Finding solace in travel books and novels

  • "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek" is a historical novel about women in Kentucky who rode on horseback from homestead to homestead during the Depression to distribute books to isolated hill people.

    "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek" is a historical novel about women in Kentucky who rode on horseback from homestead to homestead during the Depression to distribute books to isolated hill people.

Posted6/6/2020 6:00 AM

One day, while emailing with my dear friend Diane who lives in New York, she mentioned finding solace in books.

Solace is such a good word to use in this column because one of the meanings is actually "consolation in grief."


I have two friends named Diane. I've known this Diane for 50 years. My friend is not bereaved, but solace also means comfort, and we all need that, especially in these times of pandemic.

I also came across the idea in a book I read recently, "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek" by Kim Michele Richardson. It's about the "blue people" of the Kentucky hills and the Books on Horseback Program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930s Depression.

Women who could read (which were few) were hired by the program to ride on horseback from homestead to homestead in the poverty-stricken mountains to loan and distribute books to isolated hill people. In this historical novel, the main character, one of these book women, grew up isolated, in abject poverty. Reading was her solace. It was the same for one of the young women on her route, who would wait, full of anticipation, for the next arrival of the book woman and the getting of a new book to read.

Diane shared comments with me on two books she's read recently -- ones she found inspiring and uplifting.

The first was "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating" by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. When Diane first picked it up, her initial reaction was "Oh no!" because it's about a young woman who was paralyzed by a virus. Yet she found it "very fulfilling" because "it shows how the gift of a simple snail takes her out of herself." She said it was comforting and inspiring -- and she learned a lot about snails!

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Then she read Michael Cunningham's book "The Hours" (a Pulitzer Prize winner), which weaves together the stories of three women. Diane found solace in this book because of "the sheer beauty of the writing and the reflections on life and death. It takes you out of yourself."

In my case, I have many travel books of places where my dear husband, Baheej, and I went together over many years of work, research and vacations. Of course, they are full of beautiful pictures. Each book conjures wonderful, vivid and happy memories for me. There is a lot of solace in that.

So one of my current "at home" projects is to systematically look at and read through each one and enjoy reliving those experiences, places and feelings. We always kept them handy because they are not just souvenirs, but records of our constant travel and time together.

Solace can be easily accessible, waiting on our home bookshelves.

The point is: For many different reasons, reading interesting stories -- whether fiction, history, a memoir or biography -- can bring a lot of comfort and inspiration to a person. I've personally found reading is especially helpful in grief, or when isolated, or both.

I've found this very much so during these last strange "stay-at-home" months. Now I have two more new (to me) books to read! And lots of travel books to reread and enjoy.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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