Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish

by Sue Bender

Hardcover, 1989

Call number

305.6 BEN



HarperOne (1989), Edition: 1, 176 pages


"I had an obsession with the Amish. Plan and simple. Objectively it made no sense. I, who worked hard at being special, fell in love with a people who valued being ordinary." So begins Sue Bender's story, the captivating and inspiring true story of a harried urban Californian moved by the beauty of a display of quilts to seek out and live with the Amish. Discovering lives shaped by unfamiliar yet comforting ideas about time, work, and community, Bender is gently coaxed to consider, "Is there another way to lead a good life?" Her journey begins in a New York men's clothing store. There she is spellbound by the vibrant colors and stunning geometric simplicity of the Amish quilts "spoke directly to me," writes Bender. Somehow, "they went straight to my heart." Heeding a persistent inner voice, Bender searches for Amish families willing to allow her to visit and share in there daily lives. Plain and Simple vividly recounts sojourns with two Amish families, visits during which Bender enters a world without television, telephone, electric light, or refrigerators; a world where clutter and hurry are replaced with inner quiet and calm ritual; a world where a sunny kitchen "glows" and "no distinction was made between the sacred and the everyday." In nine interrelated chapters--as simple and elegant as a classic nine-patch Amish quilt--Bender shares the quiet power she found reflected in lives of joyful simplicity, humanity, and clarity. The fast-paced, opinionated, often frazzled Bender returns home and reworks her "crazy-quilt" life, integrating the soul-soothing qualities she has observed in the Amish, and celebrating the patterns in the Amish, and celebrating the patterns formed by the distinctive "patches" of her own life. Charmingly illustrated and refreshingly spare, Plain and Simple speaks to the seeker in each of us.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member PhaedraB
I'm not sure why I'm keeping this book. Just thumbing through it, it annoys me as much now as when I had to read it for a grad school assignment. The author is an artist who developed a highly romanticized view of the Amish, based on her impressions of Amish quilts. She spends time with an Amish
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family, hoping that the simple life she interpreted from the quilts will soothe her own overwrought spirit.

Except, she didn't want the Amish as they were. She wanted her internal storybook Amish. She is constantly amazed by them, as in "This supposedly unworldy young person, cut off from television, newspapers, movies, and radio, carried on a lively and intelligent conversation." I don't get the logic of that statement; it sounds like a 19th century anthropologist amazed by the cleverness of the locals. "The Yoders weren't poor, but their diet was awful..." she says, never stopping to consider that hard work might benefit from a heavier hand on the fats and carbs. Her fallen-from-the-fairytale Amish go outside her comfort zone when shopping: "I was surprised to see them buying deodorant, mouthwash, aloe vera skin lotions—a lot of items I labeled nonessential."

She says she wants to learn from them, but really seems to want them to have her taste:

"In their world they chose well, but when faced with a bewildering array of choices in the outside community, they often chose unwisely. In fact, before the 1850s, when they led a spartan and isolated life, their homes were bare, but handsome. Now with affluence, many homes had fussy china proudly displayed in living room cupboards."

This strange blend of arrogance and condescending judgment fills the book. My professor was appalled at my criticism of the book, but I was and still am appalled by the white-lady-among-the-natives tone the author took. At the end of the book, she says she experienced no life-changing amazing insights from her time with the Amish. The very fact she could make the judgments she made illustrates that fact louder than any explicit announcement.

I give it two stars solely in acknowledgment of her ability to write a competent English sentence, which is no mean feat in this day and age.
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LibraryThing member dianaleez
Sue Bender is an artist who first learned of the Amish through their remarkable quilts. Not satisfied to learn about them second hand, she was able through great perserverance to stay with two Amish families. Plain and Simple not only recounts these visits, it also chronicles Bender's own search
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for meaning, simplicity, and order.

Bender's book was first published in 1989 and is considered a classic. It is well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member bookwormteri
I am fascinated by the Amish and Mennonites and really just other cultures in general. I thought that this book would be a little bit more insightful or have more to say about the Amish than it did. Instead, it was one womens need for some tranquility and how she kind of got it through Amish
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quilting patterns. She did live with them for a very short time, but I just wasn't feeling this book.

Pass, pass, pass.
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LibraryThing member tealightful
2 stars is pretty generous, in my opinion. This book seemed more like a book about the process she went through writing a book about visiting Amish families. I found myself wondering where I might be able to find the book she spent so much time "pouring her soul into". The book is largely spent
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talking about how incredible she is for having completed such a daunting task and is filled with many backhanded remarks regarding Amish communities. She comes off pompous and self-indulgent, not at all like the humbled, pious woman she paints herself out to be. Would recommend skipping this book.
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LibraryThing member BookishDame
I read this book when it first came out in the early 1990's and it was a fascinating book at that period of time. Not many had penitrated the mystical walls of the Amish, and there was a great revival interest in Amish quilts and other artistic wares. I personally made two treks to Intercourse, PA,
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in search of a personal view of the Amish and their museum of quilts alone!

Sue Bender's book was enlightening, though it may not have always been generous to the Amish families she met. She was a researcher and a "seeker" who asked the tough questions, and really reported and commented on what she saw in terms of what she lived on the "outside." I found some of her thoughts and observations rather unfeeling and harsh. However, on the other hand, had she not brought them up, I would never have known about them!

The Amish had much to teach her and me. I've not forgotten the lessons of the quilts. I've not forgotten the kindness and the open homes they shared with Sue. There's much to be found in this small book about sharing, love and kindness.

I recommend it, and I'm going to read it again.

Your Bookish Dame
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LibraryThing member haiku.tx
Not so much a woman's journey to the Amish, as a woman's journey through the Amish. The author is able to obtain a privilege few of us will ever experience: staying with an Amish family (or rather, several) for weeks of her life. The look at the Amish that follows is fascinating, though I found
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myself fading out a bit toward the end, as there are a few chapters where her flow is not as smooth as it is through the rest of the book. She finds her footing again before the end however, and overall I recommend this book for at least a lovely and comfortable read, if not as a necessity for your private collection.
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
Woman heads to Amish country to try and figure out why she is so drawn to them and what she is missing in life.
LibraryThing member lostinavalonOR
Ugh. I have more to say about this 149 page book than I have the energy for tonight.

First of all, this author is the kind of "artsy" that I find overwhelmingly irritating. Shallow, very concerned with making sure she appears "artsy", likes to use short stupid phrases that she thought up in the
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shower and hastily wrote out on the steamy bathroom mirror. Finds that she must use ALL the stupid short phrases because she's just so enamored with her own "artistic" talent that she can't bear to leave one of them out. It's hard to get past that and see her story.

So, let's get past that and go on to her story. Basically, she observed a couple of Amish communities, played the Amish game for awhile, and then came home to find that none of it really stuck. I know this book is all about all the ways that it supposedly really stuck---but, no, she totally missed it.

Several times she talks down her first hostess, Emma. Emma is stuck in a lifestyle, Emma has no voice, Emma has no passions..blah, blah, blah. The author obviously lives on staunch Feministic principles, so it's going to take more than a few weeks with the Amish to help her see the reality of the situation. At one point, when talking about a quilting day that her second hostesses had, she says they were, "seeking beyond the limits of their assigned roles" in having some women over for a celebratory quilting bee. She makes it sound as if they were living in rebellion by organizing something on their own, carrying it out to completion, and enjoying themselves through it all. No, actually, there is such a thing as being content, happy, fulfilled, satisfied, and blessed in homemaking. It's not a role forced on these women---it's a choice they've made lovingly, and peacefully. I feel like the author wanted them to defend themselves or to somehow see what they were "missing". As a homemaker, "submissive" wife, mother of many, homeschooler, wearer of dresses and long skirts, and grower outer of my longish hairer, I roll my eyes at the idiocy of this author. I stamp my clunky black nun shoe in defiance. I hitch up my skirt, hitch up my buggy, and say, "Nevermore shalt my bretheren, sisteren, and childeren be subjected to the smarmy, slimy wiles of the..."

Ok, I think that's about all for now. Basically, I wasn't super impressed. BUT---I do love all things Amish and I really loved her quilt analogies. I also liked how she was pretty honest about her shortcomings. I just wish she wasn't so obviously proud of them, as well. It made it very difficult to like her.
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LibraryThing member elliepotten
Reading this slim little volume was like sitting down in your favourite armchair with a hot cup of tea at the end of a long day: soothing, comforting and deliciously peaceful. Built around Bender's fascination with Amish quilts, this is the story of how her interest became a full-fledged quest for
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a better and calmer life. Bender went to stay with two different Amish families over the course of a few years, and tried to use her experiences in their communities to pinpoint what was missing from her life and reframe it in a way that balanced Amish values with modern American living. Unexpectedly relatable, interesting and quite lovely.
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