I requested Homespun: Amish and Mennonite Women in their Own Words, edited by Lorilee Craker, primarily because I recently read an Amish romance and I know very little about the customs and beliefs of the Amish. I was hoping it would contain essays that were specifically about Amish and Mennonite traditions -- kind of a "Here's what we believe and here's what we do," type of book that would walk me through what it's like to be a woman living with a particular belief set and whatever goes along with those beliefs, whether that may mean going without electricity and modern conveniences or eating certain foods. What little I know of the Amish (I honestly know nothing at all about Mennonites) has been gleaned from the occasional fiction read set in an Amish community.
Homespun was really not at all what I expected it to be and for a while I was pretty much convinced I was going to abandon the book. And, then one of the essays changed my mind. The essays are divided into sections, each one written about a certain one-word topic:
Those first few essays, I confess, came off as preachy to me. They didn't necessarily tell stories of "welcome" but would talk about what each woman believes "welcome" means within the context of her faith. They came off as a bit preachy. But, then I got to page 33, "On Appreciative Overnight Guests" by Linda Byler. Instead of describing her belief about the meaning of the chosen word "welcome," the author told a story about a time when one of her daughters came for a visit. It was funny, charming, and delightful. She playfully poked fun at herself in a way that's infinitely relatable.
We're supposed to be herrberg gerny: a Pennsylvania German term that means "be generous in hospitality." I certainly was. I was pious, devout, and well meaning. True, I did send our guests to bed with bombarding acorns, roaring traffic, mattresses like plywood, and a breakfast casserole that was a bit heavily salted, come to think of it.
But it is a night that will be repeated many times. Everyone is already enjoying a good laugh about it. Hopefully it'll never be lost among the many humorous stories of our family's history.
And, that was it for me. I was hooked. Yes, some of the essays are a bit on the preachy side and I'm pretty sure that in most cases I learned less from the essays than I did from reading fiction. It would have been particularly helpful to know what each woman's background was. Whether they were Amish or Mennonite was not always mentioned. It wasn't till I got to the end of the book, where each author has a brief bio, that I realized there was a place I could have flipped ahead to in order to find out which community the author hailed from.
But, some of the essays were quite informative. I particularly loved those that were closer to storytelling, in which the authors basically planted me in their shoes and went about their day. And, the "wonder" section spoke of miracles, which I always love. I was less enamored of the essays in which the essayists listed what they believed one should do to be hospitable, show love, share their testimony, or keep a household that Jesus would approve of. The book is as much inspirational as it is factual. I was looking for more of a factual read. But, in the end -- like any book written by a large number of authors -- I did find some favorites. I was particularly excited to find that there was more than one essay by Linda Byler. I'd love to read an entire book of her essays.
Recommended to a specific audience - I wouldn't particularly recommend Homespun highly to someone who was in search of a learning experience about what it means to be Amish or Mennonite. It's not a fact-based book so much as a peek into what each essayist believes a certain word to mean and how she applies that meaning to her life. But, Christians looking for inspiration and who like to read about Christian living will likely find it enjoyable and it would make a nice addition to a church library. The one thing I really learned about Amish and Mennonite women? They're not so different from the rest of us.
My copy of Homespun was provided by Audra Jennings for an I Read With Audra book tour.
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