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September 10, 2009 5:21 AM   Subscribe

A new subgenre is rising to meet the significant demand for romance novels that won't corrupt the flesh: Amish Romances. The relatively chaste romances, mostly written by non-Amish authors, the books are selling well, with Cindy Woodsnall's Sisters of the Quilt trilogy leading the pack on the New York Times bestseller list, and many new authors jumping into the game.
posted by Miko (34 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
So I knew this guy who used 'Amish' as a generic prefix of denigration; for example, one time we showed him Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and he proclaimed it to be 'the Amish Matrix'.

He kept doing this, causing me fits of consternation which ended when I reflected that
he was an inveterate Weird Al fan. My interpretation is that he, not knowing what 'Amish' actually meant, figured that Amish Paradise meant something like 'false Paradise' or 'fool's Paradise'.

So that's the context in which I encountered 'Amish Romances' this morning.

posted by Rat Spatula at 5:42 AM on September 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Are the readers of these books coming "down" from regular romance, i.e. conservatizing? Or are they coming "up" from not reading at all (at least not romances)?
posted by DU at 5:45 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I prefer my Amish werewolf novels, thank you.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 5:49 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read a Robert Heinlein book when I was a teenager that featured some humping in a horse-drawn buggy. Has anyone shown this to the Amish?
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:05 AM on September 10, 2009


My library has some of these, and they check out semi-regularly. In my (very limited) experience, the main people who read them are voracious romance readers who find much of the genre too dirty, and have already mostly exhausted the best of the 'inspirational' and 'historical' romance subgenres.
posted by box at 6:07 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


How odd, but I guess it makes sense. So many historical romance novels hold one's interest because they plunge the reader into a world different from her own. Many people long for a simpler life and I suppose reading an Amish novel would provide them with that escape.

Let's face it, if they weren't well-written, they wouldn't be popular. So as weird as it sounds...you go girl.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:08 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's face it, if they weren't well-written, they wouldn't be popular.

da vinci code i rest my case
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on September 10, 2009 [18 favorites]


I'm holding out for the inevitable Amish pornography:
Ezekiel: I'm here to fix the butter churn...
Katie: Is that a barn raising in your tri-blends, or is it rumspringa already?
posted by total warfare frown at 6:20 AM on September 10, 2009 [21 favorites]


True confessions: as a kid my family took us on a lot of weekend trips into Amish country. I became pretty fascinated with the Amish at the age of 11-12, and read through a whole spate of children's adventure stories set among the Amish. They were highly entertaining, and, as Ruthless Bunny says, refreshingly different from everything I knew. The appeal is not too mystifying.

There are a lot of ways for something to be "well written." I read the Da Vinci Code. It wasn't sophisticated in tone or vocabulary or plot line. I have as many criticisms of that book as anyone for all the obvious and usual reasons. Yet I stayed engaged throughout and read it to the end. It was a very successful example of easy-reading simple genre fiction. There are many similar books and unpublished works I've had to slog through that I've found far less readable and interesting. Though I might pick at it for not being as well organized, challenging, believable, or significant as other adventure-type novels of intrigue, I can't say it wasn't well written. It did the job it set out to do. Having picked up a handful of romances in my day (my grandmother was an aficionado and hey, summers in Texas are long and often dull), I can attest that some are better written than others, and if it passes the time pleasantly without overly irritating you, it's well written enough.
posted by Miko at 6:24 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I saw a number of these in the check-out line at a quaint old grocery store somewhere around Reading, PA, this past spring. At the time, my only impressions were (a) wow, these must be rather sterile and tedious stories to be focused on that conservative market, and (b) huh, so much effort to write something that'll attract fewer eyeballs than your lesser Icelandic bestseller.

Guess I was wrong on the second point.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:27 AM on September 10, 2009


I eagerly await the series where the young city girl moves with her family to a rural Pennsylvania Dutch community and encounters a group of sparkly Amish kids.
posted by Spatch at 6:31 AM on September 10, 2009 [12 favorites]


I often remember C.S. Lewis's observation:

There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance.

I have no problem with Amish romances.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:43 AM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Billy C. Wirtz has a nice little song called "Mennonite Surf Party."
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:50 AM on September 10, 2009


There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance.

I have no problem with Amish romances.


Just because they don't inflame your sex instinct doesn't mean they don't inflame anybody's. box's anecdata is apropos.
posted by DU at 6:55 AM on September 10, 2009


As a joke, (I swear!) a friend bought a porn movie called "Amish Daughters." It was pretty much your standard porno, but with a buggy scene.

I was not expecting perfect accuracy, but the women could have at least taken out their labia piercings...
posted by JoanArkham at 6:58 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know that this Amish trilogy counts as romance novels - the romance genre requires that a relationship begins, has problems but then are resolved - forever (it's the comfortable nature of the genre - no unhappy endings). No going on with the same characters book after book, having trials and tribulations like real people - that's against genre.

These novels seem more like Gabaldon's Outlander series - the first may have begun as a romance novel or inspired by the genre, but the minute you take people past the wedding day or the reconciliation (whichever comes first) they become - gasp! - plain old realist fiction. (Or historical/fantasy fiction, in the case of Gabaldon).

There is another genre which I have seen identified in Britain as "family stories," which these may fit better into. I'm not sure exactly where it has come from, but Catherine Cookson is a classic author of this genre. She's often misidentified as a romance writer, and some of her books do involve the beginning, development and resolution of a romantic relationship -- but most do not follow romance genre conventions, and many others involve the stories of families or relationships which don't simply resolve but go on. It's a very different form - and the conventions are different. It's an example of how not all relationship-stories fit into the "romance" genre.
posted by jb at 7:01 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh man, I distinctly remember reading a cross-over story between Amish romance and the "Every-body-has-cancer" series. (Does anyone remember those books - they were aimed at the junior-high set and extraordinarily melodramatic). I read it at least 10 years ago and the book was much older, so I'm not sure how new a genre this is.
posted by fermezporte at 8:08 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


My grandparents live in a part of Kansas where there are many Mennonite and Amish families. There's this great restaurant we always go to when I visit, where the servers are all Mennonite girls whose little caps and old-fashioned dresses contrast with their high-tech New Balance running shoes, and these books have been front and center in the gift stop for years, right next to the handmade preserves and the egg noodles.

I've always called them "bonnet rippers" as a joke but I imagine they're more like the Christian romance novels my aunt used to send me. Full of things to overcome and through which the heroine must persevere, with the help of God.
posted by padraigin at 8:21 AM on September 10, 2009


The last time I was in a Wal-Mart, I saw a whole bunch of these and was fascinated. They seemed to mix standard romance plots with a large dollop of cultural tension between the Amish and English. I still have a little bit of hope that the Amish actually read these (you see more Amish than you'd think in Wal-Marts), but it's probably just a novel form of escapism for people who already read romance novels.
posted by Copronymus at 8:26 AM on September 10, 2009


I've always called them "bonnet rippers"

pagaigin wins the thread...or at least the "made me dribble coffee down my front" award.

Thanks for the post. Always interested in the Amish for some reason that I'll never quite understand.

Perhaps the popularity of these books means I should finally sit down and write my "Amish Brokeback Mountain" novel I've been (mostly joking) thinking about writing for years.

And as related to The DaVinci Code and its quality debate, and I say this as someone who is not a hater (much), no matter what do, do NOT listen to this book as an unabridged audio book. While you can skim some of the plodding language on the page and just enjoy the parts that make it so possible, hearing every sentence read aloud is like an assault on the tradition of spoken word story telling.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:39 AM on September 10, 2009


I'm a big fan of romance novels and I like mine to contain sex. For the past few years I've been into the vampire romance novels of J.R. Ward and Christine Feehan, which are racy (sex is described, men LOVE giving oral sex, women are not all virgins but not very experienced and give blow jobs but never swallow and of course, all the men are hung - see everything's just like in real life).

I started reading romances back in high school when I had a subscription to Harlequin (yes, I am a little embarrassed about that.) And the genre has changed considerably over the years; there's more sex and fewer virgins now, although the degree of graphic detail varies a lot. I read an inspirational/Christianish romance by accident once and found it boring and preachy. I have noticed the "Sister of the Quilt" books but my reaction is meh. They don't sound like romances just novels.
posted by shoesietart at 8:51 AM on September 10, 2009


I read a number of Christian romance novels awhile back, and found it interesting that they almost precisely fit the structure of non-Christian romance novels, except that whenever the non-Christian romance novels would have had a sex scene, the Christian romance novels had some kind of test of faith or confusion about the character's relationship with God.

I'd be curious to see how closely Amish romances match the structure.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:16 AM on September 10, 2009


If anyone wants to read well-crafted mainstream novels about the Amish, let me recommend Beverly Lewis, who has been doing this for at least a decade.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:24 AM on September 10, 2009


the "Every-body-has-cancer" series. (Does anyone remember those books - they were aimed at the junior-high set and extraordinarily melodramatic)
Probably Lurlene McDaniel's endless series of tragic novels. They're designed to push all of preteen girls' emotional buttons: young love, someone gets sick, long and painful treatment, they promise to love each other forever, and then someone dies. My cousin read them all, and now she's an oncology nurse.

I definitely get the appeal in reading about the Amish. I could go for a simpler way of life. Give me a few acres, a big garden, and a coop full of chickens! I'll skip the bonnets, lack of modern technologies, and rigid patriarchal society, however.
posted by amarie at 10:17 AM on September 10, 2009


...
where the servers are all Mennonite girls whose little caps and old-fashioned dresses contrast with their high-tech New Balance running shoes
...


I have noticed this stimulating combination in Lancaster PA as well.

...
I'll skip the bonnets, lack of modern technologies, and rigid patriarchal society, however.
...


Well, one of my Amish neighbors has a solar array to power their milk bulk tank cooler, and when we were buying our place (from Amish owners) the wife did much of the negotiation. They do wear bonnets, however.
posted by werkzeuger at 10:34 AM on September 10, 2009


I prefer my Amish werewolf novels, thank you.
The hayfork tumbled from Matthias's suddenly alien fingers.

The sense of suffocation which had so oppressed him in the English city returned now, redoubled, to destroy the comfort of his familiar surroundings. The barn, the house he had built himself, they were outrages; and his clothes, too, were intolerable, they choked him. He tore his hat from his head and pulled apart the straw with hands made strong by wrath.

Serene above his convulsing shoulders, an early moon silvered the sky above the barn.

Fool! Sinful fool!

If only he had remained with his family instead of treating with those electric fireplace manufacturers in the English city. He would never have come across that "dog" (ha!), would never have sustained that wound which his uncle's poultices had no power to treat, which even now pumped palpable corruption through his blood.

And the moon, that once friendly angel, which for as long as he could remember had ordered the nights and blessed all natural increase, would not have become what it now was: a cold medallion, struck to commemorate both transgression and punishment.

Matthias screamed, and all the penned beasts for three miles screamed back at him...
posted by Iridic at 10:46 AM on September 10, 2009 [15 favorites]


Some of them are couched in evangelization. I've read many Beverly Lewis books, as sidhedevil mentions above, and in nearly every single one, the main character discovers Jesus as her personal savior, and that you can have a personal relationship with with the Bible and/or religion--rather than having to follow the narrow guidelines set in the Ordnung. The proselytizing is not about turning to the Amish way of life (Amish don't usually proselytize), but toward Christianity in general.
posted by cass at 11:00 AM on September 10, 2009


Every Mennonite or Amish grocery/general goods store I've been in has a rack or two (rarely more) of inspirational reading. Some of it is non-fiction (the books on the Nickel Mines tragedy, for example, or missionaries' memoirs) but almost all of the fiction is in the religious romance genre.

In honor of their readers' headgear, I call those books "sin strainers."
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:15 AM on September 10, 2009


Iridic, you think I'm kidding?
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 11:21 AM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


That actually sounds pretty awesome, Weighted Companion Cube.
posted by Iridic at 11:43 AM on September 10, 2009


I think Harrison Ford starred in the first Amish romance: the film, Witness.
posted by sundance1001 at 2:52 PM on September 10, 2009


As somebody who grew up in Amish country in Indiana, those girls working the Amish restaurants in the sneakers and bonnets? They're probably not Amish. We had this place in our area, and it was a very lucrative part-time job for (non-Amish) girls at my high school. The tourists tip well, and you just have to wear a funny dress and a bonnet. It's good food, but in terms of a legitimate cultural experience, it's about as authentic as Disneyland.
posted by web-goddess at 4:56 PM on September 10, 2009


As somebody who grew up in Amish country in Indiana, those girls working the Amish restaurants in the sneakers and bonnets? They're probably not Amish.

Not the restaurant I'm referring to. It's owned and operated by a Mennonite family and most of the employees are family members; my grandparents have known them for many years.

Various Mennonite groups pretty commonly wear ordinary shoes, and often brighter/wildly-patterned versions of the traditionally styled dresses. It's different from Amish.
posted by padraigin at 5:43 PM on September 10, 2009


Yes, the Mennonite "women in mid-calf prairie-style dresses with bonnets and sneakers, men in nerdy golf clothes" look always seems startling to me. At least the non-standard clothing choices for the Amish are for both genders.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:12 PM on September 10, 2009


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