This is something in between a book review and a reflection–a reflection prompted by a specific book. I read The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger, after seeing it reviewed on two different blogs I follow. It’s a very short graphic novel, almost a picture book for adults–but, despite outer appearance, not appropriate for children, mostly because of the ending. The story follows Liz, who becomes so obsessed with reading that it takes over her life. This begins when she encounters the Night Bookmobile, a traveling library that holds every book she has ever read, from childhood to the book she’s reading now. The Night Bookmobile only appears sporadically, and she’s consumed with the desire to find it again.
A few quick comments on my thoughts on the book: I hated the ending, which I probably should have expected since I hated the ending (really the second half) of Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife too. I couldn’t figure out the point–I think this was a warning about letting books consume your life, so I kept waiting for Liz to have a revelation…and instead it kind of worked out for her. In a twisted way. And despite her consuming obsession with the Night Bookmobile, I didn’t think she was really utilizing it to its potential; all she does when she finds it is vaguely wander the shelves and think how nice it is to see books she remembers reading. You can do that at a library or a bookstore; you don’t need a magical bookmobile.
So much for the review part. As to the reflection–I love the premise. Not anything about Liz, but the idea of a magical library, mobile or otherwise, that holds everything you ever read…I want one of those! But I wouldn’t waste time smiling at old editions of L. M. Montgomery books. I can walk over to my own bookcase right now and do that. I’d want to find the books I’ve forgotten about. Or not exactly the ones I’ve forgotten–the ones I just barely remember. The ones I read when I was six or nine or fourteen, and I remember a character or an incident or a little snatch of the plot, but not the title or the author or a character’s name. In other words, nothing that will help me find it now.
Once a teacher read us a book aloud–it was about kids who went through a tunnel and ended up in this valley where there were cave people and dinosaurs. They were hailed as gods and fought a T-Rex. My family went on vacation (it was a summer program) just as we were getting to the end of the book, and the class finished it while we were gone. So I never heard the ending, and I haven’t the faintest idea of the title. I’ve tried a bit of Google searching, but I’ve never been able to find it. I’d be searching the bookmobile for that one.
And I’d be in there with a pen and paper so I could write titles down. I started keeping a book journal my senior year of high school, and I wish I’d started a dozen or so years earlier. The bookmobile would help me fill in a lot of gaps.
The bookmobile also has a librarian. I’m not sure how I’d feel about that, about someone metaphorically peering over my shoulder to look at everything I read. I’m not reading anything particularly embarrassing, but I wonder if it would make me self-conscious? If I’d feel more of an impetus to read “impressive” things like Hardy and Dickens. In a way I suppose it’s not unlike a book review blog–but this blog doesn’t record everything I’m reading. I follow other bloggers who do review everything they read, so perhaps they’d know more what it would be like.
As to the theme of reading taking over your life, I’m sure it can happen, but I think it’s equally possible to be an enthusiastic reader without losing touch with the rest of the world. I think I resent a bit the implication that reading cuts you off from the world. I’ve bonded with and even met friends because of shared interest in books. And reading doesn’t have to stop you from living.
I always think of reading as a way to live a thousand lives instead of just one. Why stay only in this world when you can go to so many others? Maybe it’s particularly apt for me because I read so much fiction, and so much of it fantasy, or otherwise very different from the world around me. But having a rich inner book-life doesn’t mean I’m not living my outer life too.
So I didn’t particularly like The Night Bookmobile. But it did prompt a lot of thoughts about reading.