“The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson

In the quiet, rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky sits Troublesome Creek. Life is simple, yet not easy, for those who choose to make their home there. Men work as coal miners, children are hungry, and anyone who is not white is treated as inferior.

Set in these hills, “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” tells the story of Cussy Mary – also known as Book Woman – and the challenges she and her father face as “blues,” referring to the color of their skin. The author bases Cussy Mary and her father’s skin color on the real medical condition methemoglobinemia. In the story, Cussy Mary and her father face maddening racism, especially by those in power. According to the author’s note, this is based on real events during the early 1800s, a shameful mark on Kentucky’s history.

The exploration of racism in this story is nothing we haven’t read before. However, as the book racks up awards and gains the attention of book groups, it opens the door for more much-needed discussion on this topic.

The characters in Troublesome Creek stand tall and proud amid their simple, often penniless lives. The patrons who Cussy Mary delivers books to are likeable people who you could share stories with over afternoon tea. Like any good southern feel-good story, there is a handsome gentleman who turns the heads of the womenfolk.

But really, it is the librarian, Cussy Mary, who wins our hearts. Her work as a pack horse librarian brings joy and hope to her patrons. For every book lover who reads this story, Cussy Mary reminds us of the wonder and fulfillment we can find in receiving just the right book, especially if given by a compassionate and kind soul, such as Book Woman.

This book has become wildly popular since it was published in 2019. It came recommended to me by two different librarians in New Hampshire – Karen Dixon of Hopkinton Town Library and Sue LeClair of Elkins Public Library in Canterbury. There are plenty of things to appreciate about this book, not the least of which being the Book Woman protagonist. Librarians are a wonder to many. “What do they do all day?” and “What’s it like being surrounded by books at work?” This book does a fine job of exploring the life of a librarian. Yes, we love our patrons; yes, our work opens us up to new places and new people; and yes, we would travel mountain ranges to get just the right book to our patrons.

As a side note, my parents had the same style candleholder as described in the book. I remember when they bought it, the shopkeeper explained that the candleholders once functioned as a way for parents to dictate how long a suitor would be allowed to stay – turn the wooden bottom up if you liked the young man; turn it down to make the candle shorter if you’d prefer he left sooner. Fortunately, my parents never used the candleholder for this purpose.

Join the discussion! The Minot-Sleeper Library Third Monday Book Group will discuss “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” on Monday, April 19 at 10am on Zoom. All are invited to participate. Copies of the book are available to be borrowed from the library. Email me at librarian@townofbristolnh.org for the Zoom link.

Want more?

“Finding the famous painting of the Blue People of Kentucky” article

Author Kim Michele Richardson’s website

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