A Peculiar Nighttime Odyssey for Bibliophiles: The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

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I discovered this graphic novel by accident in the library. I knew that its strange and atypical vibe is just right for our Oddballs and Misfits: The Surreal and the Peculiar bimonthly theme until end of April. This would have been perfect as well for our Books about Books and our Dusty Bookshelves and Library Loot themes.

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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.

The Books that make up One’s Life. Alexandra was walking down a nearly deserted Avenue at four o’clock in the morning. She just had a fight with her boyfriend, Richard, at three in the morning and she needed to breathe. She chanced upon a slightly-run-down Winnebago thumping out Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff. She found herself walking towards the vehicle which turned out to be a quaint and queer library of sorts – open only from dusk to dawn – and to be discovered during moments when you’re not looking for it. The Librarian is a strange looking emaciated peculiar fellow named Robert Openshaw who invited Alexandra in to check out the collection.

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It turns out that the entire collection is Alexandra’s own – it consists of all the books that she has read. According to the librarian it also contains “all the periodicals and ephemera – cereal boxes and such” – absolutely all the printed material ever read by Alexandra in her lifetime. It even has her lost diary from her childhood – and all the bright dreams and the promise of a life to come. This surreal experience changed Alexandra. It awakened a stirring in her soul. Of course it did not help that no one believed her, not even her boyfriend who eventually left her. He was actually just an afterthought in the entire narrative. This is a love story of sorts – but not between breathing human beings.

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A Turning Inwards -Burrowing One’s Life through Books. If there was one thing Alexandra realized from her chance encounter with the night bookmobile, it was the forgotten knowledge that she was a reader.

I began reading all the time. On the El, on my lunch hour, during every meal, I read. I looked forward to finding each book again someday on the shelves of the Bookmobile. I wondered if Mr. Openshaw was impressed with my choices, and my dedication. Like a pregnant woman eating for two, I read for myself and the librarian.

Alexandra attended library school – her entire life wrapped around her love for words and the smell of books and its crumbly paper-thinness. She did find the Night Bookmobile two more times – both random chance encounters – and on both occasions Mr. Openshaw turned down her offer to work for this strange and surreal library.

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The ending is disturbing – some might even call it harrowing. I prefer to regard it as a further burrowing through books – digging so deep into one’s self and a make-believe parallel reality which Alexandra found to be significantly better than the one she is in. I see this as a cautionary tale for those who constantly imagine and envision a reality that exists only in forgotten pages and lost words – rendered virtually meaningless in the end by the constant waiting and perhaps a painful or humdrum or equally meaningless now. It is indeed a strange little tale that made me feel extremely sad. And made me think about my own Night Bookmobile – and ultimately how it would look when I see it. I wonder what music would be blaring out of the stereo speakers. If you’ve read the book, I’d be glad to know what you thought of it.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger. Abrams, New York, 2010. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos taken by me.

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Read-a-Latte Challenge: 70 of 150

  1. […] mobile art library reminded me just a tad of Audrey Niffeneger’s graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile. Quite the strange tale, that […]

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