeeding by coming to embrace nearly every cultural trend that he has spent the last several years of his life decrying as a signifier of civilization’s decline."

    Maybe it is premature to say, but more and more, it's starting to sound like a screen play will soon be in the works.

    I can't wait to see his next book. I can't begin to imagine what it might be about.

  8. In Atlanta, I was struck by a couple things:

    - K Street is right, that for the emotionalism of his writing (Florence King describes it as gushing about "the aching wonder of it all"), his reading style was very monotone.

    - Dreher also removed his Harry Potter glasses to read, which I didn't expect.

    - And, Dreher is taller than I imagined.

    He read the same two excerpts, and he later did mention that his sister hadn't forgiven him. He mentioned Andrew Sullivan and the Scandal AND the one-legged dancer, so I might have had better luck with a Bingo card.

    On principle, I don't begrudge people having anecdotes that come up consistently as they meet new people: inevitably, I tell new friends how I met my wife and how my faith has matured in dealing with my mother's death. We define ourselves by our stories, but I'm just not sure about the propriety of some of Dreher's favorites.

    K Street writes:

    "At no point in either his excerpts or his discussion did Rod make any direct reference to any organized expression of religion. Not his native Methodism, not Catholicism, and not Eastern Orthodoxy."

    In Atlanta, he did mention his sister's simple Christian faith, that it may have been not much more than "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Such beliefs are actually quite profound statements of God's grace in the person of Christ, based on the authority of the Bible, but an audience could just as easily conclude that any-old-faith is okay, so long as you believe in something.

    In the earlier thread, Pikku pointed out a halfway-decent Dallas News article by Dreher, and what we find on the pages there is pretty close to the person I encountered in that small Decatur bookstore.

    But, even there, the emphasis seems to be on the mere fact of his sister's faith, not its content.

    My concern is that a faithful Christian could read Dreher's book and wonder if he chose the wrong lifestyle choices in not staying in his hometown, but a Buddhist or unitarian agrarian would be confirmed in his faith because his lifestyle's "correct."

    Dreher's writing would seem more likely to draw people to their hometowns rather than to Christ.

  9. My concern is that a faithful Christian could read Dreher's book and wonder if he chose the wrong lifestyle choices in not staying in his hometown . . .

    I chuckled when I read this.

    I was raised a Lutheran, became "unchurched" while still in my small hometown, left my hometown for the big city far away, and then became Catholic. Good thing I left -- it saved my soul.

  10. Dreher's writing would seem more likely to draw people to their hometowns rather than to Christ.

    BINGO (sorry, couldn't resist.)

    Jesus seems to diss his hometown (Mk 6:4) when they didn't accept a prophet and praise a big city far away (Lk 11:32) which did listen to a prophet. It's not too hard to see what the divide is in Christianity.

    The truth is that the hometown could become and idol to one person, and Broadway shows could become idols to another. The debate over which is more likely might be of interest to some, even to me on occasion. But I turn the debate off if one of the debaters doesn't want to even hear the other side. Or when the attempt is made to splice subjective tastes onto objective moral principles.

  11. To be honest, Dreher's crunchy-fetish-du-jour doesn't bother me so much. I don't think he's going to convert many people to The Church of the Small Hometown, so what the hey.

    My objections to Dreher focus on just a few aspects of his schtick:

    1. His anti-Catholicism. Tom from Disputations nails it: The man is a professional anti-Catholic, spreading his anti-Catholic poison wherever he goes (in the name of his bogus "I-Was-So-Traumatized-by-theRC-Scandal-that-I-Can't-Say-Boo-About-All-the-Orthodox-Scandals" meme).
    2. His hypocrisy.
    3. His egregious double standard. (See #1 above.)
    4. His bitchiness (Kathleen nailed it!) toward anyone who dares to disagree with him.

    The guy is a classic case of the bullied kid who becomes a bully himself -- like that snotty kid who becomes the villain in The Incredibles. Hey, even that I don't mind so much. I just want him to lay the heck off of my Church. I cannot believe he is STILL invoking The Scandal at every opportunity -- during a tour to promote a book about his dead sister, for crying out loud. Give me a break. When will Mr. Obsessive let it go?

  12. Diane, I think that the crunchy-fetish-du-jour is in some way the reason that he left the church. The priest scandal was and is an excuse. The Church simply does not back his position on these fetishes, the Church just shrugs.

    The people in the small Orthodox denominations he frequents now don't shrug, I'm guessing, they probably listen eagerly and nod their heads at his great wisdom. This is because they need all the converts they can get to stay afloat, plus Rod Dreher puts them on the map so-to-speak.

  13. The people in the small Orthodox denominations he frequents now don't shrug, I'm guessing, they probably listen eagerly and nod their heads at his great wisdom.

    Methinks you're right. Many Orthodox cannot stomach Dreher, but he does have his Ortho-Acolytes, and they are very uncritical and adoring..

    Have you seen the Facebook page for his little backyard micro-church? It's a riot. At one point he posted a pic of the dessicated mummy remains of "Saint John of San Francisco" (his micro-parish's patron), captioned "incorruptible." Some poor deluded Konvertzy responded, "Wow!" I wanted to channel Crocodile Dundee and post: "You call that incorruptible?This is incorruptible" -- with a pic of Saint Bernadette. Hmmmm, that would be appropriate for today, non?

    BTW, I do agree that the Catholic Church does not back Rod's position on these fetishes. But heck, let's face it, we have every eccentric fruitcake in the book here on the Barque of Peter, so we could have accommodated Rod as well. But I guess he didn't want to be merely accommodated. He wanted to be the big fish in the little pond, the mouthpiece for true Christianity yahda-yahda...and that was beyond the Catholic pale, for sure. We can't have every kook going off and representing his kooky little hobby-horse as Church Teaching. ;)

  14. latest on amcon dreher blog "Ruthie Leming Does Dallas" ... headline inserting name of dead sister in title of famous porno ... no sublimated hostility here, right.

  15. Amazing lack of self-awareness.

    When that porn star was asked why she got into that awful industry, she said the same thing as most of her colleagues: "I needed the money."

    Based on that, his title should have been "Rod Dreher Does Dallas."

  16. for that headline alone he deserves a sock in the face from brother in law

  17. You guys haven't been reading the book, so I'll clue you in. Brother-in-law, Mike Leming, is painted as a sort of shy, silent, non-confrontational type of guy who needed all kinds of help and encouragement merely to ask Ruthie out to begin with. I'm not saying that said "sock in the face" won't happen at some point, but just don't hold your breath.

  18. bwa ha ha, he changed it to "in dallas". what a maroon.

  19. at least you're open to correction, Ray

  20. Commenter Maggie Norris: "The title of this article is horribly inappropriate. The author should demand that it be changed to remove the association of his dear sister’s name with a porn flick."

    [Note from Rod: The author has changed it. The author made the mistake himself; he didn't think to make the connection. -- RD]

    Oh, what a bunch of BS.

    What's funny is that in the URL address it's still "Does Dallas".

  21. this coming from the guy looks down on people iving in the suburbs. At least the suburban troglodytes don't go around insulting their dead siblings on the internet for cash.

  22. This might even surpass Mark Shea pointing his gun at the internet. They are birds of a feather.

  23. The URL probably can't change without work from the website admin: it's common for blog software to generate the address from the original title, even if that title eventually changes.


    That's hilarious.

    I suspect it's more "lack of self-awareness" than "sublimated hostility," but I think that a more sober-minded approach to the publicity would have been more likely to avoid this sort of misstep -- or encourage people to be more charitable about it.

  24. No doubt Rod's giddy with the head rush which comes from the frenzy of serious book promotion. Sometimes he mistakes crassness for earthiness. Most people learn the difference by the time their twenties are over.

  25. Bubba, there is no meaningful difference between "lack of self awareness" and "sublimated hostility". I don't know why you are defending the guy.

  26. sub·li·mate [ súbblə màyt ]
    redirect: to channel impulses or energies regarded as unacceptable, especially sexual desires, toward an activity that is more socially acceptable, often a creative activity

  27. Speaking of localism, community, stability, and all that jazz...this is interesting, methinks:

  28. Kathleen, all I'm saying is that Dreher's behavior could be just as easily rooted in his being dense and/or too self-centered, than his harboring resentment toward his family.

    I don't want to be presumptuous, and it's hardly defending the guy to draw a negative conclusion even if it's not as bad as the conclusions one could reasonably draw.

  29. You don't want to be "presumptuous"? You only have two books, countless published articles and the guy's daily chronicling of his life for nearly a decade as evidence.

  30. And please don't play the "Christian charity" card at me, Bubba. I feel it coming. Just don't go there. Being a charitable Christian doesn't mean ignoring what over time has become obvious. I will not have my Christiantiy, such as it is, used passive aggressively as a device to shut me up. That's the stuff Dreher pulls, and I won't have it.

  31. Kathleen, notice that I did say that one could reasonably draw the conclusions you draw.

    It's just that I prefer to focus on the problems with Dreher's stated positions than on his psychological issues.

    I am NOT telling you to follow my lead, and I'm not criticizing you.

  32. Bubba, don't be a prig. Dreher's stated positions exist to resolve his psychological issues. One manifests the other. You cannot seriously contend that this has not been well established by now.

  33. I can't and I don't, but I believe my arguments about his positions are stronger if I don't also focus on his psychology.

    Just my preference, not my suggestion for anyone else.

  34. Thanks, Diane, for the "Whom do you hang with?" map (since it is NPR, you'd think it would have been entitled "With whom do you hang?"). How fascinating!

    Here's a similar map based on NFL team allegiance, derived from Facebook "likes".

    Sorry, Browns fans. You're surrounded by Steelers people. But you already knew that.

  35. Then you contradict yourself, Bubba. Arguing from a well established contention is not "presumptuous", by definition.

  36. The comment I made wasn't intended as a criticism, and I'm not interested in arguing over it, so let me rephrase: my interest is in the substance of Dreher's stated positions, not the underlying personal reasons for what he writes.

  37. That's very Dreherrian of you: to call a line of argument "presumptuous" and then insist it was not a criticism.

  38. I also wrote that one could reasonably draw the conclusions you have drawn.

    I thought I was clear in rephrasing what I wrote, but I'll try again. I misspoke when I used the word "presumptuous," and I retract the comment.

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  40. LOL okay bubba. don't channel Dreher, it's not attractive.

  41. I'd like to think I'm a little faster in responding to good-faith criticism.

  42. What was Freddie Matthews-Green and her husband doing there? Good grief! Has Roddie fallen that far?

  43. As a cradle Orthodox Christian I must say that we do NOT want him! Catholics! Take him back! Please! We have enough self absorbed crazy converts..I heard he is now in ROCOR...what happened? He didn't trash the OCA enough?

  44. LOL, Anonymous. I understand that is a very common sentiment among Orthodox, especially among the cradles. Happy Holy Week, BTW!