This is a great, spooky way to begin a month of books about libraries.
Originally serialized in The Guardian in 2008, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile was published in book form by Harry Abrams last month.
The book begins in the wee hours of the morning when the protagonist, Alexandra (get it?), discovers a bookmobile whose collection is peculiar: it contains every book that she has read. The protagonist gets lost in the reflection of herself in her books, and she becomes dangerously attracted to the escape offered not only by the collection but by the librarian’s profession of curating a collection for just one patron. Unable to find the bookmobile again, she goes on to become a librarian, but she spends her life yearning for a return to that perfect midnight collection.
Niffenegger’s illustrations play up the visual appeal of a bookshelf packed with well-loved books, but the story itself reveals the dark side to our attraction to books; bibliophilic narcissism leads to self-destruction.
What I loved most about this book was the idea that there is a librarian who knows our books as well as we do. The librarian of the night bookmobile is a version of a guardian angel–a supernatural guardian who is tied to an individual. I wanted to say a “transcendent judge” but he is not at all judgemental, which might also be why I liked the book so much. I’m tired of the disembodied judge of what I do, say and read. I much prefer this version: a kindly man who keeps track of and lovingly organizes what I read.
The book’s ending is dark, which is what makes it a spooky read for the Halloween season. As Niffenegger states in her afterword, the book is “a cautionary tale of the seductions of the written word.” It is also only the first installment of a larger work, The Library, so there is more to look forward to.