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Book Report: Nothing that simple in Amish land

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Several writers are taking their cues from earlier centuries.

In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson found he had a bestseller on his hands when he wasn't even trying. Richardson sold stationery to the hoi polloi.

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Unfortunately, the women who bought the stationery didn't know how to write, so Richardson gave examples of how to write to your father, your lover, your whatever, bound them and called it "Pamela."

Later novelists like Charles Dickens wrote their books serially. Dickens would write a chapter at a time that he published in magazines like "Household Words."

British readers would read a chapter in "David Copperfield" and then waited anxiously for the next chapter to see if Davy would ever arrive at his Aunt Betsey Trotwood's cottage or, later, if his wife Dora would ever learn how to cook a proper leg of mutton, then run out to the newsstand in the neighborhood to find out.

These days, authors turn 19th century "chapters" into entire books. I, for instance, am a fan of Julie Kramer, whose books follow serially the adventures of Minneapolis investigative reporter Riley Spartz.

She also takes a cue from old Richardson by reproducing TV scripts in the hearts of her novels.

Oregon author Rosalind Lauer has taken her cue from 19th century author Anthony Trollope ("Barchester Towers" and "The Warden"), who wrote a popular series of novels all about an English cathedral town called the Barsetshire Chronicles.

Whereas Trollope wrote of Anglican politics, Lauer writes about the Amish way of life as exemplified by the King family in her series called Seasons of Lancaster.

Her latest outing is "A Simple Autumn," (Ballantine, $15 paper), which follows earlier novels, "A Simple Winter" and "A Simple Spring."

Each of Lauer's novels segues into the next.

In "A Simple Autumn" Jonah King, who has become leader in his Amish household after the murder of his parents, has a problem.

He has an all-consuming crush on a young neighbor girl, Annie Stoltzfus, but she has eyes only for Josh's brother Adam, who, unfortunately, has fallen for an "Englischer," a non-Amish girl, with the unlikely name of Remy, who is learning the ways of the King family.

Along the way, the reader is introduced to the ways of the Amish, their low German language and the "Ordnung" which lays down the law of how they should act.

One old couple is being shunned because the old man has been caught driving the neighbor's Jeep. Nevertheless, they are allowed to attend a Sunday service after which a picnic lunch is served.

Poor Remy plops potato salad on the plates of the shunned couple and everyone gets in an uproar.

Finally Annie's mother explains to Remy that such generosity isn't done until the shunned couple is completely forgiven and the rest of the bowl of potato salad must be destroyed.

Amish people don't waste anything, so Annie's mother gives all the potato salad to the shunned couple.

So what will happen to poor Jonah, who later in the story drives the same Jeep, and Annie?

At the end of the novel, you'll find out and be treated to an afterword full of Amish recipes for Nutty Cinnamon Bread, Church Cookies, Sawdust Pie and Funeral Cookies.

Our family tells the story of a trip my grandparents, their children and Grandma's Swedish-born took to Montana, via the railways.

They arrived at the train station on Washington Avenue, where they had to change trains and pick up a westbound train at the other station, The Great Northern on Hennepin Avenue.

It was just a few short blocks, but the stations were crowded and overwhelming to small-town folks and they had only a few minutes to make their connection.

What to do?

Grandpa Johnson, who looked like a bum and dressed in a long dog hair coat and carried a jar of anchovies from which he continually popped little fish into his gaping maw was a constant source of embarrassment his daughter, but when all seemed lost, Grandpa Johnson took charge.

He grabbed a policeman, whispered something. The cop smiled, said sure, and grabbed Grandpa by the nape of the neck and shouted, "Make way, make way. We have an escapee from the asylum."

The crowd parted, the family followed and in a twinkle they were at the Great Northern Depot.

Not many train stations in the Midwest are crowded these days, but it was not ever such as described in Don L. Hofsomer's fascinating new book, "Minneapolis and the Age of Railways," (University of Minnesota Press, $29.95 paper).

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