They’re not bodice rippers, they’re bonnet rippers, according to Valerie Weaver-Zercher, whose new book on Amish romance novels was just published by Johns Hopkins press. And while I can’t recall having seen them for sale at the Amish Market up on York Road (maybe I was too intent on the pretzels?), they’re big business:  the top three Amish-fiction authors have sold more than 24 million books combined. But the unexpected twist, according to Weaver-Zercher (who is a Mennonite), is that these books aren’t written by Amish authors, but by evangelicals imagining themselves into the minds of the Amish.

As Weaver-Zercher traveled through Amish country, she found varied reaction to the romance novels. Many women admitted to not being able to put the books down, though others looked askance at the way the evangelical authors misportrayed the Amish religion. Whereas evangelical Christianity emphasizes a personal relationship with Christ, the Amish focus instead on good works and community-mindedness.

“When an Amish woman reads Amish novels, she encounters heroines who, although dressed like herself, have wholly evangelical souls. She gets to inhabit characters who assume the legitimacy of their own emotions about faith and romance, who are agents at the very center of the devotional and romantic action,” Weaver-Zercher wrote in the Los Angeles Review of Books. “In a culture that values submissiveness and sacrifice, especially in women, laying claim to the self is no small thing.” But there’s a downside, too, of course. Donald Kraybill (also a JHU Press author) worries that “a shift toward individual belief, subjective experience, and emotionalism would cultivate individualism and undermine the total package of traditional practices.” Maybe romance novels do have the potential to change the world.


America’s blood banks are facing a problem:  They already are struggling to keep up with demand, something that will become harder than ever since, according to recent research out of Johns Hopkins, donor blood begins to grow “stale” after just a few weeks.

Most blood banks consider the shelf life of donated blood to be six weeks, twice as long as the Hopkins research suggests is viable. After three weeks, researchers found that red blood cells lose flexibility and become less able to squeeze through capillaries.  But with diminished inventory already an issue, a shorter shelf life could lead to a real blood shortage. Nonetheless, “If I were having surgery tomorrow, I’d want the freshest blood they could find,” said Steven Frank, co-author of the study and associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Hopkins.