How many pack horse librarian books is too many?

Image from Wednesday’s Women website

Oh, dear.

A whiff of scandal has just come to my attention, and it involves one of my go-to authors.

It seems that the new novel by Jojo Moyes, The Giver of Stars, may have just a wee bit too much in common with a book published earlier this year, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Robinson.

A friend just sent me this link from Buzzfeed about the “alarming similarities” between the two books. And while I haven’t read The Giver of Stars yet (my hold request just came in at the library), hearing this makes me pause a bit.

I read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek when it came out, and loved it. (My review is here). It’s a personal, intimate look at the life of a pack horse librarian in Kentucky during the Depression.

 

In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.

Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a powerful message about how the written word affects people–a story of hope and heartbreak, raw courage and strength splintered with poverty and oppression, and one woman’s chances beyond the darkly hollows. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Pack horse Librarians in literary novels — a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.

And guess what? Jojo Moyes’s new book is ALSO about a pack horse librarian in Kentucky during the Depression.

 

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them—and to the men they love—becomes a classic drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. Though they face all kinds of dangers, they’re committed to their job—bringing books to people who have never had any, sharing the gift of learning that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope. At times funny, at others heartbreaking, this is a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.

And sure, two authors could work on two completely separate novels at the same time and have them be about the same subject, time period, historical area of interest, etc. But the BuzzFeed piece makes it sounds like the similarities go beyond general subject matter.

I was all queued up to read the new Jojo Moyes book, because hey, I read ALL her new books. But I must admit, I knew nothing about the actual plot before reading this article today, other than that it was set in the US and was historical fiction. Now I’m not so sure that I want to read it. Even if the similarities are completely innocent, I feel like I already read one excellent book about a pack horse librarian — I’m not feeling like I need another right now!

What do you think? Are you familiar with either book? Have you read either one… and if you’re planning to, does this information change your feelings at all?

I haven’t decided yet what to do about the book sitting at the library waiting for me… I’ll probably still pick up my hold copy of The Giver of Stars and at least start it, but between the hints of something being off here and the fact that this might be repetitive storytelling for me, I’m not sure that my heart is in it any more.

Would love to hear other readers’ thoughts on this!

Note: The photo above, as well as lots of terrific information on the Pack Horse Librarian project, can be found on the Wednesday’s Women website at https://wednesdayswomen.com/good-reads-in-wild-places-the-wpas-pack-horse-librarians/ 

26 thoughts on “How many pack horse librarian books is too many?

  1. Exactly how I feel! Jojo gets the movie deal, too. I love most of her books & I am curious as to how a Brit will do the hollers of Kentucky, esp dialogue. I’m also tired if 2 books on the same topic magically appearing at once. Usually it is biographies. That article troubled me though about these two.

    • According to the article, Jojo wasn’t familiar with the earlier book… but some of the similarities called out seem a bit too alike to be purely coincidental. I guess I’ll end up having to read the Moyes book so I can judge for myself!

  2. It’s probably just coincidence. Writers write about the same subjects all the time, and there would have to be very specific similarities for someone to make an accusation. I’d love it if you read the Jojo Moyes book and shared with us what you think!

    • Well, I’m sure I’ll end up reading it, especially since I have a hold copy sitting on the library shelf right this moment. 🙂 On the surface of it, based on the Buzzfeed piece, it does sound like more than coincidence, but I suppose I should read it and judge for myself.

  3. I heard about this controversy a few weeks ago and honestly, not sure how I feel about it.i know I told you already that I loved Troublesome Creek so I just don’t know which way to go. Ultimately I think the only way we will have an inkling ourselves is if we read both books and decide for ourselves where we stand.

    • Yeah, I think we probably need to read the Jojo Moyes book too and then compare notes. 🙂 Book Woman was so good! It makes me sad to feel like it won’t get the attention it deserves.

  4. According to Goodreads, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek came out May 7, 2019, while The Giver of Stars came October 8, 2019. If Moyes was somehow copying Richardson, she would have had to have read the book, come up with her own story, written as many drafts as Moyes usually writes, sent it to the editor, finished the rewrites, sent it back to the editor for line editing or whatever else a book goes through before publication– all in a matter of five months. It seems more like coincidence to me. It can happen.

    In one of her books, Big Magic, I think, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about how she had come up with a story about a family on a plantation farm in Brazil. She ended up giving up on that particular novel, only to meet up with Anne Patchett later on and discover that Patchett was working on a story about a family on a plantation farm in Brazil, with a plot very similar to what Gilbert had been working on.

    • Except… the Buzzfeed piece points out that ARCs of Book Woman were made available in fall of 2018, which gives a lot more lead time. I don’t know — I love Moyes’s books, but this piece and the similarities pointed out make me uncomfortable, to say the least.

  5. I haven’t heard of either of these but The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek sounds so good! I’m adding that to my TBR immediately.

    Honestly, I imagine it is a coincidence – sometimes similar books do end up coming out at around the same time even though they’ve been written in complete isolation – but I do agree with you about not wanting to read books that are very similar to each other within the same year. I haven’t read any Moyes and I probably never will, her books don’t really appeal to me, but I’m glad this post has brought Kim Michele Richardson’s book to my attention. 😀

    I do hope Richardson hasn’t done something similar to what Tomi Adeyemi did last year when she accused Nora Roberts of plagiarism. I can imagine it would be incredibly frustrating to find out that an author with an already established fanbase brought out a book similar to your own within months of your own book being published, but Moyes would have had to work incredibly fast to make plot changes after reading Richardson’s book. I work in publishing and, while I could be wrong because I work in non-fiction rather than fiction publishing, I don’t think Moyes and her editor could write in plot changes that late into the publishing process – not to mention the designers who would have to account for any extra words when they’re setting out the pages. I could be wrong, though, in which case Richardson has every right to be mad about it!

    • It’s so hard to know, and if it were just a similar topic, I’d chalk it up to coincidence — but some of the plot details pointed out in the Buzzfeed piece seem really on the nose. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is an amazing book. I hope you enjoy it!

  6. Do you remember when Hunger Games came out and everyone was freaking out because it was a total rip off of Battle Royal? But then people actually read it and it wasn’t that similar? Yes, they are both about kids fighting to the death, but they are still super unique. Just because you start with the same mannequin doesn’t mean your dresses are going to end up the same. I don’t know anything about the two books you are talking about, but idk how reliable of a source Buzzfeed is. There is a really good chance they are just trying to kick up a storm. I wouldn’t let their article dissuade you from reading it, but if you are really concerned about it being a rip off then I would look for other sources!

    • Really good points! The only source I could find so far is Buzzfeed — it would be more meaningful if I could find other references. I do think I’ll read the Moyes book sooner or later, but I just worry that her book will completely overshadow the other, which deserves so much more attention than it’s gotten so far.

  7. Pingback: My write-in nominations for the 2019 #GoodreadsChoice Awards! – Jessticulates

  8. NPR’s Morning Edition had an interesting piece about the “Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky” around a year before either of these books came out, and I think that broadcast was based on some prior article or documentary on the topic. The NPR piece covered a lot of the same ground as these two books. So, it’s entirely possible that the authors happened upon – if not that exact NPR broadcast, at least some of the same source material… It’s not a totally unknown topic, and it’s certainly interesting and evocative enough that it’s very likely that it could inspire one or more creative authors who happened to learn about it. Here’s a link to the article about the NPR piece, which also has some cool photos of real life pack librarians… http://www.kitchensisters.org/2018/09/13/the-pack-horse-librarians-of-eastern-kentucky-on-nprs-morning-edition/

  9. When dealing with a popular idea and the ease, through the Internet, with which ideas spread, it’s entirely possible to have two authors with similar stories. It’s a pity, because one invariably will be better, and it isn’t necessarily the first one published (I’m on a waiting list for the Moyes book – I haven’t read either.

    I’m having my own struggle with this—I started a book, did significant research and writing for it about 20 years ago, then put it aside to raise my daughter and work one or two jobs. Then last year I got s call from a well-known author, who was writing “my book” and wanted to use me as a source since some of it I gave to an archive. He was very nice, we are still in touch, but I keep hoping he won’t use too much of what I collected, because ultimately I want to finish my own.

  10. I actually read Moyes’ book before reading “Book Woman” having purchased it pre-publication sometime last summer. I recently read “Book Woman” and the only place where I found real similarities, other than the similarities books on the same topic have, was in the supervisor of the Pack Horse Librarians named Eula Foster in “Book Woman.” She is an almost identical character to the one in “Giver of Stars.” I credited this to each writer basing research on the real Pack Horse Librarians. I thought the topics were more realistic in “Book Woman,” especially the very real racism that Bluet faces. The blue people of Kentucky faced serious racism and were considered “colored” in the same vein as black/brown peoples do because of a genetic disease. Richardson creates a book that reveals color truly is only skin deep.

    I am in the middle of getting a PhD and while researching books of criticism about my author’s work, I came across a book that was a version of my dissertation published about 1.5 years ago. I wrote my master’s thesis on the same topic in 2017 and carried it over to the PhD. Naturally, I freaked out, but when I stopped to consider the possibilities, I saw that if I could gather this idea in the author’s texts and was doing research for others who also made the connections, then I should not be surprised to find someone had written and published a book on the topic.

    This brings me to the question then of why does more than one author write on identical topics at the same time. I’m not sure of the answer, but the internet may be partially responsible. We are part of a culture, and cultures bring to the forefront certain ideas. It may be that in doing research on a different idea, we read something that sticks in our subconscious and leads us later to desire to do research that will develop the idea that has been bouncing around in our subconscious. I’m an academic writer and literary scholar, so take the idea of plagiarism very seriously. I don’t believe that either of these books were plagiarized. They are simply about the same topic. The protagonists are completely different. We must always remember that “books come from books.” If you spend as much time as I do looking at and studying the canon, you will begin to see the influences writers have on each other.

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