New books for 2021: Cookbooks, a memoir, the Amish and life’s challenges

The Oct. 29 issue of Anabaptist World included several mini reviews of recent books. Here is a sampling.

To assist the poor, it helps to be able to identify with them. Unlike most Men­­­nonite pastors, Kevin Wiebe can do this from experience. He grew up below the poverty line and now pastors a “low-resource” church in Stevenson, Ont., a rural congregation whose members are primarily Mennonite immigrants from Mexico. He’s also the creator of Pov.ology, a curriculum on poverty and the church. In Faithful in Small Things: How to Serve the Needy When You’re One of Them (Herald), Wiebe calls readers not only to help the needy but acknowledge their own need. He encourages readers to “ponder what kinds of relationships we have with those we seek to serve. Are they one-sided?” Instead, we should strive for “shared dignity and common purpose.” Wiebe’s book is a corrective to the common belief that if people are poor, it is their own fault. — Paul Schrag

Life Together: Reflections on Faith, Love and Caring for a Spouse with Alzheimer’s is an intimate look at a couple’s journey through symptoms, diagnosis, loss and new normal. It’s a journey many have taken but few have shared so openly. Robert Wyble invites readers to know him and his wife, Naomi, through snapshots of their life together — faith community, work, travel adventures and hobbies — and by describing how Naomi’s Alzheimer’s disease slowly appeared and left its mark on their lives. Integrating his experiences and faith journey as a Mennonite in Lancaster County, Pa., he is candid about times his faith was tested. He offers a timely account of caring for Naomi in her last days during the COVID-19 pandemic and isolation requirements. Life Together is self-published and can be found on Amazon. — Danielle Klotz

Thumbscrew Driver. Bloody Martyr. PlumeMimosa. Shoofly Rye. Holdemanhattan. Menno-Nightcaps by S.L. Klassen (Touchwood) is the first Mennonite cocktail recipe book. Subtitled “Cocktails Inspired by That Odd Ethno-Religious Group You Keep Mistaking for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons,” the hardcover volume is based on Klassen’s “Drunken Menno” blog. Klassen mixes puns with Anabaptist history to present alcoholic (and nonalcoholic) odes to theological and predominantly European-based ethnic cultural traditions. Recipes are paired with light-hearted reflections on thrift, schisms, guilt, theology, shunning, migration, judgment and even executions. In the classic spirit of her Anabaptist cookbook forebears, Klassen includes a large-scale recipe for 500 servings of Pilgram Marpunch, suitable for barn raisings and quilting bees. Featuring illustrations inspired by the Dutch Blitz card game, the book concludes with a “Sunday School Sippers” appendix offering nonalcoholic substitutes for many recipes. — Tim Huber

The Mennonite memoir is a genre unto itself, and again it has evolved. Adolescence in the late 1980s is the latest frontier, now breached with Mennonite Valley Girl: A Wayward Coming of Age (Greystone Books) by Carla Funk. Set in the northern British Columbia logging town of Vanderhoof, Funk’s teenage years and changing body find her increasingly interested in pushing the limits of her family, Mennonite church and a town that seems to only get smaller as she gets bigger. If the heartfelt, hormonal and hilarious coming-of-age tales of growing up seem poetic, it’s no coincidence. Funk is the author of five books of poetry and the first poet laureate of the city of Victoria. Mennonite Valley Girl follows chronologically 2019’s Little Scrap and Wonder: A Small-Town Childhood (Greystone), which focuses on her Vanderhoof childhood. — Tim Huber

A cookbook without recipes sounds like an oxymoron. If we can trust anyone that this idea makes sense, it would be Phyllis Good, the prolific Mennonite cookbook author whose books — notably the “Fix-It and Forget-It” series — have sold more than 14 million copies. Her latest is No Recipe? No Problem! How to Pull Together Tasty Meals Without a Recipe (Storey). With the help of 14 cooks — 10 from Mennonite communities, who contributed personal experiences and insights — Good has produced a guide to freestyle or improvisational cooking: building a finished dish from what you’ve just gathered or already have on hand. Good aims to “empower cooks to think about food prep in an imaginative way.” She offers practical advice, from an overview of essential tools and pantry items to how to combine flavors and find substitute ingredients. My wife loves this book, so it has our household’s endorsement. — Paul Schrag

I wish all parents could be as honest as Shari Zook in Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings (Herald). Often it reads like scrolling through a personal blog — each entry a little different but telling a story of coming to terms with her own mental health while navigating systems of care, faith communities and loving her children, biological and foster. Zook names a persistent lie that pervades the Christian ethos: That women, especially women in ministry or married to a partner in ministry, must always be helpful. That their worth is defined by being warm and helpful and always able to pull everything off. That they are limitless. Zook comes to terms with her own limitations and understands that, despite them, she is a beloved child of God. Like all lies, the lie of the perfect Christian woman and mother thrives in the shadows and the silence. Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings speaks truth so that others can join in the healing. Zook believes she is called to be a mother, and she pursues this calling faithfully. As in any act of faith, there are times we must step out, not knowing what the result will be. Zook allows us to walk the journey with her as she shares of her experiences as a mother. Perhaps the book could be summed up in this quote: “I love these children from my heart. Also, I live for their naptimes.” As a mother myself, I understand that statement in my bones. — Danielle Klotz

Less than a century ago, a lot of peo­ple thought the Amish might die out. Instead, they multiplied, doubling every 20 years to a population of 350,000. To interpret this fascinating but often misunderstood branch of Anabaptism, Donald B. Kraybill draws on four decades of studying the Amish. What the Amish Teach Us: Plain Living in a Busy World (Johns Hopkins University Press), offers a twist on “who are the Amish?” books by explaining their beliefs and lifestyle with an eye toward learning from them. No, they’re not “just technologically impaired,” as the musical parodist “Weird Al” Yank­ovic sang in “Amish Paradise.” Rather, they selectively use, adapt and create technology to serve the community’s needs — and therefore can be a model of discernment for the rest of us who embrace the latest thing but wonder where it will lead. Concise, entertaining and informative, this might be the choice if you read only one book about the Amish. — Paul Schrag

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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