I have just read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile and I was completely enthralled with the story.
Audrey gave a keynote speech at a conference that I had attended recently. She spoke eloquently and excitedly about her work in graphics and of her books too, of course. But what I enjoyed most was her deep passion in creating work that a reader could experience, and appreciate fully. She said something that most people in publishing do not seem to get (in my opinion anyway), which is that there are certain formats that make a story more enjoyable, whether it be graphics or sound, or video. It doesn’t matter what it is you’re working with, just make sure that the format works together with the story to give the reader something that the story alone cannot convey fully. It’s about the experience.
I wrote a paper a little while ago called Language, Materialities and Experience and it was about the same ideas. It was more of a research piece looking at the study of Digital Humanities today and what that means to the processes of reading and writing, but the concept and conclusion is similar. We are sensory beings and we want to feel.
It is with this mindset that brought me to thinking about why I loved Audrey’s The Night Bookmobile so much. It touched me as a reader, as the avid reader that I am. She spells out the fears that those of us who place so much importance in our reading, have. How can I ever remember everything that I have ever read? What would that collection look like? Would a librarian compliment the list, or feel a certain sense of disappointment looking at it?
Most importantly though, the story peeled at the scab that represented every book we have ever read, hardening over the wound that we have created through our constant reading – the wound of time. Like the act of peeling a scab, this story gives us much satisfaction in the beginning. Reading it word for word, it felt like I was being very careful with the scab, not wanting the wound to break open. At the end though, it was inevitable that it would, allowing the blood to flow through and start the process of healing again, of hardening into a scab.
Why did it have such an impact on me? Every reading experience differs from reader to reader. I felt that this book was written for me, though in reality, it is probably directed at avid readers who love reading, more generally. The book itself is hardback and gorgeous. Every picture painstakingly drawn and thought through in much detail, it reaches out to us, just by being beautiful. And when you start reading it, the concept of the Night Bookmobile is one that we all dream of. Our personal library that’s always there, and always up to date with the latest book we’re reading, even to the page.
The storyline is simple and the characters plain, but the message it brings is very powerful. Without spoiling it for those of you who have not read it, the end is what I had hoped for, but thought could not be done, not in a beautiful book like this. It is a book that I definitely wish I had written, but I am glad that Audrey was the one who did, as she was able to draw it too, combining both skills into one amazing creation.
Reading is more than just understanding meaning of words and sentences. Reading is an act of immersion, of completely giving in to the story that lies in front of you, in whatever form it takes. Reading is a parallel living.