The best and most eclectic books about those quirky Mennonites

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Kansas and will forever have a soft spot in my heart for golden wheat fields, sunflower-filled ditches, and sunsets that explode colors on the horizon. I always knew I’d write a book set in Kansas, and I’d explore my long Mennonite linage and its seemingly unrealistic theology. Pacifism is a beautiful concept until you’re faced with protecting the people you love. As I grew older, I became more curious about larger, practical questions. It’s one thing to be a conscientious objector to war. It’s another thing to confront the cosmically dark evil of your neighbor. From that, Never Enough Flamingos was born.

I wrote...

Never Enough Flamingos

By Janelle Diller,

Book cover of Never Enough Flamingos

What is my book about?

Ahhh, those quirky Mennonites. They choose peace and forgiveness, but then how do they confront evil in their midst, especially when that evil—the man who steals the souls of little girls—is also the savior for so many in the congregation who are financially desperate. What do they choose to do? Save the farm and sacrifice their daughter, or save the daughter and lose the farm?

Kirkus Reviews says this about Never Enough Flamingos, a 2017 Kansas Notable Book Selection: "It is a testament to Diller's authorial strength that, through the despair, she weaves in disarming humor... Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner."

The books I picked & why

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Menno-Nightcaps: Cocktails Inspired by That Odd Ethno-Religious Group You Keep Mistaking for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons

By S.L. Klassen, Michael Hepher (illustrator),

Book cover of Menno-Nightcaps: Cocktails Inspired by That Odd Ethno-Religious Group You Keep Mistaking for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons

Why this book?

I love to cook, and given the passion Mennonites have for potlucks, this list wouldn’t be complete without a favorite cookbook recommendation. The trouble is, which one? There are so many classics. I grew up with the worn and scribbled-on pages of The Mennonite Community Cookbook and later the More-with-Less World Community Cookbook, but ultimately decided on Menno-Nightcaps because, well, I warned you this list is eclectic, right? This book is loaded with not just yummy, practical drink recipes, but loads of Mennonite history. My own husband wooed me with stories of his ancestor who supplied George Washington’s troops with whiskey. How could I not love a book like this? Trust me, it’ll be fun and you’ll never view Mennonites in quite the same way.  

Peace Shall Destroy Many

By Rudy Wiebe,

Book cover of Peace Shall Destroy Many

Why this book?

I first read this book about Mennonites in western Canada during WWII while I was in college. Wiebe had the audacity to pull back the curtain and expose the very human inconsistencies between what we Mennonites believe and how we sometimes behave, particularly around pacifism, racism, and money. Mennonites pride (uh oh) ourselves on living our theology, so the book created quite a stir in the Mennonite world because Wiebe took some shine off the denomination. That very act raised important theological questions for me, ones that I’ll always grapple with in one form or another.

I like to think Wiebe would approve that I, too, have pulled back the curtain with Never Enough Flamingos.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

By Rhoda Janzen,

Book cover of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Why this book?

This is a long way from Peace Shall Destroy Many and is a bit dangerous to even recommend. When I read it, I laughed out loud and shook my head at the familiar denominational references. I also shook my head because Janzen had grown up Mennonite, did all the Mennonite rites of passage, and even had a father who was a Mennonite minister, but ultimately, she didn’t really get the theology. Oddly enough, that’s why I’m including the book on my list. Her lack of “getting it” is reflective of a lot of people I know in the denomination—every denomination has them. They may have gone to church every Sunday but haven’t ever owned for themselves what it means. 

Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels

By Valerie Weaver-Zercher,

Book cover of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels

Why this book?

Full confession here. I’m not a big romance reader and so I’m baffled by why Mennonite/Amish mystery romances are such a huge genre. Maybe it’s the perceived simplicity and innocence of the sect? Maybe they take people back to a time they never experienced themselves? That’s why I found Weaver-Zercher’s book helpful in clarifying why so many people love these books. Her writing is witty and engaging and kept me reading even though the subject itself is on the academic side. If you do want to explore the genre, the best source for a recommendation is the podcast Just Plain Wrong where three Mennonite librarians irreverently dissect Mennonite romances on a weekly basis.

The Upside-Down Kingdom

By Donald B. Kraybill,

Book cover of The Upside-Down Kingdom

Why this book?

If you’ve browsed my list this far, maybe you’re curious enough to peek into Mennonite theology, which truly is upside-down from the world we live in. Even though I’d been Mennonite all my life, this book, which I read decades ago, explained what radical Christian discipleship meant in a way I’d never fully understood. All those things that make the theology challenging—choosing pacifism, taking care of the least in society, living humbly instead of seeking power, turning the other cheek, forgiving when it’s easier to seek revenge—are also what make it transformative. If only living it were that easy.

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