420 Followers
371 Following
Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

The Night Bookmobile - Audrey Niffenegger I really don't know how to classify this book. It's like literary fiction...with pictures! The images aren't robust and integral enough to make it a full throated graphic novel - nor is it long enough - so graphic short story? The story itself is too light to be a short story with any depth, just to mix my metaphors of measurement. And it's not in comic format, more the shape, size and texture of a children's book, which lead to some awkwardness when I was bitching about this book to my husband, couldn't find it, and then my 8-year old piped up that he had it in his room. "Oh, crap, did you read it?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"What did you think?"

"Eh. It was medium."

A woman goes walking after a fight with her boyfriend, and finds a magical night library. It turns out the library houses all the books, periodicals, and ephemera that the woman has ever read. The books she never finished are there, like a copy of Gravity's Rainbow that stops on the page she did, a popsicle for a bookmark.

Just yesterday I took down a book I'd read before, and found a bunch of receipts and shit in the pages, stuff I'd been using as a bookmark. Despite the fact that folk who know of my reading proclivities have given me thousands of bookmarks that are beautiful and wondrous, I persist in using torn-out garbage as bookmarks. Torn-out garbage is what's handy most of the time, and I top-shelf the beautiful stuff in a way that may not be wise.

Anyway, this is a wonderful idea, a book-hoard of everything a person has ever read. Think of it: all the family bibles, the stuff read in waiting rooms, the soul-changers, the waiting-gamers. Even if you're not a reader exactly, you read all the time, because a literate person can't shut off the ability like closing your eyes. You're going to take in the meaning of that graffiti, that billboard, that stupid piece of junk mail, because you can't not make the letters coalesce into meaning. That's why you read, to find something in all the blat of words something that speaks to you more than the ad or the mural. Or, well, that's why I read. Maybe.

Anyway, the woman gets obsessed with finding this memory hoard again, standing out on street corners waiting for the night bookmobile to appear. (It's something than can only be found between dusk and dawn, and the insomniac in me nods her head.) She does find it again nearly a decade later, and begs the annoyingly inscrutable book librarian to make her one too, but the man in the caravan shakes his head and says that's not how it works. So she becomes a real live day librarian to make up for this. A chance meeting with a physical representation of her love of books propels her on a life of instilling that love in others. So far, so good.

I'm going to seriously spoil this book in the spoiler, not just a little, so be warned. So the woman, who has ruined all her relationships - or at least the only one we are privy to in the boyfriend whom she fought with in the the opening pages - realizes the only way to become a night librarian is to take bunch of pills and slit her wrists. She wakes up in a big dreamy library, and is set to being as horrible and inscrutable as the night librarian who showed her her memory hoard in the first place. Oh, and the best part? The night library that she is so in love with? You don't get one of those once you've suicided yourself into the great library in the sky, so the douche librarian gives her a bookmobile of a nearly illiterate kid and tells her to get to work. Whaaaaa?

Seriously, what the fuck? I mean, I can see the argument that reading is wasted time, connecting with unreality when reality is all cut grass and sunrises, how maybe getting stuck in the heads of other people isn't living at all. But blimey, don't evoke this transient nostalgia, this series of memories built of the smell of paper and the chaotic bookmarks of what was closest at hand, and then treat it like this path to dissolution and solitude. Explain please, explain more than you did here, because this is a vicious, brutal conclusion to a life of reading.

Bah, seriously. I have my back up in a big way. I feel like the conclusion here was written more for shock value, lending a tragic gravitas to a mildly supernatural situtation, offhandedly knifing you in the kidneys because the author couldn't work out exactly what the metaphor of memory and reading meant. I don't mind getting knifed in the kidneys, but I want it to be more sporting than I found here, more like there was a point that makes sense. I don't feel like form or function was given enough respect, like it might have made a good short story, or a good comic, if there was someone there to shoot it every minute of its life. Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, and this disrespected that danger with some pablum and a plot twist. No. Not for me.

[Edit: And I initially gave this 2 stars in some fit of generosity, but after talking about the story with the boy - in which conversation I had to explain what suicide was, thank you - the boy got very annoyed with the story. "You should give it no stars," he said. "That's a really bad ending." He made me go to Goodreads and knock it down a star. Good boy.]