Valerie Weaver-Zercher delves into that question in her new book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels.
Romance is a genre traditionally popular with women, as is Christian inspirational fiction. So it’s no surprise to learn that most readers of Amish fiction books are female. But what about the men? In Thrill of the Chaste, Valerie shares evidence of male interest in Amish fiction:
The marketing manager at a major publisher of Amish fiction told me that their Amish authors have a “significant male readership.” “We get lots of confessions from the guys sitting in the easy chairs in the bookstore while the book signing is going on that they’re reading the books, ” he relates. “A lot of guys read them. Their wives buy them and then they read them.” He attributes the appeal of the books for male readers to the “whole horse and buggy life” and the rural settings. Many Amish novels have at least one point-of-view male character, such that the perspective toggles between female voices and male ones. One of my uncles, a retired farmer, is an avid reader of Amish fiction; and I overheard one man at church say that he had picked up the Amish novel on his wife’s bedside stand one night and couldn’t put it down (Thrill of the Chaste p. 22).
There are of course a handful of male Amish fiction writers as well. I’d be curious to learn if their titles appeal more to men than the average. I’ve still got a good bit left of Thrill of the Chaste to read, so perhaps I’ll find that question addressed.
Do Amish read Amish fiction?
What about the Amish themselves? When the topic has come up with Amish, I’ve noticed a range of responses. Some feel strongly against them. Others admit Amish fiction is read in their communities. You can find shelves full of Amish fiction in stores frequented by Amish, such as Gospel Book Store in Berlin, Ohio or Amish-owned Gordonville Bookstore in Lancaster County.
Valerie begins a recent piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books with a visit to the Gordonville store, and while there counts 57 Amish romance novels for sale. As to Amish opinion of Amish fiction, she finds evidence of both criticism…
Many of the Amish people I have spoken with display a mix of bemusement and disgust at the novels, especially the covers, with their airbrushed models with plucked eyebrows. They point out glaring inaccuracies in some of the books, such as one Amish person calling another “Mr.” or “Mrs.” On the phone with me, Doretta Yoder expresses more trepidation about the genre than her glowing reviews might suggest. “I have some personal opinions about how some of them write about us,” she tells me, obliquely. “It seems like word has gotten out that if you write about the Amish, you can sell books. I think it’s getting out of hand.”
The wife of a Lancaster County Amish bishop told me about some of the novels she has read and smiled as she recounted some of the common themes and events, including buggy accidents. “This is a great theme,” she said, adding in elevated tones, as if quoting from a novel: “They were thrown violently from the buggy and killed instantly.” She shook her head and searched for the right words. “Frankly, I think they’re shallow. Schusslich. Not realistic.” In Pennsylvania Dutch, schusslich means “clumsy.”
…and interest in the books.
Other signs of a flourishing Amish readership abound. The bookmobile in Holmes County, Ohio keeps a plentiful stock of Amish romance novels, and the librarian told me that they are checked out at a brisk rate; 95 percent of the bookmobile’s patrons are Amish. My friend Karen, who supplies several of her Amish friends with Beverly Lewis and Wanda Brunstetter novels, said that they sometimes tease each other for not being able to put the books down. Her friend Lydia was sleepy when Karen visited one morning because she had stayed up too late the night before reading an Amish novel. “I can’t stop reading them,” one Amish woman told a Wall Street Journal reporter; “I usually better not start in the morning because then I sit around too long.” Ruthie, an Old Order Amish teenager in Lancaster, told me that she read a lot of Amish novels as a young adolescent and that now her 13-year-old sister and her friends are reading them, and an Amish woman in Leola told me that some Amish homes have rows and rows of the novels.
It seems true that while Amish fiction has its critics, it has captured the attention of not only a vast English, but also a not-insignificant Plain readership.
We’ll have more to come on Valerie’s book in which she explores the Amish fiction phenomenon in fascinating depth.
In the meantime, how would you answer the question “Who reads Amish fiction?”