The Night Bookmobile
by Audrey Niffeneger (Abrams ComicArts, 2010)

Alexandra is a young woman obsessed with reading. She is a bit of a loner, as most true readers are. While out walking late one night after a fight with her boyfriend, she runs across an old Airstream camper that operates as the Night Bookmobile ... sort of. It's run from dusk to dawn by a man named Mr. Openshaw, who invites her inside, where she quickly realizes that all of the items on the shelf are composed of her personal reading scorecard, from the first book she ever read by herself in childhood to the bookmarked novel she's reading that very moment. Everything she's ever read is there. Books. Cereal boxes. Magazines. Even her diary.

Looking for the bookmobile on subsequent nights proves unfruitful, as it has a habit of turning up rather sporadically, sometimes not for years at a time. Busy pursuing her dream of becoming a librarian, Alexandra hopes to work with Mr. Openshaw, but is told there are no openings. She nevertheless yearns to be in the mysterious little place.

She also wants to impress Mr. Openshaw with her choice of material. She gorges on books, obsessed with reading and nothing else. In the process she becomes more and more cut off from life, which is not necessarily a good thing.

The Night Bookmobile had the potential to truly explore some fairly deep psychological terrain, yet it sadly does not. It merely marks a few events in Alexandra's life before coming to an abrupt and rather confusing conclusion.

It is clearly a cautionary tale. There's a bittersweet aspect to it that might offend some bibliophiles. There is such a thing as being too attached to books, to the extent that you end up losing yourself, in more ways than one. You can even end up missing out on life itself, which is the part of the book that might be hardest to bear. It feels as though Niffeneger is trying to impart a moral lesson and may have gone a bit overboard. I wish The Night Bookmobile had explored introspection as an interesting lifestyle choice, or gone further down the gothic road it seemed to start on, instead of turning into what felt like a melodramatic tragedy.

review by
Mary Harvey

22 December 2012

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