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Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish Paperback – October 25, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Modern-day career woman and homemaker Bender tells of the compulsion--for Amish dolls and quilts that seemed to evoke a simpler life--that took her from New York State to Iowa and Ohio, where she lived with sympathetic Amish families and began the journey of self-discovery here described. The unvarying rhythm of "plain" lives, the importance placed on every day's manual labor and the absence of contemporary distractions such as telephones and microwaves proved revelatory; the one-time Californian was awed by "an aesthetic leanness, a paring down that I have come to appreciate." In her graceful tribute to a community of people who value the ordinary as an end in itself, Bender allows us to sojourn vicariously miles away from the frenzy of contemporary urban life.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An account of a quest that leaves [Bender] content and, magically, has the same effect on the reader. . . In prose that seems to echo the rhythm of Amish life, the author kicks around some old questions--What really matters? Is there another way to lead a good life?--with surprising freshness. . .Listening to her gentle voice consider the questions is charming and, somehow, invigorating." -- The New York Times Book Review

"As simple and vibrant a creation as the Amish quilts that first drew Bender into her journey." -- -- San Francisco Focus

"I haven't read such a nourishing book for a long time." -- May Sarton

"In 1967, Sue Bender found herself mesmerized by the dark muted colors of Amish quilts and the haunting beauty of their faceless stuffed dolls. The quiet simplicity of these crafts eventually led her on a journey of self-discovery to two Amish communities in 1982. Not surprisingly, Sue Bender, an over-achiever with two Masters degrees and two careers, found herself strongly attracted to the predictable rhythm of Amish life she encountered. Like her extended retreat, this simple book, describing both the ways of the Amish and their effect upon the author, is an escape for the reader as well. There are glimpses into Amish life: the wagon built to transport benches to the weekly home prayer groups, teenage girls who wear electric blue Nikes under their long black dresses, the democratic selection of a minister by drawing lots, and a no-holds waterfight among the nine Beiler children. Set against this background is Sue Bender's quest to discover inner wealth, to quiet the ramblings of ego, and to explore the part of her existence which values simplicity. With the Amish women as her mentors, she questions the obvious limits of their domain as well as her own frenzied pace. Walking to town one hot sunny day, Sue Bender calls out to the horse-drawn buggies, "Am I on the right road?" It's a question we should all ask ourselves." -- Marilyn Meyer, 500 Great Books by Women

"Just plain wonderful...I haven't read such a nourishing book for a long time." -- -- May Sarton

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (October 25, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062501860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062501868
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Sue Bender is the author of Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish. The book was a New York Times bestseller.
A fascination with Amish quilts led Sue to live with the Amish in their seemingly timeless world, a landscape of immense inner quiet. This privilege, rarely bestowed upon outsiders, taught her about simplicity and commitment and the contentment that comes from accepting who you are. In that inspiring book, Bender shares the lessons she learned while in the presence of the Amish people.
In Everyday Sacred: A Woman's Journey Home, Bender speaks to our longing to make each day truly count. She chronicles her struggle to bring the joyful wisdom and simplicity she experienced in her sojourn with the Amish back to her hectic, too-much-to-do days at home. Bender discovers for herself, and in the process shows us, that small miracles can be found everywhere - in our homes, in our daily activities and, hardest to see, in ourselves.

Profiles and interviews with Ms. Bender, as well as book excerpts have been published in countless national publications including Reader's Digest, The Washington Post, Ladies' Home Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Utne Reader, and W Magazine. She has also appeared as a guest on dozens of radio and television shows.

Born in New York City, Sue Bender received her BA from Simmons College and her MA from the Harvard University School of Education. She taught high school in New York and English at the Berlitz School in Switzerland. She later earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of California at Berkeley. During her active years as a family therapist, Bender was founder and Director of CHOICE: The Institute of the Middle Years. In addition to being an author and former therapist, Sue Bender is a ceramic artist and much sought after lecturer nationwide.

She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband Richard, and is the mother of two grown sons.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 68 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've long been fascinated by accounts of the lifestyles and beliefs of the Amish. As a parent, I am often overwhelmed by unease about our culture. It's obvious that consumerism is the machine that's driving some of us off the cliff, but few of us (especially thirtysomething women like myself) know how to avoid feelings that we must be the best--we must have it all, we have to be it all. Hoping for some insight, I read Bender's book.
I think what bothered me the most was that Bender's situation between the lines was almost comically present in the book, like watching someone lip-synch to a stuttering recording. I was disturbed that her "resume" as ceramics artist, therapist, and numerous college degrees were offered up more often than, say, specifics about her relationships with her children and husband. SHE is the only person that's affected by her experiences with the Amish. Her "be a star" upbringing, her overachieving, her dislike of housework--all of this is undermined by the tremendous economic and cultural freedom she obviously enjoys. She jets around the country without a thought, and leaving her husband for months at a time never seems to be an issue. A little inner voice tells her to go back to the Amish "to complete the circle", and baby, she's on the next flight. I feel this is why another reviewer on Amazon commented that Bender sounds like she needs a therapist herself.
Her intensity becomes narcissistic because her gaze is focused so strongly on herself. She talks lovingly about the limited choices that Amish life offers when her own life is an amazing example of freedom.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Angela Allen on June 7, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book because it was mentioned in another book I was reading. I have always had an interest in the Amish from an anthropological point of view and this was not a disappointment at all. Sue Bender runs across antique Amish quilts and is fascinated by their unique simple designs and bold colors. For years she has her contacts on the look out for more examples of this beautiful "art" that is so functional. Then she discovers the "faceless" dolls that Amish mothers make for their daughters. The dolls have no facial features because the Amish proscribe to the "no graven image" commandment very strictly. She was delighted with the doll sent to her by an Amish woman with whom she started a correspondence. She then decided she wanted to live among the Amish for a time. She was told they would not take her in; however, a small ad in an Amish paper elicited a response from a family willing to have her live with them for a time. So her journey began. Her impressions did not always fit with her romantic illusions of the "simple" life and she learned much. After several weeks, she goes home to digest what she has learned. Then, she decides to go back and try the experiment again with a different (very different) family. She learns even more. All stereotypes are mostly shattered as she lives with a midwife, her large family and her chiropractor sister and she leaves much richer (emotionally) than when she arrived.

I enjoyed this volume very much. It had an excellent layout and is a fast read. The impressions are honest and introspective and Ms. Bender is kind enough to wrap the most important lessons learned into a nine-patch quilt for us at the end. There are many fine ideas we can take with us at the conclusion of the story not the least of which is how much we have in common with the Amish as opposed to how different we are. It's a book I will return to again and again for insight.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By E. Broadhurst on January 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
I was expecting to read a book about the Amish. What I read instead was a very self centered book about a woman searching, rather blindly, I felt, for herself.

She had very little in the way of insight into Amish life, even after spending a period of time with them. And her inability to get outside of her own head/her own life was not terribly interesting to read.

For someone who always longed to be a 'star,' I am sure publishing a book was quite a thrill for her. Shame she used the Amish as a platform for her own ego.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By J.C. Keller on March 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is a self-centered piece of random musings. It is not about the Amish. It is about the author, and frankly, she's not someone I would really care to meet and discuss important issues with. She spends SO much time on HER thoughts, HER ideas, that one forgets this is supposed to be a book about the Amish way of life. This is not a journey TO the Amish. It is a boring, breathtakingly conceited journey into the author's confused mind. I suggest counseling for her. Her book just plain stinks.
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46 of 58 people found the following review helpful By angelchrome on April 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
I don't even know where to start.

If she wasn't so (as we are constantly reminded) well-educated and well travelled I would assume that the author just didn't know how to be a gracious guest. Instead of relishing this rare hospitality (Amish families very rarely invite Englisch guests to stay with them) she repeatedly criticizes her first host family (the wife isn't fit enough, the food isn't healthy enough, her room isn't big enough.) Then when a second family allows her to stay with them she thinks that being their guest for two weeks means she has a right to belittle their plans to expand their homestead to included a much needed birthing center for the community.

And to top it all off, when she gets home, she's too special to share her experiences with regular people, and now thinks the people who were previously her social peers are like "sharks."

This book is not worth your time. There are several excellent books that include far more insight into the lives of the Amish and far less over-intellectualized, self-centered, whining and condescension. See "Driving the Amish" by Jim Butterfield.
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