What My Stylist Reads, and "Bonnet Books"

It was time for a hair cut, I decided last Friday.  I was off work, so I called Supercuts.  Was Tara there today?  (She had done a good job the last couple of times.)  No, Tara was on indefinite leave.  No matter, I said, I would be coming over soon, and she took my name.

Arriving on my Vespa at the strip center on Blair Stone and Park, I was taken in hand by Kelly, a cheerful young white woman.  Kelly wanted to talk, and spying a book on the shelf at her station, I tried the usual librarian's conversation starter, "What are you reading?"

She was reading the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard.  She watched the television show as well.  She and her girlfriend liked to watch it together, but their work schedules have lately forced them to watch at different times.  She missed watching it together and talking about it after.

She complained of a disconnect between the books and the show.  The books continued to feature characters who had been written out of the show, and it was confusing.

Did I like to read?  I worked at the public library, I said.  I had taken a lot of requests for Pretty Little Liars books, I added.  She said that she couldn't wait to get them from the library, so she bought them.

She asked what everyone was reading now.  The Help, I replied, without hesitation.  I thought she could get a library copy pretty quickly now, as the bump from the film was beginning to die down.

I only noticed last fall how popular Amish fiction was, though I discovered that it had become a publishing phenomenon in 2009.  "Bonnet books" they are now called in the trade.  I had it in mind to do a display, and when the Amish were covered in the NYT and in a PBS program in the same week, the time seemed right.

Many titles were owned only at the library branches or the bookmobile, so I had to place holds to collect enough copies.  I found a small subset of "bonnet books" about the Shakers, which I included.

They didn't move much in the first couple of days, and I wondered whether there would be much interest at the main library.  When I returned on Monday, after four days off, however, most of my extra copies had gone out.  MF said that on Saturday a huge number of titles had been taken.

What is the deal with Amish fiction?  They are neither written, nor read, by Amish women.  Beth Graybill explores the appeal of Amish fiction in Chasing the Bonnet:  The Premise and Popularity of Writing Amish Women.

Interestingly, the social location of most of the Amish romance writers is quite similar. While difficult to keep track of (since new writers join the genre each month!), with one exception the authors are evangelical white women of middle age—which is also the demographic for readers of Amish romance fiction. Most include some Christian credentials: some self-identify as a minister’s daughter (e.g., Beverly Lewis) or minister’s wife (e.g., Wanda Brunstetter) or Sunday School teacher (e.g., Kim Vogel Sawyer). Others list mission projects (Cindy Woodsmall) or include a statement of Christian identity, e.g., “Gayle [Roper] is a convinced believer in Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior.”

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