Holidays, Nostalgia, Simpler Times, and . . . Bonnet Rippers?

Oh, and simple gifts.  On Sunday I’ll be drawing for a $15 gift certificate to be e-mailed to one lucky commenter. 


An article in this week’s Newsweek (12/13/10) caught my eye.  “Love, Amish Style; These novels raise questions about modern life.”  I loved the 1985 movie “Witness,” but I wasn’t aware that “bonnet fiction” was currently all the rage.  I read on.   According to author Lisa Miller, the Amish romance is “modeled on the bodice rippers that generations of women have read for escape,” and while plotlines are “familiar,” the romance is less between man and woman and more between woman and a simple, sane, peaceful way of life.  Whatever the appeal, it’s translating into bestsellers.  “You slap a bonnet on the cover and double the sales,” said a Bethany House marketing vp.  Miller goes on to point out a few realities of the Amish way that might blunt its appeal outside fiction, but Romance readers understand that getting lost in, say, the Regency period through a book doesn’t compare to what the reality would have been for even the most privileged woman.

But what interests me is the notion that the modern woman’s hunger for more tranquility, community, face time with friends and family may be growing.  Being chained to gadgets might be losing some of its appeal.  Conveniences and creature comforts have made life easier in some ways, more complicated in others.  Just keeping up with the gadgetry is draining for some of us.  Concern for the environment we’re building for our children and grandchildren and who they will become in the face of it all keeps some of us up at night.  Maybe if we were more like the Amish…  And so begins the fantasy.


We visited the Amish community in Harmony, MN last summer.  My daughter and I found it so interesting the first time we went—she was writing a paper—that we persuaded my husband to go with us for a second tour.  (That’s my granddaughter in the buggy.)  Clyde loved it.  He has a knack for drawing people out, and we got lots of anecdotes and plenty of details about how the hard work gets done without many of the conveniences most of us consider to be necessities.  One woman told me that she got up at or before dawn, depending on the season, worked all day every day of the week but one, fell into bed at night so she could get up the next morning and do it all over again.  But she wouldn’t have it any other way, she said, and in fact, the percentage of men who leave the community is much higher that of women.  Without enough men to go around, there are households of “bachelor sister,” who seemed quite content with their role in the community even though the Amish girl is lucky to attend school through the eighth grade.  But we pick and choose the elements of our fantasy.

I could see Clyde getting a little nostalgic for the old days—growing up in Indian Country with even fewer of those conveniences—when chores were labor-intensive but straightforward and a horse was a damn good form of transportation.  (We were told that Amish boys, having only recently been allowed to use horses for riding, now dream of being cowboys.)  Time adds romance to the past, and simpler times start looking pretty good when the computer goes haywire and seven-year-olds have to have their own cell phones (but not in MY house).  It’s all grist for the fiction mill, of course, and a commercial fiction writer takes note of what’s selling and looks a little deeper.  What’s the real appeal, and how does it inform my story-telling?

The holidays are great for stirring up sweet nostalgia for the times we had and maybe the times we wish we had.  We used to get an orange in the toe of our stocking.  That was Mama being nostalgic for a time during the Depression when an orange was a rare treat.  Now I look at the ad for the Barbie with the video camera embedded in her chest, and I cherish the memory of the baby doll that simply drank, wet, and squeaked.   And I think, this is my job—and what a job it is—to bring those feeling to the fore for readers.  Not sentimentality, but good feelings about the basics of life.  That’s Romance.

Are we longing for simpler lives?  What do you miss about simpler times?  What innovation (besides the personal computer) came along in your lifetime that you wouldn’t want to live without?  Is there a genie you’d like to put back in the bottle”?  What part of your life would you like to simplify?  What are you most nostalgic about this time of year?


About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in books, holidays, nostalgia, romance. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to Holidays, Nostalgia, Simpler Times, and . . . Bonnet Rippers?

  1. Emmanuelle says:

    Interesting. I had no idea those amish romances were so successful. I don’t know much about the amish community (like you I saw witness but for me that’s about it). I can totally understand though how the appeal of a simpler like can work.
    I live in a big city, in an appartment building, people above me and under me and just everywhere. Wish I could have one of those wood houses in the prairie. Big spaces and less polution (noise in particular) sounds dreamy. One of my favorite show growing up was Dr Quinn Medicine woman. This type of life REALLY appeals to me. I’d have a hard time living without my laptop and internet connection but well… I see the appeal anyway.

    • Really interesting about those Amish houses…newlyweds get a “starter house” that reminded us of the “650 house” from Indian Country, which was a tiny 3-room box, so called because that’s what you could afford with the $650 people were paid for the land that was taken and flooded when the Missouri River was dammed back in the 50’s. I’m sure the Amish house is well-crafted–community built–but small enough to be towed on skids. With two kids you get a bigger house (traditional 2-story) until the family is grown, and then the grandparents go back into the starter house.

      • Emmanuelle says:

        You can definitely feel the strong sense of comunity our “modern” society has lost (here in the Paris area where I live it’s hard to feel any) but that most of us crave.

  2. Laney4 says:

    I think that past generations wished for simpler lives like their elders (supposedly had), and my generation thinks that our elders had it easier too. It’s all relative, so to speak (ha ha). There are pluses and minuses to every generation. Perhaps we just wish to be children again, with no cares or worries, and summers off that seem to go on forever until that last couple of weeks before school starts again.

    Thankfully, we have had electricity since before I was born, so I am glad for the invention of the microwave. It was difficult to reheat meals when I was growing up, as the supper had to go in the frying pan or oven for what seemed like ages – all messed in together. With my husband working shifts, it is so much easier to pop a plate of leftovers into the microwave for him.

    What I don’t miss? Eating cold lumpy mashed potatoes after everyone else had left the table (and not being allowed to leave the table until my plate was cleaned up).

  3. runner10 says:

    I couldn’t make it without my cell phone. I like for my kids to be able to contact me wherever I am. I don’t know how we made it before.

  4. Minna says:

    What innovation (besides the personal computer) came along in your lifetime that you wouldn’t want to live without? Internet.
    Is there a genie you’d like to put back in the bottle”? Because just about everyone has a cell phone now, the phone companies are getting rid of the old fashioned phone lines and as handy as the cell phones are, they really should leave the old system alone. At summer there was a bad storm. Internet and cell phone connections were down for 2 days, but the old fashioned telephone lines were back in working order much faster.

    • We’ve talked about getting rid of the “land line” haven’t for the reasons you cite. Dependability. Our relatives in Indian Country text a lot because the cell phone signals are really unreliable there–which comes in handy when you’re plotting a book.

  5. Ana Morgan says:

    A friend likes to remind me I’m a hippie. In 1971, my husband and I moved to a rundown farm in northern Minnesota. We had electricity, but no indoor plumbing. We milked four cows by hand, and raised most of our food (organically, of course.)

    A rustic life style has many virtues: I would thrive if the local grocery story wasn’t resupplied for two weeks. I love hot running water, but know I could survive without it. I’m physically strong and healthier for it. I work in and with Nature, a harsh mistress.

    I respect the Amish lifestyle, but wouldn’t want to go that far.

    • Ana, we have an era in common. One of the reasons this topic interests me is that the back-to-nature, rural community building theme is one I like to write about anyway, and I think the appeal is growing. It is for me. Hadn’t realized the popularity of the Amish books.

  6. annie says:

    I enjoyed this post greatly as I think about those old days when we were content with very little and managed well without. The internet is a great part of my life and keeps me in contact so that is what i feel would be missing. I need warmth and hot water as well for my survival.

  7. Charlotte M says:

    I find myself becoming nostalgic every time I go home to visit my parents. They’re far from being Amish, but their lives are so simple compared to living in the big city. I find myself missing that small-town-everyone-knows-everyone-else feeling when I come back home to Nashville. When I’m there I don’t have access to wifi or even a computer which means I’m able to focus on family and it’s a great feeling.

    But I also find that I miss the big city & wouldn’t want to return to that simple life for more than a few days at a time. 🙂

    • My parents grew up in Colonial Beach, VA–small town, few changes over the years. They were happy to leave and go out in the wide wide world with the military, but I loved visiting as a kid. When I went back a few years ago, I found it hard to realize what had changed. Still a small town. The buildings were still there, but they were largely filled with people who didn’t know my family.

  8. Keri Ford says:

    I couldn’t go without some conveniences of today, but I did visit an Amish area when I was teenager. I was completely fascinated. And not in a touristy kind of fascination, but just…the heart of life was there. I’d heard so many stories of the way of life of my grandparents and that was it in a nutshell.

  9. The heart of life. That’s it. Great way to put it, Keri.

  10. CrystalGB says:

    What I miss most is time just spent doing things with family. We all are so busy and technology dependent that face to face time together gets pushed to the back burner. I do love modern conveniences and I think I would miss not having electricity and central heat and air the most.

    • We were without electricity for almost 3 days after a big wind storm this fall, which renewed my appreciation. You forget how much your routine depends on electricity. It was interesting to see how the Amish handled it. One farm used a diesel motor to run a pump, and it was so noisy I thought, This is peace and simplicity? Most of them used windmills. Candles and kerosene lamps, which were filled with paint thinner because it burns brighter.

  11. cheryl c. says:

    I am a modern girl who enjoys her modern conveniences. I would hate to give up central heat/AC, microwaves, washer/dryer, TV, computers, and my cellphone.

    The only simplying I would like is to reduce the hustle and bustle of life so there would be more family time. A family game night would be a treat! In fact, I might try to plan one of those over the holidays!

  12. Emma says:

    I wouldn’t want to live without? Internet and cell phone. I miss spending more time with family and friends.Happy Holidays.

  13. michelehauf says:

    Loved the post, Kathy! I really do long for a simpler time (even though my ‘simple times’ memories are late 60s and 70s). Would love to move out to the country away from all the bustle. But as for giving up technology. Hmm, no. 🙂

  14. Greta says:

    Hi, Kathy!

    Thanks for the post! I love the picture of your granddaughter.

    I also love being able to watch DVD movies on television. I remember being a kid and not being able to see movies that were advertised on TV. My father would always say, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be on television in a year.” A little disheartening for a ten-year-old. These days I see maybe one theater movie a year, but having netflix is pretty delightful.

    On the negative side, I’ll point to heavy city traffic.

  15. kris says:

    I have a tendency to think wouldn’t it be nice to not be chained to the gadgets, but then when I am without one or all, it is disconcerting. Is it because I’m used to it and going without is like being outside of a comfort zone? Hard to tell, as usually those times without are only temporary and I go right back to being a slave to my blackberry etc.

  16. Kirsten says:

    I love those Amish Romances. I often miss the sense of community that’s portrayed in them and in a way I found a little bit of that online. But commenting on a blog, great as it is!!!, is not really the same thing as looking into someones eyes an actually hearing their voice. There is also no hugging or shaking hands and yeah sometimes I miss that. But I wouldn’t trade my computer for anything in the world. It’s how I find out about all those wonderful books that come out and catch up with family (or friends) far away.

  17. christieridgway says:

    While I still love to read historical romance and contemporary Amish ones, I think my nostalgia for past times was the kill buzz of that “reality” TV show…what was it? Victorian House? When I saw how the women had to do the laundry, that was it for me about wanting to live in “simpler times.”

    • The first time I went to the reservation for the summer, I learned how to use a ringer washing machine. It’s a wonder I didn’t get my hand caught.

      I loved that Victorian House series. Was that PBS or History Channel. (It was way too good for Reality TV). It was definitely an eye-opener. There was one about ranching, too.

  18. Movies on DVD are definitely a plus, although I do try to see certain kinds of movies on the big screen. And some that I seriously must see as soon as they come out. Right now I’m looking forward to “The King’s Speech” and Casino Jack.” And it would be really hard to do without the computer. Even going back to the dinosaur (I started with a Kaypro. Anyone remember that one?) would be a hardship. I wrote my first couple of books longhand and then typed. Remember the typewriter?

  19. cindy gerard says:

    As always I love your post, Kathy.
    This past fall a couple of my friends and I took a late season trip to our cabin in Northern Minnesota – so late that we had already canceled the Sat TV and land phone for the season and since cell reception is shaky at best, we were kind of off the grid.
    It was great! We played cards and board games, cooked, canoed, hiked and talked a lot! Great fun to be unplugged.
    I must admit, however, that I would be lost without my cell phone for any length of time.

  20. Kylie Brant says:

    I’ve seen the steep rise in everything Amish. The cynic in me is waiting to see when it peaks, as fads so often do. I wonder if the readers are regular readers of inspirational fiction or if there is a wide cross section seeking out the books?

    • The article says: “The most ardent fans are Evangelical Christian women.” Biggest retailer of the books is Walmart. Goes on to say that Evangelical Christians have among the highest divorce rates in the country, the moms often the main breadwinners and that writers of these books hear from many of these women, who say they picture the the setting as the perfect environment for raising Christian children. I wonder if they’ve visited an Amish community. They absolutely have their problems, too.

  21. Jane says:

    I can’t imagine living without electricity and modern medicine. Life would be simpler if I could just let the bad stuff roll off my back.

  22. Stephenia says:

    I miss getting letters in the mail. I do appreciate the expediency of email, but nothing beats a surprise note from a friend in your mailbox!

  23. Linda Henderson says:

    I don’t think I would like living without modern conveniences. I’m not a roughing it kind of person, I don’t even like to camp. So I wouldn’t want to live like that.

  24. catslady says:

    I think we all like the fantasy of simpler times but wouldn’t want to give up a lot of things and work from dawn to dusk. I would miss my microwave lol. I think the medical world is a big thing too. And they don’t want their children too well educated. On the other hand, people probably care for their neighbors a lot more and holidays aren’t commericialized. I guess there’s good and bad to everything.

  25. infinitieh says:

    I, too, thought “Amish? really?” It reminds me of my friend’s grandmother who grew up and raised her children on a farm. She couldn’t quite believe all those back-to-nature types in the 60’s. She couldn’t wait to get away from the cows and such (although all the grandkids, no matter how citified, learned how to milk them). No nostalgia for the “good old days” from her. 🙂

    A few of my laments:
    I remember when only the colleges and large companies have the internet. I don’t miss having to remember DOS commands but there wasn’t the plethora of spam like now.
    I miss letter writing, too. What am I to do with all the beautiful stationery I have collected through the years?
    I like watching music videos on TV. youtube on my computer just isn’t the same.

    I’m not giving up my cell phone or ATMs though.

    • DOS! But it was such an improvement over the typewriter, using all those commands that seem like a headache now wasn’t then. Now we get antsy if it takes a few extra seconds to load up the programs. Sometimes I just want things to slow down a little, but I don’t want to be left behind. Okay, maybe there are times when I wouldn’t mind staying behind. So I pick up a book.

  26. Quilt Lady says:

    I wouldn’t want to give up my computer, the cell phone I have I don’t use much but its nice to have one if something happens while you are out. I thing we would have less stress in out life if we went back to the simple life. We see a lot of Amish around where I live.

  27. Margay says:

    I’ve really come to love my cell phone – and texting! It’s how I keep in touch with my daughter at college.

  28. Laurie G says:

    I miss the “feeling safe” I grew up with. I biked or walked home from my girlfriend’s houses or from school without fear of being picked up or killed. We never locked our house.

    The Amish life is way to primitive for me. The long clothes in the summer must be sweltering!

    I do like my microwave, color TV, VCR, digital camera,GPS! They aren’t necessary but they sure do make my life easier!

  29. RobynL says:

    I long for simpler lives such as the family sitting down together at meal time. I miss
    having our own veggies, milk, cream, meat.
    I miss the family playing games together such as Crokinole, Monopoly.

    I’d miss the microwave for heating up veggies such as corn or peas(saves on a pot that
    needs washing).

  30. LSUReader says:

    Sometimes I do wish for simpler, less stressful times. But there are modern conveniences I wouldn’t want to be without. Tops on my list is air conditioning. I grew up in south Louisiana and live in south Texas–air conditioning is really important!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s