The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

The following is an email conversation between two CRRL library staff members, Craig and Mercy, about Audrey Niffenegger's graphic novel for adults, The Night Bookmobile. The Night Bookmobile "tells the story of a wistful woman who one night encounters a mysterious disappearing library on wheels that contains every book she has ever read. Seeing her history and most intimate self in this library, she embarks on a search for the bookmobile. But her search turns into an obsession, as she longs to be reunited with her own collection and memories." (Book summary)

-----Original Message-----
From: Mercedes Sais
Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2011 5:58 PM
To: Craig Graziano
Subject: Perusal

Hey Craig,
Would you peruse The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger and tell me what you think? I am not a connoisseur of graphic novels, but this one disturbed me in its view of the reading life.

I love her Time Traveler’s Wife and was intrigued by Her Fearful Symmetry but this one...

Mercy
 


-----Original Message-----
From: Craig Graziano
Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2011 6:01 PM
To: Mercedes Sais
Subject: RE: Perusal

Sure Mercy, I put it on hold and will tell you what I think of it.

Craig
 


 

-----Original Message-----
From: Mercedes Sais
Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 1:56 PM
To: Craig Graziano
Subject: RE: Perusal

Craig, let's do a duet blog with our email responses to The Night Bookmobile. What do you think?

The book says "dark" from the beginning with the title. Even the colors chosen are not primary colors often chosen for children's books so you know it's an adult novel. Plus no regular bookmobile comes late at night. Alexandra is a creature of the night.

Mercy
 


-----Original Message-----
From: Craig Graziano
Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 2:06 PM
To: Mercedes Sais
Subject: RE: Perusal

This sounds like a good idea. I have it checked out right now. I'll read it between now and next Monday. And then we can have a real dialogue about the content.

I think despite the color scheme, someone could easily mistake it for a picture book, especially since the color palette of children's books has greatly diversified in the last twenty years or so. Paranormal and fantasy books have stretched those boundaries. I'm just waiting for it to wind up on the children's graphic novel shelf here.
 


-----Original Message-----
From: Mercedes Sais
Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 2:43 PM
To: Craig Graziano
Subject: RE: Perusal

We have a plan.

Mercy
 



-----Original Message-----
From: Craig Graziano
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 9:11 AM
To: Mercedes Sais
Subject: RE: Perusal

Hi Mercy,

I read The Night Bookmobile over the weekend. I've formulated a few thoughts about it. It reminded me of Ray Bradbury's short stories, using supernatural elements the dig deep at a universal theme of life and the purpose of certain activities (of course, reading was the main example here) during our lives.

I can see how Niffenegger's story would be troubling, since it questions such an integral part of many people's lives. When we are reading, are we really living, or is life passing us by? Are our identities simply based on a collection of these fragmented stories that we have accumulated and exposed ourselves to throughout our time on earth? Niffenegger seems to argue that this is an extremely fabricated and lackluster way to exist.

But maybe it's just that our protagonist's priorities are skewed. Writer David Foster Wallace once warned not to get too obsessed with one particular field of work, or one monumental goal, because you will never live up to your standards. I think reading goals are sometimes the trickiest of spots when it comes to this advice. There's always more to read...

Craig
 


-----Original Message-----
From: Mercedes Sais
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 11:07 AM
To: Craig Graziano
Subject: RE: Perusal


Hey Craig,

Audrey Niffenegger as the "Illustrated Woman?" Niffenegger's images are powerful in this graphic novel. The drawing of a library empty of people and full of only the books she has read is the sum of Alexandra's life.

Books are powerful things so what is the role of a Librarian as their keepers? This book seems to be a cautionary tale. Alexandra is using books as an escape from reality, permanently in her case. She only connects to them, not to people.

I want to chat about character development and structure. The book seems to be divided into two parts. Is there any foreshadowing? Bookmobile Librarian Openshaw does try to warn her about her fate, but he seems detached. The picture of her in the tub could be a hint of what is to come.

Alexandra will be "assigned" a reader to guide as she joins the bookmobile staff, but did her mentor help her with good decisions or even a good choice of reading material? I kept thinking about her name and the destruction of the library in Alexandria, Egypt.

This is the first of series called The Library. I'm hooked.

Mercy Sais
 


-----Original Message-----
From: Craig Graziano
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:28 PM
To: Mercedes Sais
Subject: RE: Perusal

Hi Mercy,

I agree that reading is better used as a way to share ideas and connect with other people. All Alexandra did with her books was retreat into solitude.

This book's strengths are not in its character development or its structure. Alexandra's life passes by in the turn of a couple pages and she remains such a slave to her pursuit to see the Bookmobile again.

I'd also go as far to say that the artwork is not a strong point of the book, though I think it matches both the tone and story. Call me mean, but if I was illustrated like Alexandra was, I'd spend all my time reading other people's books too. I did like the use of cursive writing for the dialogue between characters.

Openshaw is certainly detached, though perhaps not by choice. He seems unable to specifically tell Alexandra why she cannot work on the Night Bookmobile. To me, the number one factor the book has going for it is its ability to establish a tone, a unified feeling. Whether one is a fan of the feeling of impending doom....well, that's another matter. It's not for everyone.

The Night Bookmobile raises some interesting and troubling questions in a fairly short story. If Niffenegger's later installments in this series are as provocative as they are economical, count me in.



-----Original Message-----
From: Mercedes Sais
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:53 PM
To: Craig Graziano
Subject: RE: Perusal

Craig,
As I typed about being "hooked" on this story, I thought about her message of not to be obsessed with other people's stories but to make my own. I can see, though, why Alexandra is tempted to have a monument--a library--dedicated to herself--all the written ephemera plus the memories to go with them --greater people have been tempted by this. Just think of all the Presidential Libraries.

I too think the tone in this story is important. Publisher's Weekly called it "wistful." I agree it has a dreamlike--or nightmarish--quality. Niffenegger's use of language is also masterful: "In the same way that perfume captures the essence of a flower, these shelves of books were a distillation of my life." Her story packs an emotional response, whether you agree with her ideas or not.

So, do we agree that this graphic novel has some flaws, but is worth recommending?



-----Original Message-----
From: Craig Graziano
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 1:51 PM
To: Mercedes Sais
Subject: RE: Perusal

Yes we do!