The Common Good

Book Review: Almost Amish

If I had seen just the title of Nancy Sleeth's Almost Amish, I probably wouldn't have been attracted to it: I'm not a fan of Amish fiction, and I've heard too much about Amish puppy mills.

Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth
Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth

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If I'd also noticed the name of the author, however, I might have picked it up: several years ago I met the Sleeths at the home of mutual friends, and I greatly respect the choices they have made about a simpler, more hospitable lifestyle.

But it was Michelle Van Loon's review/interview in Christianity Today's women's blog that caught my attention and made me think, I need to read this book.

From Van Loon's article:

When she was in her early 40s, Sleeth came to faith in Christ along with her husband Matthew, an emergency room physician, and their two preteen children. Energized by their faith, the deep concern about the state of the decaying world around them led the family to make significant lifestyle changes. They gave away half of their possessions and moved to a home the size of their old garage. They reduced their energy usage by two-thirds, discovering a deep sense of family unity and purpose in the process.

Sleeth isn't asking her readers to imitate her. As she tells Van Loon:

I’m not saying, “You need to cut back your energy use,” or, “You need to hang your clothes on the line,” or, “You need to stop watching television.” I simply want people to examine their lives. Learn to continually ask yourself two questions: Will this thing (this possession, decision, or action) bring me closer to God? Will it help me love my neighbor? We get in a blur and don’t always stop to ask those questions. What I am asking is to get people to stop and to live a conscious life.

Though of course Sleeth really is doing more than asking us to think. She hopes our self-examination will lead us to make at least a few changes in the way we live: get rid of clutter, for instance, or start living within our means; buy local, or spend more time with friends and family. And she offers practical suggestions to help us simplify our lives, including easy recipes for breads, soups, and salads.

You need to have an evangelical ear to appreciate Sleeth's book: it's full of Scripture and God talk. You also need to have a rosy view of Amish community life, which (as some of the comments following Van Loon's review point out) has a hidden and sometimes extremely dark side that Sleeth never acknowledges. And you'd better be able to tolerate Sleeth's mild adherence to gender roles.

That said, Almost Amish is an inspirational book, full of gentle wisdom. Oh, and Sleeth's challah recipe rocks. It's almost as good as my own, which you can read here.

LaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust and at The Neff Review.

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