It’s tempting to say that Audrey Niffenegger creates comics for people who don’t like comics. It’s probably more accurate to say that she creates the kind of comics that appeal to people who like, say, Emma Magenta’s work, or Kate Williamson’s, which are, after all, comics as much as Watchmen or Sin City. (I’ve read both Emma Magenta and Kate Williamson thanks to the Book Club, which is also where I got The Night Bookmobile.)
The Night Bookmobile is more like other comics than The Three Incestuous Sisters, the only other of Niffenegger’s books I’ve read, in which the text played very poor second fiddle to the images. This is much more integrated. A young woman called Alexandra (get it?) discovers a fantastical night bookmobile that contains every book she has ever read. Over the years she encounters the bookmobile and its kindly, melancholy driver a few more times, and each time its collection has grown to incorporate what she has read in the meantime. It’s like a dream incarnation of a LibraryThing account. Alexandra becomes a librarian and longs to work in the bookmobile. Two pages of skippable text at the end explain how to interpret the story, and tell us that its the first instalment of a much larger work, The Library.
I was charmed, and not just charmed, but unsettled by the book’s dark and mercifully unexplained elements. There’s something half in love with death about Niffenegger.
As it happens, Perry Middlemiss’s site, Rhymes Rudely Strung, which publishes an Australian poem a day, turned up today with this, first published in The Bulletin in 1917, but taking Niffenegger’s sex-death-books connection and running with it:
by Zora Cross
Oh bury me in books when I am dead,
Fair quarto leaves of ivory and gold,
And silk octavos bound in brown and red,
That tales of love and chivalry unfold.
Heap me in volumes of fine vellum wrought,
Creamed with the close content of silent speech.
Wrap me in sapphire tapestries of thought
From some old epic out of common reach.
I would my shroud were verse-embroidered too –
Your verse for preference, in starry stitch,
And powdered o’er with rhymes that poets woo,
Breathing dream-lyrics in moon-measures rich.
Night holds me with a horror of the grave
That knows not poetry, nor song, nor you;
Nor leaves of love that down the ages wave
Romance and fire in burnished cloths of blue.
Oh bury me in books, and I’ll not mind
The cold, slow worms that coil around my head;
Since my lone soul may turn the page and find
The lines you wrote to me, when I am dead.