Life writing – which includes a wide spectrum of sub-genres such as (auto)biography, memoir, letter, diary, (digital) life stories, and oral histories – has a long tradition in the U.S. and is becoming more and more popular all over the world. An abundance of artifacts compiled by famous, semi-famous, and not-at-all-famous people fill public libraries, private bookshelves, research centers, social media, hard drives, and websites. And that’s actually not even surprising since writing and/or talking about ourselves is a deeply rooted cultural practice and comes very naturally to most human beings. We do it all the time: We tell a significant someone how our day was, we put together our résumé when applying for a new job, we talk about childhood memories with siblings or a close friend. However, talking and writing about ourselves in an academic context and, to boot, in a foreign language is a completely different story.
I know the monsters that lurk in the recesses of the mind and in
the dark corners of the heart. I know, because I deal with my own demons
of what was and what might have been. I’ve heard those voices calling in the night.
I understand, because I poked my head through that door and looked around a bit.
And I gotta say, it’s not a terribly scary place. I wasn’t frightened there,
in that room where death is. I understand why people go there.
And I understand why people chose to stay there.
Ira Wagler, Broken Roads, p. 187–188
Growing Up Amish, Ira Wagler’s New York Times bestseller has sold some 185,000 copies since it first appeared in 2011. A writer whose first book makes that list has much to live up to. Some writers never make it past the first book, while others end up wishing they had only written one. And if I am honest, I have to admit that I was somewhat concerned about what I would do if I didn’t like Ira Wagler’s new book. After all, he’s been to my university twice, and over the years, I’ve got to know and appreciate him. The book is not quite what I had expected, and it is truly different in a few key ways from his first publication.