When Amish fiction became its own genre, many people were surprised. And when the genre not only survived, but grew—Beverly Lewis alone has sold more than 15 million books—people started asking why. What is the appeal behind romances set in small, conservative religious communities?
Valerie Weaver-Zercher of Wall Street Journal explains what she believes is the driving force behind the Amish fiction trend: “Amish fiction joins Ancestry.com, ‘Downton Abbey,’ heirloom tomatoes and vintage clothing in depositing us gently in the past without requiring us to loosen the vice grip on our iPhones.”
To a secular audience, that’s what makes the most sense out of the phenomenon. Christian readers, though, would say there’s more to it than that. Beverly Lewis addresses this side of the books’ appeal. She says, “Tens of thousands of letters from readers indicate that courting rituals, table talk, a predictable/structured life, love and care of family, and a true sense of belonging are the top five reasons why people are so intrigued with my Amish novels.”
Leslie Gould, author of the COURTSHIPS OF LANCASTER COUNTY series, agrees that readers appreciate the values and simple faith of the Plain characters. “I think readers are drawn to Amish fiction for the same reasons I enjoy writing it—getting lost in a simpler way of life, exploring issues of faith and family, and the juxtaposition of the Amish culture and our modern American way of life. I know reading—and writing—Amish fiction takes me back to stories from my parents’ and grandparents’ rural upbringings, and to my own down-on-the-farm experiences as a child. I love being reminded of those memories, and I think readers do too.”
Why Amish fiction? Because sometimes we wish life moved along more at the pace of a buggy ride than a breakneck race down a neon-lit freeway. Because we know that a handwritten, newsy letter means more than a quick email. Because when we go to pray, there are hundreds of distractions . . . and we wish it could be different.
And maybe it can be, even in small ways. Give it a try for yourself. Make bread. Be silent for a while. Go for a walk. Write a few extra lines in a birthday card instead of just signing your name. Don’t just read about a simpler life; practice it.
But remember: if you decide you’re going to have a family dinner, it probably won’t look like a typical Amish meal. Maybe your two-year-old will throw peas at her brother or your junior higher will explain what goes into the hot-dog making process or your third grader will announce that he suddenly does not like the food that he’s never complained about before.
The point isn’t perfection. The point is togetherness.
It’s not about feeling guilty if you make a birthday cake from a box or buy it from the store (“But the Amish churn their own butter, for goodness’ sake!”). Or if all of your Pinterest DIY projects fail (“They made this seem so easy in the quilting bee scene.”). Or if you struggle to get your teenage daughter to stop wearing sweatpants with “Flirty” written on the back (“That’s it! You’re wearing solid-colored dresses and a bonnet from now on!”).
Amish fiction shouldn’t give us an impossible standard to live up to. Instead, it should be a reminder of what’s really important. We probably shouldn’t try to recreate the lifestyle found in the pages . . . but maybe we can learn from and adopt some of the attitudes.
What tradition or custom do you admire most about the Amish?