How the Amish conquered the evangelical romance market

BikadoroffAmishLovB27.3_34rgb-838x1158Ann Neumann at The Baffler:

There are around three hundred thousand Amish people in America, but millions upon millions of readers are choosing to live vicariously in a pristine Amish settlement of the imagination, where zippers, cars, and many of the breathlessly touted gadgets of the digital age are forbidden. While you’d be hard pressed to find a more stolidly patriarchal religious community than the Amish, who prohibit divorce and deny women any alternative to obeying their male masters in the home and any position of spiritual authority in the church, the audience for this curious genre is overwhelmingly female.

Whether readers are motivated by a hazy Luddism or a nostalgia for the old male-supremacist order of things, 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. More than eighty such books will be published in 2015, up from twelve titles in 2008. Three novelists, Beverly Lewis (who launched the genre in 1997 with The Shunning), Cindy Woodsmall, and Wanda Brunstetter, are together responsible for the sale of more than twenty-four million books. Today, there are approximately thirty-nine authors of Amish-themed fiction; their collective output works out to one Amish fiction book published every four days. Often wrongly called “bonnet rippers,” 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.

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