One of my earliest memories is of going to the library bookmobile that stopped just a few blocks from our house. I can still see it, a silvery boxy mirage glowing above the heated asphalt street of a Chicago summer. Inside the bookmobile the air was miraculously cool. It was like a dark cavern lined with books, dust motes floating by on the rays of light coming in through the narrow doorway. Kids' books were down low, and at three years old, I picked my books by sense of smell as well as by sight. Those tall, thin picture books, the oldest ones, they smelled so good, musty but also with an underpinning of gasoline and cleaner fluid.
I associate bookmobiles with summer, the coolness offered on a blistering hot day, the books offered with all the time in the world to read them. Bookmobiles still ply their trade, from Mobile, Alabama (how perfect!) to Ames Iowa, on into the big state of Utah and through the crowded streets of Los Angeles. Where I live now, as wonderful as our local library is, no bookmobile wanders the lanes of our suburban town. My kids have never known the surge of excitement as the stairs are lowered from the van and entry granted: "Come in," beckons the driver/librarian. "Come in and find this week's treasure." In Audrey Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile, the driver is offering something different: an escape back to every book you ever read, a collection from the first days of reaching for board books to yesterday's foraging through Ulysses to prepare for June 16th's Bloomsday. Would I want to climb into such a collection? It is true that what I always loved about my local bookmobile was its reassuring billeting of old favorites. But what was new was equally enticing and more intoxicating: what favorite books were still waiting for me to discover them?
Sure, I can find those books in my firmly built and landscaped library building but there is something so very romantic and adventurous and mysterious about finding treasures in a traveling caravan, as if my very fortunes were about to be foretold by a veiled woman sitting around a glistening globe. Maybe one day I'll take matters into my own hands, buy up an old RV, retrofit it with shelves and stuff it to the rafters with books. I could supply it by offloading my own creaking bookshelves and then stopping by the plethora of summer tag sales offering everything from the Hardy Boys and the Mitford sisters to The Kite Runner and Rabbit is Rich. One shelf would be dedicated to Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, of course. (authors must self-promote these days, I'm told). Rather than a lending library, my bookmobile would be a bookstore, and who knows? I might just supply the next favorites to a whole new generation of book lovers.