It’s a very short comic, but apparently is part of a larger work, so maybe there’ll be more to come in the future. Niffenegger is notorious for writing slowly, so there might not be anything new from her for a while yet, I guess.
The story follows Lexi, a young woman, who one night comes across a Winnebago full of books. When she enters the Bookmobile, she realises that every book on the shelves is made up of books that she’s read throughout her life. In fact, it catalogues everything that she’s ever read, even cereal boxes and letters. She’s mesmerised by the Bookmobile and the idea of it. She grows more obsessed with it, and it’s not until nine years later that she sees it again, with all the added books she’s accumulated since that time.
It’s really a very appropriate book for me to have read for this project, since it’s all about the attraction and power of books and reading, and the way in which they shape us. At one point, Lexi says:
“In the same way that perfume captures the essence of a flower, these shelves of books were a distillation of my life.”
It’s pretty true, for me. I find myself able to recall what was going on in my life during certain books, or where I was, what I was doing, when I bought them. This project is just an extension of that idea, I guess.
Lexi becomes consumed by the idea of becoming a librarian in the Bookmobile, however is told that this isn’t possible. In her real life, she studies hard and becomes the director of a huge library, but she still isn’t satisfied. After killing herself, she finds herself standing with the librarian of her Bookmobile, Mr. Openshaw, who congratulates her and assigns her a little girl who has just read her first book. I really love the idea that you could have a sort of guardian angel for reading who oversees your entire reading life.
In her afterword, Niffenegger asks a couple of questions that I don’t really know how to answer: ‘What is it we desire from the hours, weeks, lifetimes we devote to books?’ I don’t really know what it is I’m looking for. Why do I love reading so much? Escapism? Knowledge? I don’t know what it is, but I do know that when I read the back of a book for the first time, when I hold it in my hands, I just get this urge, this pull to have it and to possess it and to read it.
The other question she asks sends a spooky little chill down my spine: ‘What would you sacrifice to sit in that comfy chair with the perfect light for an afternoon in eternity, reading the perfect book, forever?’
Quite a lot, I think.
Next: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel