Is Amish fiction here to stay? Projections for 2016

ValerieAndThrillofChasteBookWhen my book about Amish fiction, Thrill of the Chaste, came out in the beginning of 2013, lots of people asked me, “Is Amish fiction here to stay?” Those in-the-know added, “Or will it go the way of Christian chick lit?” That is: to the grave? (In 2005, an article in the New York Post suggested that Christian chick lit was “one of the biggest growth industries in American publishing.” Within a year the subgenre had “lost all momentum,” according to literary agent Steve Laube.)

Here at the tail end of 2015, few people are asking this question. We don’t have to. Like the Amish themselves, whose numbers are rising thanks to large families and retention of their youth, Amish fiction remains a growing industry. Amish-fiction authors can barely keep up with the voracious reading appetites of their fans. A few years ago, the Book Industry Study Group, which offers subject categories for publishers and booksellers, had no separate code for Amish novels. In a real rite of passage, Amish fiction now has keys to its own wheels: FICTION / Amish & Mennonite.

Readers are expecting more from Amish fiction than they used to, maybe even more than they did twelve months ago. Gone is any illusion that an Amish-fiction author can take a few trips to Lancaster County or Shipshewana and then write an Amish novel.

Readers want Amish novels that are accurate and that they can trust for authentic portrayals. A friend of mine slams down any Amish novel that contains even a smidgen of information she knows to be false.

But perhaps the biggest area of growth in Amish fiction is not even Amish fiction. It’s Amish non-fiction. Even as the research bar for novelists gets higher, many readers are turning to Amish books written by Amish authors to get a real insider’s perspective on the culture and faith. The Plainspoken series from Herald Press, the Mennonite publisher where I work, offers readers first-person books by Amish and other plain CalledToBeAmish_frontcoverAnabaptist writers about their daily lives. For example, Marlene Miller’s Called to Be Amish, which narrates the rare journey of one woman from English to Amish, “gives details about Amish life that you may not find in any other book on the market,” says Anne Beiler, of Auntie Anne’s Inc. The newest installment of the Plainspoken series by young Amish mother Marianne Jantzi, Simple Pleasures, releases in March. Jantzi writes about homemaking, gardening, working in their family shoe store, and living out her faith in her Amish community in Canada. SimplePleasures

Other publishers are bringing out Amish non-fiction as well. From Sherry Gore’s The Plain Choice to Lena Yoder’s My Life as An Amish Wife, the field has burgeoned during 2015. And in a related book, Terri Roberts, the mother of the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse shooter, tells her agonizing story in Forgiven.

So whether they picked up Amish fiction or Amish non-fiction, readers in 2015 kept coming back for more. Editors and researchers like me have our theories about why Amish literature is proving to be so enduring, and I outline several of those in Thrill of the Chaste. But readers like you are in the best position to say why you pick up one type of book and not another.

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How do you think Amish fiction has changed in recent years, and why do you think it’s got such staying power?

Check out any of our Plainspoken series or books specifically about Amish, Mennonite, or Hutterite life, here.

Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books and author of Thrill of the Chaste. This post appeared originally in the Amish Wisdom newsletter which you can sign up for here.

Extending the Life of Extending the Table – and how you can help

Cookbooks can be a bit like diaries: paging through their rippled and stained pages, you recall daily routines, holiday celebrations, and even the tragedies that have composed your life. Here is the recipe for lemon cake you made for your daughter’s birthday; there is the vegetable platter that you had at your wedding; here is the enchilada casserole the woman from church brought when your father died.

But sometimes even well-loved cookbooks—or perhaps especially well-loved ones—need some assistance. Here are two photographs of my personal copy of Extending the Table, the second in the World Community Cookbook series published by Herald Press:

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This book has obviously seen better days. Half of the front cover has been ripped off—likely during one of the seven moves I’ve made during the past twenty-two years, or else in the hands of a toddler accomplished in all things destructive. The back cover apparently fell victim to something (or someone) as well.

Published in 1991 and compiled by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, Extending the Table has helped thousands of cooks prepare recipes from around the world. Commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee “to promote global understanding and [to] celebrate the variety of world cultures,” Extending the Table has brought global dishes, such as supu ya mchicha and adobong gulay to the kitchens of cooks in the United States and Canada. Perhaps as important as the actual recipes in Extending the Table are the many stories and prayers that the book contains. Stories of hunger, hospitality, generosity, stewardship, and celebration—often in the midst of few material resources—are central to the book. In fact, many people say Extending the Table is as much a book about learning from sisters and brothers from around the world as it is a simple “cookbook.”

As the photographs attest, Extending the Table has been one of the most reached-for cookbooks in my kitchen, and possibly yours, too. Your copy might not be as mangled as mine, but twenty-two years after it was published, it is likely to have sustained some grease splatters and other signs of loving use. Or if you don’t own a copy of Extending the Table, perhaps you’ve bought it for a young couple at church for a wedding gift or for a recent college graduate who just moved into her own apartment. There are an estimated 122,000 copies of Extending the Table in circulation, a testament to readers’ and cooks’ interest in broadening their worldviews through what we eat.

So here is the big news: I am excited to announce that MennoMedia is revising, re-designing, and re-releasing Extending the Table in 2014. The new version will contain many of the recipes, stories, and prayers that appear in the 1991 edition. Our hope is that the revised version will be even more attractive to twenty-first-century cooks, even as it extends the witness and tradition of those who cook with friends from around the world in mind and heart.

Because we will be adding photographs of several of the dishes, as well as a few new recipes, some of the recipes in the current edition will have to go. So here is the even more exciting part: you can be involved in extending the life of Extending the Table! Help to choose which recipes make the cut for the revised cookbook. You can vote for your favorite recipes by filling out a survey that is available at 

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EXTENDTABLE

by May 15. As a thank you for helping us choose recipes, you will receive a 30 percent discount on the new edition of Extending the Table and be entered in a prize drawing for three global-cuisine gifts*. Or if you’d prefer not to take a survey but simply want to make a list of your favorite recipes from the book, send the list in an email to me at: valdave202@comcast.net.

So pull out your own dog-eared copy of Extending the Table, bring up the survey on your screen, and simply click on the recipes that you want to make sure get into the new edition.  When you’re done, you will know that you have played a crucial role in helping to bring the best of international cuisine—and the witness of global Christians—to cooks close to home.

*Global cuisine gifts include: 1) Gift collection of World Community Cookbooks; 2) Gift basket of commonly used spices in Extending the Table; or 3) Gift basket of Ten Thousand Villages food items.)

ValerieWeaverZercher

–Guest post written by Valerie Weaver-Zercher, contract editor for MennoMedia. Valerie’s new book, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels was recently published by The Johns Hopkins University Press.