“After Words”

The Night Bookmobile – Audrey Niffenegger

If there was a place that roamed the roads of the West and held every book I’ve ever read, it would definitely be a bus. It would blast Backstreet Boys and that song by Brandy and Monica when they fought over a boy, can ya’ here me, “The Boy’s Mine.”  I would find it when I was lying in the middle of the road at two in the morning waiting for a light to change because that was the way I listened to music in my room as a teenager.  I would be splayed out, disco light ringing its spheres of color, my view the bubble ceiling and spinning CDs made into rainbow fish from Vacation Bible School at church.  That was the beginning of my personal reading life.  I had read books with my parents before that, but I first wrote thoughts in a book in fifth grade, The BFG.

“Don’t gobblefunk around with words.” 
― Roald Dahl, The BFG

Night Bookmobile @ The Guardian

The shelves of the bus would be lined with unfinished diaries, notebooks with the metal spiral coming loose like a sprig of hair.  Dried flowers and autumn leaves in the cracks of spines.  Petals from prom corsages, bookmarks with notes to remind myself to wash the dishes, write down a certain quote, the price of something I wanted.  Fingerprints of olive oil.  Nail polish and its remover.  Notes about how sexy Edward Cullen is, probably the word “swoon” every time he romanticizes Bella Swan.  Folded corners.  Cat hair. Receipts, ripped envelopes, five dollar bills.  It would be a bus full of words and memorabilia from a really bad concert sung by myself.  Honestly though, there would be some really rad costume changes of 80s outfits from high school (I went to high school in the 90s though, I was just really into highlighter colors) and polka dotted platform shoes.  At one point in my life, I really believed I was cursed with curly hair so that I couldn’t be a pinup girl.  This. is. the. struggle.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger was speaking to me throughout the first part of the image collection.  A woman finds herself under a streetlight across from a mobile that looked like a rutabaga.  She hears its loud speakers on blast at four a.m. and decides to walk in.  Now, let’s be honest, the librarian of the Night Bookmobile was not complimentary to librarians everywhere.  He had a monk haircut and unfortunate facial expressions throughout the text.  No one has a smile that can move both up and down at the same time, we are not made up of manipulation, we are made of fine, curved parts.  The illustrations weren’t my favorite of the graphic novels that I’ve read.   I was flowing through the pages, thinking Niffenegger really understands me, she understands the deep pits of the bookish, our flyaway forehead hair, our seven different types of sighs, our frustration at the sticking page and long chapters, don’t even get me started.

Image @ The Night Bookmobile

You can’t read an e-reader in the tub people.  Plus, we don’t all look like Barbies, did she not give us our feminine parts because this is technically placed in the “Young Adult” section in most local libraries.  These are questions I have about these strange illustrations. Plus, no one sits at the dining room table to read a book, we lounge, Niffenegger.  The words in this book, however, were to perfection.  I felt like she reached into my open heart and bled those veins a little onto the page.  I was so for this woman who went as far as getting her library science degree just to be able to work on her own Night Bookmobile.

Night Bookmobile Illustrations

The place where I was completely lost *SPOILER* was when Alexandra pops pills and slits her wrists only to get her wish of running a Night Bookmobile for another young girl who just finished her first book on her own.  I’m not even sure the commentary that this gives.  Is she saying that all extreme readers have words that float in sadness in their bellies.  I’m just not even sure.  Just because I’m a bookish, and nerdy person, doesn’t mean I’m a member of the Confessional Poets league and I plan to stick my head in an oven.  Sorry, Sylvia Plath, I love you, but you were Night Bookmobile sad.  I prefer books with woe, of course, I think the deeper the heartache, the more transformative the work.  That doesn’t mean I have very little outer life, just because I believe in having an extensive inner life.  I know that writers and readers end up spending a lot of time alone, but we’re not all lonely.  Just because we prefer aloneness, or periods where we need to just be by ourselves, doesn’t mean that we are on the verge of suicide over a bathroom sink.  I’m just beyond disappointed that this is where she chose to take her character.

The Night Bookmobile Illustrations

I’m even more disappointed that in her suicide, this women got her “heaven” wish, which was the Chicago Public Library of the heavens.  Of course I believe that I will be able to read every book I missed while living, in the afterlife, but I can’t fathom that through suicide, through this awful escape from a world that wasn’t her enemy is the only way for her to succeed in running her own tour bus of books.  What does that say about our world.  It’s almost glorifying those that choose to remove themselves from the life they’ve been given.  I have this weird view of the afterlife, that I won’t get into here, but even if this isn’t our only life, how the hell are you going to reward someone with an expansive Alexander the Great library when they’ve slit their wrists out of escape from a lack of outer life.  I didn’t see Alexandra getting progressively more dejected, I just saw a woman that wanted to live among books.  It’s just wrong that through her purposeful death, she got to live in a world she felt at home.

This Goodreads reader said it the best:

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 6.15.04 PM

The Night Bookmobile Illustrations

Just another note, I HATE, loathe, feel quite fiery about the fact that Niffenegger states in her “After Words” that she wrote this book because she was frequently dying in her own dreams from silly things like touching a doorknob or sneezing.  At one point, while she’s dead in a dream, she stumbles on a library/piano room, I guess a library if you’re a Vanderbilt or a Biltmore, no sad bookish girls like me have a grand piano in my room of book piles.  Niffenegger says, “When I woke up I understood that I had seen a form of heaven.”  All the girls who want you to date a reader are excited at this prospect.  Of course I want the pearly gates to be opened and I enter into the sun room of an antebellum dollhouse and there are books on shelves just below the windows.  In fact, the whole house is made of books and I’m the Gretel for the reading witch.  This is the desire for all of us out there who read to live in other worlds, but I cannot at all justify killing a bookish character just because you died in a dream and you thought heaven would be a library.  Alexandra couldn’t die from natural causes, she had to rest her hands in a warm pool of red drift.

I’m practicing my third sigh right now, the sigh of unexpected washout.

9 thoughts on ““After Words”

  1. lucysfootball says:

    Niffenegger is very hit-or-miss for me. I’m going to skip this one, only because I can’t imagine it being as beautiful as your review, so I’m good. I don’t need a suicidey ending with a bookish reward. I think that’s a copout of an ending, honestly.

    In related news, I’m starting “A Guide to Being Born,” maybe tonight, possibly tomorrow. Whenever I start a Cassie-recommended book I feel like you’re over visiting and we’re having tea and telling stories until 2am. Wouldn’t that be glorious? I think it would.

    • Cassie says:

      OH MY GOSH. I love when you read books that I obsess over and vice versa because we ALWAYS love the same books. I mean were totally bookish sisters. I CANT WAIT for you to review that one and you’re going to finish it in one sitting, I just know it.

      And can we have a sleepover because that would be perfect. We can build a fort and everything.

  2. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    I didn’t know she had written a graphic novel, I’m guessing it wasn’t the author who did the illustrations and perhaps they just imagined how people read books (the dining room table thing) the only books that get read at the dining table are homework.

    It’s a strange choice, given that the author could easily have chosen any other path to death if that is the only doorway to the nightmobile, I wonder how many other readers were disappointed by that choice.

    • Cassie says:

      I actually think she did them. She’s an artist as well and had a show in the Women’s Art Museum in DC. I say that because there was no other name listed. It also thanked the models she used for the drawings at the end, which means those people actually love somewhere and I have to wonder if the librarian in the book is a librarian in real life.

      Also, she has a new graphic novel out this year called Raven Girl which I’m actually dying to read because the premise sounds really cute and a tad dark.

      There were mixed reviews on goodreads. Some readers weren’t affected and others were really disappointed. I want to know why she made that choice and I may know eventually because apparently this is the first book in a series called The Library. We shall see, dear!

  3. Let's CUT the Crap! says:

    First of all, I haven’t read any graphic novels and I might have given this one a try. However, given your review, I’ll pass on this one. Reading IS heaven, suicide is not. I don’t like the concept of the main character dying to get into book heaven (so to speak). What a disappointment.


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