I have been reading The Wall Street Journal. It is not a newspaper I would usually read but it is required reading for the Online Journalism course I am observing. You cannot imagine how much I am learning by reading this newspaper. For example, did you know that there is a genre of literature called bonnet books? They are—no lie—Amish romance novels. It is such a large subcategory of the romance fiction genre that these books have found positions on The New York Times bestseller lists; one author has even sold over 12 million copies of her G-rated novels.

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Set in the Amish and/or Mennonite community, these stories contain, as Time magazine calls it,

story lines for horse-and-buggy piety.

Plotlines usually involve an Amish woman falling in love with a man outside the community or the angsty love between the Amish and Mennonite—a no-no in either religion.

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These novels are written mostly by female authors, none of which are Amish or Mennonite. And while the intended audience is the mainstream reader of America, a loyal Amish following is quickly subsuming the genre. The Journal tries to define “Old Order Amish”

[they] shun modern technologies such as electricity and TV, forbid members to own cars and computers, and speak Pennsylvania Dutch, a German dialect. They sew their own clothes and try to lead simple lives based on faith and community.

I am wondering where bonnet books fall into all of this. Given the religious setting of the stories, I am assuming that all the relationships in the books are heterosexual and consensual. I am wondering, however, where “faith and community” fit in. How much sneaking around can be done for any illicit activity—G-rated or otherwise—in a community so closely tied with family and church?

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I am not a reader of romance novels so I don’t really know how these narratives are rhetorically structured. I have nothing against them; I read enough fan fiction (SVU my latest obsession) to equal the page count of the entire Harlequin series, so I can see how these books would be popular. But I think there is some strong critical analysis that can be done concerning their popularity as a reflection of the current religious and political climate.

But an even stronger analysis can be done concerning the position of women in these stories—not only how women are treated within these religious environments but also where women are placed within the conflation of religion and romance. How is religion constructed by someone outside the faith? How is romance constructed, in relation? How might a subject location be identified or owned? There are so many places to go with this.

If you would like to read more about bonnet books, here are links to a few current articles:

They’re No Bodice Rippers, But Amish Romances Are Hot
Amish Romance Novels: No Bonnet Rippers
Carrie Bradshaw—in a bonnet?
And a list of the books on Amazon: Amish Fiction Books

I think the fact that these books are so popular among the Amish community leaves us something to consider about the changing definitions of religion and women’s roles within the religion. I’ll leave you to discuss those implications.

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I took this with my iPhone a few weeks ago at The Coffee House on Exchange Street. Just sayin’.

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