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The following article was published at http://theantiquarianlibrarian.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-amish-matter.html
Someone posted a question on Twitter that got me thinking: What's up with all the Amish books? I did not join the discussion because it was addressed to Christian book authors, but it made me think about the topic for some time.
The most crass and commercial answer is to say that bonnet fiction sells, but obviously there is more to it than that.
The first Amish stories were collected by Mennonite publishers beginning circa 1970 to preserve the stories of the old ways in which many Mennonites once lived. As the Anabaptist peoples plodded slowly to modernity many wanted a reference point to the past. Writers included both historical and fictional accounts of Amish stories to remind the young of the life they once had, and that some still practice. I became acquainted to this literature while in seminary.
Amish literature takes a fresh look at the church and contemporary Christian life. It is a critique of both Amish legalism and contemporary license. For some fundamentalist groups, the act of writing fiction is taboo. On the other hand, it is faith affirming to view a faith that matters to the community. This is rare in our increasingly secularized society.
There is also a tension between the simpler life of plain people and the networked collective in which we find ourselves today. Amish society is a voluntary community to which its members choose to belong. Increasingly we are pulled into a physical and virtual community to which may or may not want to belong.
The Amish and other plain communities have a complex, thoughtful approach to modernity. They are not opposed to progress and technology, but they are much more thoughtful and slow to adapt to every new trend.
This is probably the most important element that Amish literature brings to readers. We cannot expect to go to the country and just live communally. This, in fact, is a diminishing of the Amish experience. Modern, plugged-in people would to well to contemplate the changes the choose to make, rather than worshiping change for the sake of change.