I was very tempted to do an entry on "tempest-tossed romance" today, but I suspect you'll be getting enough of that on your own this weekend. Instead, I thought I'd offer something more in the way of a comfort read. There's a category of romance that's been steadily growing in popularity as our own lives have gotten more stressful and technologically complex: "bonnet" fiction.
"Bonnet fiction" refers to romances set in Amish or Mennonite communities; the term comes from the depiction of characters in their ever-present "kapps" on the front cover. (If you don't see a bonnet, the character is probably an "English," or outsider). Sometimes, you'll see the term expanded to include pioneer and prairie romances also, or other "simple living" groups like the Shakers. Beverly Lewis, herself the granddaughter of an "Old Order" Mennonite woman, is often credited with founding the genre with the first of her Heritage of Lancaster County series, The Shunning, based loosely on her grandmother's life.
Bonnet fiction is amazingly popular with New City Library readers. When I told this to a publishing rep earlier this summer, he expressed surprise that romances about the Amish would be so sought-after in busy, suburban, internet-reliant Rockand County. I told him my theory: for many of my romance readers, bonnet fiction is the ultimate escapist read. The heroines of these books are women who live in our time (for the most part-- there's historical bonnet fiction, too), and yet knowingly choose to live apart from our world, refusing all the toys and so-called conveniences that make us modern.
There's a lot to love in these books. Some are drawn to the "armchair travel" aspect. Set in a community and a culture that is quite foreign to our own, these novels afford a private glimpse inside the day-to-day life and loves of its members (though I should caution, depictions of Amish life and relationships here are about as realistic as depictions of "real life" in any romance). For others, as I mentioned above, the genre offers freedom from the pressures of modern life, a journey to a point on the map as far removed from Madison Avenue, Wall Street, or Silicon Valley as one could possibly imagine, one we certainly won't find with our GPS. The clean content of bonnet fiction is another major draw. By their very nature, these titles are all "sweet" reads-- no strong language or extramarital sex (or for that matter, any on-page sex at all).
For many, though, when modern life is at its most distressing, it's the qualities that the Amish and Mennonites exemplify to us-- simplicity, peace, a traditional lifestyle, community, wholesomeness, "slow" living, honest work, a strong faith-- that hold the greatest appeal. When you're feeling battered by beauty magazines and worn out from keeping up with the Joneses, when you're tired of battling computer viruses and spreadsheets and rush-hour traffic, these women in their neat, demure bonnets represent a completely different kind of liberation.
At the least, these stories offer us a calm retreat from the daily grind. At their best, they can provide a patterncard for how we might simplify our own too-complicated lives. In the end, it comes down to this: bonnet fiction is just "plain" comforting.
If you find yourself in need of a comfort read this month (particularly with school starting)... why not try on a bonnet book?
(Please note that many of these titles-- often released in hardcover or in larger-format paperbacks-- are shelved with the general fiction collection, not in paperback romance.)
Lydia's Charm by Wanda Brunstetter (Fiction Brunstetter)
A Time to Love by Barbara Cameron (NEW LP Cameron)
The Amish Midwife by Mindy Starns Clark & Leslie Gould (NEW Fiction Clark)
Paradise Valley by W. Dale Cramer (NEW Fiction Cramer)
A Gift of Grace by Amy Clipston (Fiction Clipston)
The Silent Order by Melanie Dobson (Fiction Dobson)
A Wedding Quilt for Ella by Jerry S. Eicher (NEW LP Eicher)
A Widow’s Hope by Mary Ellis (Fiction Ellis)
A Man of His Word by Kathleen Fuller (PbkRomance Fuller)
The Blessed by Ann H. Gabhart (NEW Fiction Gabhart)
Winter's Awakening by Shelley Shepard Gray (Fiction Gray)
The Thorn by Beverly Lewis (Fiction Lewis)
Plain Jayne by Hillary Manton Lodge (Fiction Lodge)
More Than Words by Judith McCoy-Miller (Fiction Miller)
Murder in Plain Sight by Marta Perry (PbkRomance Perry)
Fields of Grace by Kim Vogel Sawyer (Fiction Sawyer)
Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman (Fiction Wiseman)
An Amish Gathering: Life in Lancaster County by Beth Wiseman, Barbara Cameron, & Kathleen Fuller (Fiction Wiseman)
An Amish Love by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, and Kelly Long (NEW Fiction Amish)
When the Heart Cries by Cindy Woodsmall (Fiction Woodsmall)
If you'd like more information on how the "Plain folk" live, try one of these titles:
The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World by Donald B. Kraybill, et al. (248.4897 Krayb)
Plain Wisdom: An invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women by Cindy Woodsmall and Miriam Flaid (289.7092 Woods)
Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shactman (305.235 Shach)
Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish by Joe Mackall (289.773 Macka)