What if there were a place that housed all the books you’ve ever read, from the picture books of your preschool years to the pile on your nightstand right now? What if that place were a mysterious bookmobile with rock music blaring loudly from its speakers and an enigmatic driver who knows more about you than you know yourself? What if that bookmobile only came around at night, and only every few years when you least expect it?
The narrator of this intriguing graphic novel, Alexandra, becomes obsessed with tracking down the bookmobile. She longs for it in a way she can’t understand. She loses her boyfriend to this obsession. She changes careers (becoming a librarian, of course). And she continues to read at every opportunity. The bookmobile’s collection responds accordingly, so that by the time she reaches middle age, the shelves are cramped full.
Alexandra’s dramatic decision at the end is unsettling, but not surprising. She is now in a position to help other book lovers recapture those golden moments from their own reading memories.
The book was published in 2010, after being serialized in the London newspaper, The Guardian. It’s one of several “visual books” Niffenegger has produced. She is most famous for the novels “The Time Traveler’s Life” and “Her Fearful Symmetry,” but clearly art is a passion. Among the courses she teaches at Columbia College in Chicago is a writing course that explores “text-image relationships.”
“The Night Bookmobile” takes only ten minutes to read, but it manages to pack a punch. Niffenegger made me think about how books have influenced me throughout my life. Like looking at old photos or finding a long-lost item, paging through books I’ve already read enables me to re-discover what I loved about them. Reading them again also provides insight into the person I was when I first read them, as though I were stealing a glimpse of myself through a window.
As Alexandra puts it, “In the same way that perfume captures the essence of a flower, these shelves of books were a distillation of my life.
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