Read This, Feel Better

A Times piece that made me happy

A couple of days ago, I received a two-word e-mail from Kate Kilpatrick, a writer friend and former colleague whom I’ve long admired for her taste in story selection. The e-mail read, “Love this,” and it included a link.

The link took me to an 800-word story that ran in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday titled “The Tire Iron and the Tamale.”

Watching that story fill my screen made me instantly cheery, and not just because it confirmed what I already knew about Kate’s taste in storytelling. I’d already read the story Kate was recommending to me in the print edition of the NYT magazine the previous Sunday (twice, actually, and really, who reads a story twice?) and the fact that she was pointing it out helped confirm my instinct that the story was as charming and unexpected as I’d thought. [SIGNUP]

“The Tire Iron and the Tamale,” which the writer of the piece tells simply, is about a guy who gets a blowout and is stuck by the side of the road, ignored by everyone for three hours, until finally a Mexican man pulls over (with his immigrant family of four in tow) and helps him change the tire.

No breaking news value here, and not even a particularly complex story, and what happens next is not all that earth shattering—though maybe it is in the minds of some. But it’s a story that leaves you feeling buoyant about humanity, and stories that do that can’t be found much anywhere these days.

Journalists will forever be criticized for reporting only bad news, which of course is nonsense, because good news is rarely news at all and almost never makes for compelling reading, so why would anyone want to bother to tell it?

But good news and well-told stories that provide insight into humanity are often confused as one and the same, and a story like “The Tire Iron and the Tamale” makes you realize what a damn shame that is for readers and what bad commerce it is for publications and online ventures that don’t make it their business to know the difference.

These are hard times, best believe it, and all day, everyday, we’re flooded with stories about cutbacks and foreclosures, bad schools and criminal priests, rogue nations and messed up sit-com sad sacks, enough damaging noise in total to blow out the strongest of psyches and leave it by the side of the road.

We all need to be delighted on occasion by stories with heart and insight. Much more than good news, it’s fortifying, revitalizing, like the unexpected taste of finely made tamale.

Tim Whitaker ([email protected]), is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.