I also bought Out of this World at the first annual Clinton Book Festival on August 29, 2015 while I was there promoting my book, Taming the Twisted. I’ve met Mary Swander before, enjoyed her poetry, and like books telling the history of where I live in Iowa.
Out of This World is a memoir broken into four parts about Mary Swander’s adult life living in the middle of an Amish community in east central Iowa. Living in an Amish community, however, is just one of the “out of this world” themes in the book. It’s also about learning to live in her own body, which doesn’t tolerate food and chemicals the same as most other people in the world, sort of like her body rejecting our modern way of life. Mary had the unique opportunity of finding the detailed story of the previous owner of one of the homes in which she lived, thereby living essentially in someone else’s world. She also lived in a converted schoolhouse, also unusual. Though lots of people live in pastoral settings, including Iowa, in a sense, that’s also a way of living “out of this world.”
The picture Mary creates of the Amish part of Iowa was interesting; though I live near there, I’ve never had the chance to be immersed in the community as she has. For the setting, Mary also creates a beautiful and accurate picture of Iowa. I’m here and am familiar with the landscape, but if I wasn’t, I think I’d know what it looks, sounds, smells, and feels like. She also weaves in interesting bits of history, facts, and philosophy. Reading Out of This World made me wonder about my own attraction to solitude and about how a lot of people say they would or want to choose clean, simple living and eating, but we don’t. In Mary’s case, she was essentially forced to live clean if she wanted to live at all.
Out of This World interestingly portrays one person’s experience in one setting during a particular time in her life, which is I suppose what makes it a memoir. If you’ve never been to Iowa and want one perspective about how it is to live here (contrary to some beliefs, we are NOT all the same, just as nobody nowhere is the same), you’ll enjoy Mary Swander’s book. It did take me a bit of time to read it with the holidays and other commitments, so, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a six and a half.
Source: Swander, Mary. (1995). Out of This World. Penguin Books.