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Step Aside Mommy Porn, Amish Women in Bonnets Make for Instant Best-Sellers

Amish romance novels--christened "bonnet books" by the Christian publishers who sell them--sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year.

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“Everyone gathers around the table for the evening meal,” Oates said. “Life is first and foremost family-oriented, and the environment is one in which it’s perfectly natural to talk about God, about praying. Children are naturally obedient. They’re not running off to hang out with their friends. Of course, that’s not the way it really is in the Amish community – they have their own problems – but in these books everyone belongs to a close, tight-knit community, which is very appealing to women.

“The books are aspirational,” he added. “It’s the ‘I wish my family were like this’ kind of thing.”

They’re also a natural fit for marketing in the social media age. Sites like AmishReader.com and innumerable Facebook pages help devoted readers of Amish fiction get their “plain” fix. Loyal fans of Beverly Lewis, Wanda Brunstetter, Jerry Eicher and others can visit such sites for book excerpts, author interviews and blog posts, potato salad recipes, photographs, guides to Amish ways of life, and even movielike trailers for upcoming books.

In the trailer for Murray Pura’s The Wings of Morning, for instance, we’re told that Jude Whetstone and Lindayya Kurtz are “young, Amish, and deeply in love.” There’s a catch, of course. Jude falls hard for the newly invented flying machine and, to complicate matters further, it’s 1917 and World War I is raging in Europe. Amish communities are held in contempt by their “English” neighbors because they speak German and refuse to fight. When Jude and his brothers are rounded up and taken to a military base, Jude must make a decision – to fly or not to fly? To be shunned and lose Lindayya or to risk a harsh crackdown by the U.S. military?

You’ll have to read the bonnet book to find out.

Heavy is the head

If it seems strange to visit a website to read Amish fiction, consider that you can also get several Amish romance titles for your Kindle, including Sarah Price’s Fields of Corn, Teresa Ann Phillip’s Boppli in a Basket, and my personal favorite, Lisa Greer’s thriller, Blood on Her Bonnet. But it’s not really so strange after all. For the most part, the Amish do not read bonnet books. In fact, Jerry Eicher, a former member of an Ontario-based Amish community and one of the leading writers of Amish romances (as well as one of the few males working in the genre) said that, as far as he knows, Amish people pretty much despise the novels.

“From what I’m finding, Amish people are pretty much all up in arms about this Amish fiction stuff,” he said. “They really just want to be left alone. That’s the strongest reason, I think. They don’t want people coming in and disturbing things.”

Eicher is the author of five Amish romance series, including the Rebecca books (Rebecca’s Promise, Rebecca’s Return, Rebecca’s Choice). He left his Amish community as a young man after the bishop discovered that he’d taken to reading Christian writers C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald. Eicher wasn’t willing to give up his reading habits and, knowing that by the rules of his particular sect’s “Ordnung” – each Amish community sets its own bylaws, often shaped by the relative leniency or harshness of the serving bishop – he wouldn’t be shunned by his family for joining the Mennonite faith, he and his wife, Tina, did just that.

Later, Eicher moved to Virginia and started a construction business, but he always wrote on the side. As a boy he’d won a writing contest sponsored by the Amish magazine A Young Companion and, while his winning entry had been about his adolescent spiritual awakening, he was familiar with the kind of love stories that typically ran in that publication. Like the Amish romance novels you’ll find at Christian bookstores, as well as Barnes and Noble, Walgreen’s, and Wal-Mart, they usually involved a young Amish woman’s search for love and a young Amish man’s decision, following rumspringa (literally “the running around years” in which “plain” youth are allowed to experiment with English life so as to make an informed decision about whether or not they want to be baptized in the Amish church), to settle down, marry said woman, and start a family.

 
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