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Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts on Amish Fiction

Posted by Alana T. and Gwen B.

Gwen B., our Head of Technical Services, has been a big fan and heavy reader of Amish Fiction - until recently.  Because of the genre’s popularity, I’m always asking her for recommendations for the blog.  We sat down a few weeks ago and had a conversation about the genre, how it has changed and what she thinks about it now.

Alana: When did you start reading Amish fiction?  How did you discover it? 

Gwen:  I was browsing the shelves and I ran across a Beverly Lewis book that happened to be the first one of a series.  I just kind of went from there.  I'm glad I started with her books.

Alana:  At that time, I'm guessing there wasn't a lot of Amish stuff out there.

Gwen:  It had to be around 2007 and I'm not sure how much was out there then.  It has grown; Amish fiction has sub-genres now.

Alana:  If someone hasn’t heard of any of these books, how would you describe them?  What are the characteristics that define the genre?

Gwen:  Well, you have to have a woman with a bonnet. (Laughs)  The characters have to be part of some religious closed off group.  Some authors throw the Mennonites in there.  But, the community is closed off, and the members dress in that old fashioned way.   The closed off aspect is important - now the author can bring in all those outsiders and there is a conflict to be resolved.

Alana:  Do you think the stories were more authentic then versus now? 

Gwen:  No, it depends on the author.  You can tell there is variation in the level of research.  For some authors, the topic is something they know.  For example, Beverly Lewis grew up near an Amish community and she focuses on the culture in her books.  With some of the newer authors, its more about the story and what Americans want to read.  What the reader hopes the Amish thing is about - the romance of the life.  It's still fiction, so the author can do whatever he or she wants to, and they do.  The part of current Amish fiction I dislike, is that after learning more about what the Amish are and how the community works, the novels are unrealistic about the reality of their religious life.  The books are becoming more Christian and what we define as Christian now.  The Amish aren't like that.
The Amish are strict about what you wear, what you read, what you do.  That's the part that’s interesting to me.  In novels, Amish are portrayed as studying a lot of scriptures.  Well, that's not happening in real life.  These people are going to read specific scriptures because that's what they are instructed to do (by the local Church District). They are not allowed to explore the scriptures.  They have a lot of that going on in the novels - no. They're not going to sit at home and try to have a bible study.  That's not happening.

Alana:  You've obviously spent a lot of time researching the topic.  Where did you go for your info? 

Gwen:  We had some books here in the library.  (Laughs)  Most were biographies written by former Amish.  Some are depressing.  One woman was so upset and angry about how she was treated.  I wonder if the book was tainted by what she feels was necessary for her to get out.  Another was written by a guy who was blunt- I did this and this and then this, and now here I am!  We also have a lot of non-fiction books.  I even read cookbooks because some tell you about the origin of the recipe.

Alana: Are you glad you did the research? 

Gwen:  Yes, I learned a lot about myself.  I love the concept of community and I love exploring those topics. The Amish are definitely a community all their own.  That's one of the problems with some of the newer authors.  They're bringing in so many outside influences.

Alana:  Is there any indication or discussion about what the Amish feel about their new popularity? 

Gwen: I don’t think we’re getting honest answers from them.  All I ever hear is that they're happy as long as we don’t use their names.  I know there are tours in some towns.  But let’s think about how many people are prying into their world now?  We're invading who they are and what they are.  We're bringing all our stuff in.  I can't see how this is a good thing.  What does this do to those communities?  Will it bring them further out and damage the close-knit community?

Alana: Do you think the newer fiction has good stories? 

Gwen:  They're becoming like the Harlequin stories.  That's annoying to me.  The book is a romance, but it just happens to be in an Amish community.  I could read a Harlequin for that.  I don’t like the way it's splitting and becoming this ridiculous water-thin kind of genre.  I don't read much of it. 

Alana:  If someone wanted a few good books and/or DVDs, what would you recommend?

Gwen:  Fiction: any of the series by Beverly Lewis or Wanda Brunstetter.  DVDs:  Witness, The Shunning, Saving Sarah Cain, Harvest of Fire and The Plain Truth.  Non-fiction: The Devil's Playground (DVD), Amish Society by J. Hostetler and An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community by C.Hurst and D. McConnell.

Stay tuned for more from this interview in a few weeks.

1 comment:

  1. I have read some Young Adult Amish fiction novels written beginning in 1996. The author is Lurlene McDaniels and it is the Angel Trilogy: Lifted up by Angels/ Angels Watching over Me/ Until Angels Close my Eyes. These novels chronicle the lives of young Amish teenagers approaching their Rumspringa. It is a very interesting side of young adulthood and a great read for teenage girls.