A sequel of sorts to Ervin Beck's MennoFolk, this book, appearing one year later, offers a collection of selected essays written by Beck's folklore students at Goshen College. As editor, Beck helps bring unity and focus to these materials through his explanatory Preface, an analytic head note to each selection, and the book's closing essay. But readers of Beck's original volume should not expect to find that same achievement recreated in this sequel. And yet while this volume lacks the depth and consistency of analysis evident in the previous book, the personal curiosity, varied interests, and good humor expressed by these undergraduate voices lends the collection a genuine charm. If the character of these essays is representative of the folklore courses taught by Beck from 1976 to 1995, those must have been lively, engaging gatherings.
Following a brief Foreword by Catherine Hiebert Kerst (of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress) and Beck's Preface, the book offers 17 selections, most of them grounded in each author's personal family history. Variety abounds, with essay topics including nicknames, horse-trading tales, Low German insults, auctioneering traditions, courtship stories, summer camp skits, and college pranks. Most memorable in this homespun crazy quilt of material is what Hiebert Kerst calls the "texture" of this folk cultural life, as opposed to its "religious and social history." Her remark astutely highlights the strength of this book—the particularity of its details, the curious collection of folkloric bits and pieces that these students have gathered through their field research among personal and family histories.
Most of the 17 selections do offer interpretive analysis, usually appended to each essay as a concluding commentary. Too often this commentary offers a standard, unexplored theme—that the family lore described functions to promote unity within the family or a common identity across the generations. When asserted, this claim always seems true, but some readers might wish for less obvious conclusions, for analysis that digs deeper into the cultural significance of the folkloric practices described. Individual authors who do offer such analysis, such as when Peter Blum explores the "boundary-transcendence" evident in Mennonite foot-washing accounts, further enrich this compilation.
"The Joy of Family Folklore" could serve as an apt subtitle for this book. Whether relishing the taste of a good Low German insult, the color of a vivid homesteading story, or the musical cadence of three generations' of auctioneers, these writers share their folklore with good-hearted gusto.