Books will save you

“After a few moments, I set aside the quilt and picked up the poetry book Miss Foster had given me, losing myself in the pages. Books’ll save you, my troubled heart knew.”
I recently reread a favorite book so that I could reconnect with the characters before I read the sequel to it. I had read “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” a few years ago and had forgotten how much I adored this book until I picked it up again.
Cussy Mary is the last of her kind that lives in the hills of Kentucky; one of the blue-skinned people known simply as a blue. She also happens to be a pack horse librarian, delivering books to the people who live in the hills and hollers of Appalachia. Both of these things present her with a series of challenges: rough terrain, rougher people who are against her kind, trying to sneak books to those who want them within a family when others may not allow such things. The characters are well-formed. The history is researched and lived, as the author, Kim Michele Richardson, grew up in Kentucky. It is a heart-wrenching story of how lovely and cruel humans can be to one another over such simple things. Cussy’s passion for delivering books to everyone and anyone to show them how opening up the pages of a book can open up their minds and their world definitely resonates with me. Reading a book about the pack horse librarians was fascinating; I had heard of them but never fully understood their dedication or the roadblocks that met them.
Richardson’s sequel, “The Book Woman’s Daughter,” is equally as informative and wonderful to read. It follows Cussy’s daughter, Honey, as she learns how to not just survive but thrive in a world built by men for men. The years have passed and the pack horse project has been revived after years of inaction. Honey delivers books with the same zest her mother did along the Troublesome Creek in Kentucky. Without giving away too much from the plots of either book, Honey is a blue as well, and even though years have passed, some still harbor the same ignorance toward her kind. Honey befriends a coal miner, frontier nurse and fire watcher – all strong women who keep encouraging her toward her goal of emancipation. Once again, the author did a fantastic job of creating incredible characters.
The quote I began the column with is from this book. After I read that passage, I had to write it down, because it meant so much to me. Reading is my go-to after a long and stressful day, and many times this summer, I turned to old favorites because I knew that despite my current situation, I could lose myself completely in a good book. It always worked. I would forget everything and be drawn into the pages and the lives of the characters in them.
Upon re-reading “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek,” I was inspired to return to doing things I love with books – teaching story time at the library, planning events that revolve around reading and talking about books wherever I go. Cussy Mary helped so many in those hills learn to love books, to use books to take them away from the starvation and sadness in their little worlds, and dream of things beyond Appalachia.
Talking about books and helping others – young or old – to see the wonder they can bring, fills me with pure joy. I sent some hunting books to my little cousins to get them geared up for the season ahead. If you have hunters in your family, I highly recommend checking out the books by Lane Walker or Kevin Lovegreen. They are a great gift for a child who may be hesitant about reading but skilled with a firearm.
I got back into doing Stories for Sprouts at our public library; I love the chaos of a room filled with little ones trying to sit on carpet squares and listen. I pop into Henry and Cora’s classrooms when it works and read them a book; kids are always excited to have a guest reader. I no longer care if my voices sound ridiculous when I read aloud for them. I am as animated and goofy as possible. I managed to volunteer myself to help coach the Battle of the Books team from the middle school, which means reading 20 young adult books along with the kids to prepare for competition. I heard from my cousins that their boys wanted to ask, “What was that title again?” after we had talked about books; it made my book-loving heart so very happy. I feel alive when I’m talking about books. Feeling energized and alive is an incredible thing. The books are saving me in some ways once again.
I leave you with one last quote from “The Book Woman’s Daughter.” It comes as a note from a fellow pack horse librarian to Honey.
“Honey, faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. As long as you have the books, you’ll always have that light,” Oren Taft.
Start reading. Keep reading. Share the love of reading as the holidays approach. Books. What a light to shine on the world.  
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.


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