Friday, March 11, 2011

The Night Bookmobile

The Night Bookmobile. Audrey Niffenegger. 2010. Harry N. Abrams. 40 pages. 

The first time I saw the Night Bookmobile, I was walking down Ravenswood Avenue at four o'clock in the morning. It was late in the summer, at that quiet time of morning when the cicadas have given up but the birds haven't started in yet. I'd been walking for about an hour. 

Alexandra, our heroine, discovers the Night Bookmobile after a big fight with her boyfriend, Richard. This will change her life forever--for better or worse. For she meets her personal librarian, Mr. Openshaw, and sees just a glimpse of the magic behind the Night Bookmobile. It is her collection of books--every book she's ever read, every book she's ever started--though the print on the page stops where she did--every letter, every note, every cereal box. Some books are her own, others are from different libraries she's visited--all housed within "an enormous, battered Winnebago." It's almost too wonderful to be true. But since the hours of the bookmobile are from dusk to dawn, Alexandra's forced back into the real world--forever changed.

Have you ever found your heart's desire and then lost it? I had seen myself, a portrait of myself as a reader. My childhood: hours spent in airless classrooms, days home sick from school reading Nancy Drew, forbidden books read secretively late at night. Teenage years reading--trying to read--books I'd heard were important, Naked Lunch and The Fountainhead, Ulysses and Women in Love...It was as though I had dreamt the perfect lover, who vanished as I woke, leaving me pining and surly. 
In the same way that perfume captures the essence of a flower, these shelves of books were a distillation of my life. Here was A Distant Mirror, by Barbara Tuchman, which I remembered reading in a coffee shop while waiting for a blind date who never showed up. Here was my paperback copy of Anna Karenina, fattened by repeated reading. I picked up Gravity's Rainbow. As I fanned through the book I saw that the text stopped at page fifty-seven; the remaining pages were blank. I had never finished reading it. A popsicle stick served to mark the place I had not come back to. 

She becomes obsessed with finding the Night Bookmobile again, becomes obsessed with reading, never forgetting for a moment that everything she reads is being added to her collection. She imagines what her librarian might be thinking, imagines him taking an interest in her life. She doesn't find the Night Bookmobile often, but she does find it a few times. Just enough to keep her hooked, keep her obsessed. Just enough to influence her--sometimes in VERY UNHEALTHY ways.

This graphic novel is strange. (Twilight Zone creepy.) It definitely has its dark moments! I mean you might think it would be sweet and lovely and charming, but, that's not the direction this one heads. Did I like it? I'm not sure I did. There was something about it that was very disturbing. I did like a few things about it though. And I do think others might like it more than I did.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Kim said...

I came across it in a bookshop today - couldn't put it down, and read it all while I was there.
I loved the fact that it takes you into a completely different way of thinking - a bit like a meditative state....