Northern Michigan seems a well of artistic talent—from live musicians, to actors, to writers, the North is bursting with the stuff. One of our very favorite writers has joined the official ranks of Northern Michigan talent and merit after publishing his debut nonfiction book (pictured above in Horizon Books) earlier this summer.
Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine’s Jeff Smith snuck away from his desk last week to attend his own book signing at Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City. His debut nonfiction book, Becoming Amish, was released mid-June and details the true story of a modern-American couple who stepped away from their contemporary lifestyle in exchange for a traditional Amish one. Perhaps since his desk is next-door to mine, and he thought it too awkward to refuse a conversation with me, I had the opportunity to speak with Jeff about his book and about the fascinating events that led to its conception.
Q: What initially inspired you to write Becoming Amish?
A: I first wrote about my lifelong friends Bill and Tricia Moser following the economic crash of 2008. It was a magazine story for Traverse, and the magazine story folded into a growing national conversation about people looking for more intentional lives based in simplicity and balance as a way to find greater fulfillment.
I wondered what perspective the Mosers, who had left one of America’s wealthiest communities, Grosse Pointe, to become horse-and-buggy Amish, could bring to that conversation. The book Becoming Amish grew from my belief that, though few modern families would ever become Amish, there were many aspects of the Amish life that could inform today’s families as they contemplated the direction an intentional life might lead. I also saw that the Mosers, as people who grew up in the modern, everyday America, brought unique perspective to the topic because they were both insiders and outsiders in the Amish world, and their observations would resonate with contemporary peers.
Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
A: I hope the Mosers’ journey can serve as a mirror that allows people to reflect upon their own choices, help people contemplate the things they value most in life and give good thought to how the things they value aligns with how they are moving through their day to day. How important is family time? How important is community time? How important is career time? How important is spirituality to you? And does your life match your heart’s values, your core values—how you really envision your life moving forward. It’s really easy to get caught up in the day to day crush of making a living and signing on to broad cultural expectations. I’m hoping this book just helps people consider their path—not in a judgmental way, but in a fun and interesting and provocative way. I feel the Amish story part of the book, the who-knew aspects of that faith and life, keeps the reader going.
In Becoming Amish, Jeff works to portray the Amish people in a clear and honest light that will allow readers to access and connect to a deeper side of humanity and their own day-to-day lives. Jeff Smith and Bill Moser have been friends since they were just 4 years old, making the writing of this book an incredibly intimate and personal labor for Jeff. “It’s been a really wonderful experience connecting with my friends in this way,” Jeff says on writing his book, “diving deeply into their story and their life and sharing it in a way that people can get an important take-away.”
Gotta read it? Becoming Amish is available at Horizon Books and Brilliant Books and on the author’s website.
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