Return of the Book Bus: “The Night Bookmobile” by Audrey Niffenegger

Basically, I can’t remember the last time a book fucked me up as much as The Night Bookmobile by the time I finished reading it. (Abrams ComicArts, 2010). I was a casual tourist along for the ride when I began reading this seemingly innocent fable. By page three, I was spinning off with my own early childhood memories of visiting the “book bus,” which serviced our neighbourhood in Vancouver prior to the local library branch being built. I remember picking out Dr. Suess books and having my Dad read them to me—probably some of my earliest book-related memories. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, and the connection made me hungry to continue reading.

The Night Bookmobile opens with bone-white narration on a jet-black page, shifting on the next page to black text transposed over the pastel hues used throughout Niffenegger’s story. Dialogue, on the other hand, is rendered using an unsteady cursive hand, a stark contrast to the crisp serifs used for narration. Text serves as a counterpoint to the lush illustrations of The Night Bookmobile, strategically placed in various font sizes throughout the book.

At first I thought that I would buy this book for my Dad for Father’s Day, since thousands of books line the walls of his house, and I thought he’d appreciate the central theme of a life lived navigating the world of the printed word. But I changed my mind by the end. The turn of events in the last pages of The Night Bookmobile makes for sober reading.

The author’s “After Words” provide insight into the book’s grand finale, though this is little consolation. At least we learn that this work is the product of someone who, in her teens, often died in her dreams. One of these dreams had Niffenegger entering a pantry door in her grandmother’s house, only to find on the other side a huge library, which upon waking up was recognized as being “a form of heaven.” The Night Bookmobile explores the psyche of a compulsive book reader, and crafts a metaphor that explores the logical extreme of this behaviour. Why do you read books? What would you give to be in their presence for eternity?

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