- Whatever you’re reading these days, it’s probably not as popular as Amish romance novels, which owe their meteoric rise, perhaps, to an old-fashioned yen for the patriarchy: “There’s no mistaking the potent commercial lure of the ‘bonnet books’—so called because of the young Amish women plastered on their covers. In less than a decade, bonnet titles have overtaken bestseller lists, Christian and non-Christian alike … these novels seldom offer fare any more lurid than a much-regretted kiss. Sex is always offstage, and mere carnal longing is usually mastered by the more powerful desire to do God’s will … their treatment of spiritual questions is itself oddly lustful, given their penchant for containing spiritual inquiry and experience within the strict bounds of faintly illicit-sounding modes of sectarianism and separatism.”
- Bromance, mandels, mansplain, man-icure, man-purse, bro-hug, manscape, man-date: whither the explosion of Neologisms for Men™? We could laud these new words as evidence of a long overdue recovery: “A popular online collection of old photos shows how much American men used to casually touch each other: Victorian gentlemen posing with hands clasped; grizzled cowboys sitting with arms entwined, and a striking amount of lap-sitting. But such pictures from the middle of the twentieth century and later are rare. The culprit is homophobia … It turns out that straight men’s need for intense, intimate relationships with each other never went anywhere, as evidenced by the ebullient burst of words celebrating it.”
- Why, when we read, do some of us hear a voice in our head while others proceed in total quiet? And why, for that matter, did we ever begin reading in silence to ourselves, rather than aloud, to friends? “Silent reading had become the norm for educated readers by the fifteenth century but even four hundred years later, La Cagnotte, Eugène Marin Labiche’s 1864 comedy, mocks a farmer for reading a private letter aloud; the bumpkin retorts that he can’t understand what he reads unless he hears it … Recent neurological research questions whether silent reading actually is silent. Evidence grows that the brain interprets ‘silent’ reading as an auditory phenomenon.”
- More art from Aidan Koch, whose portfolio lit up our Summer issue: her work will be on view next month at And Now, in Dallas.
- Bored? Hang out with H. P. Lovecraft fans at the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, why don’t you. And have a croissant while you’re at it. “In time, we were tapped to hit the buffet line, which snaked down the hotel’s corridor. ‘An ouroboros!’ exclaimed my neighbor, as we shuffled towards bacon and croissants. A sliver of fruit fell to the carpet. ‘The cantaloupe of Thoth!’ someone cried.”
I didn’t know Amish romance novels existed until a trip I took a number of years ago to Shipshewana, Indiana. There my uncle directed an Amish and Mennonite cultural center, and I was ostensibly working on a book about Amish and Mennonite culture, so it seemed a place I should go. I had just turned thirty and was beset with ambivalent, indistinct longings for the Mennonite heritage in which I’d been raised, even though the entirety of my twenties had served as an extended exercise in exodus and estrangement. Still, I went, most excited to locate and eat some peanut butter pie made with flaky, lard-infused crust.
The cultural center my uncle ran was called Menno-Hof, hof a Pennsylvania Dutch word that means something close to “farmyard,” though at Menno-Hof the farmyard is neatly pruned, the pond perfectly ovular, the flower garden precisely planted to approximate a quilt. It seemed to me a beautiful lie in need of some freshly dropped horse patties.
After touring the fastidiously curated exhibits in the barn and adjacent whitewashed Amish farmhouse—replete with a recreated reformation dungeon, a small hurricane room with a vibrating floor and powerful fans, a Conservative Mennonite church where a booming God voice commanded that I consider my spiritual fate—I finally wound up in the gift shop on the brink of both ecstatic revelation and nervous breakdown. Many of the wares there approximated the contents of my mother’s root cellar (raspberry jam and apple butter in glass jars) and the theological section of my father’s library (Nonviolence—A Brief History: The Warsaw Lectures, by John Howard Yoder).
The only items there truly unfamiliar to me were two wire racks full of paperbacks, their covers each backlit with the golden glow of God’s everlasting presence and bucolic perfection: wheat fields, corn fields, rivers and barns beneath cerulean or honey skies. A plain-clothed woman in some state of muted emotional duress gazed into the middle distance beneath her white bonnet. I spun through the racks, elated, repulsed. Could there be anything better, or worse, than Amish romance novels? Read More