My Own Private Bookmobile

How I went mobile without going wireless

November 18, 2010

My car, a Subaru Outback, doubles as a library. There are always a lot of books in there. I never go anywhere without a copy of the Bible, the Qur’an, Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, assorted editions of Mother Goose, a complete collection of the Peter Rabbit series, and a vast and diverse array of brain-candy books.

Why? Four reasons:

  1. I never know when I’m going to be in an accident (these California freeways are nothing more than NASCAR race tracks), and if I end up in critical condition, it would be nice to have the word of God at my side. Hence the Bible and the Qur’an. 
  2. My cars have a way of breaking down, which often means hours of downtime at the repair shop, where you need books that will occupy your mind for awhile. Hence Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow.
  3. For much of the day I run a taxi service—ferrying my grandchildren, Connor and Sophia, to the park, preschool, and library storyhour. Hence the Beatrix Potter and Mother Goose collections.
  4. I live in a little town (Livermore, California) that has more stop lights per street corner than any other place I’ve ever lived. Hence the diverse array of brain-candy books.

Brain-candy books are perfect for red-light reading. You can open them up and peruse little random chunks of text without feeling as though you are wasting half of your life waiting for the traffic light to turn green. My favorite brain-candy books are The Book of Proverbs; Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen Koans; 1,001 Jokes for Every Occasion; The Big Book of Humorous Quotations; and The Epigrams of Martial.

The other day I got a flat tire, and for the repair shop I chose Ulysses. There I am in the waiting area, which consists of four nondescript chairs in a semi-circle around a 1980s vintage television. I’m well into chapter three when another customer comes over and sits down. He’s from my favorite demographic cohort—pants to the ground, baseball hat turned sideways, tattoos on the neck. He goes over to the dusty old TV and hits the on/off switch. Nothing but very loud static comes on. “Hey,” he shouts out to the man at the service desk, “does the TV work?”

“No,” the service man replies. “Guys use it to put their coffee cups on.”

The young man is not happy. He pulls out his cell phone, and begins to call one friend after another to rage at being stranded at a freaking tire store that has an old TV that doesn’t work. You’d think he had been sentenced to two hours of waterboarding at Gitmo. After he makes his fifth phone call I decide to talk to him. “I’ve got a bunch of books in my car,” I say. “Want to try one?”

“You’ve got a bunch of books in your vehicle?” he responds with amusement. “What do you drive . . . a flippin’ bookmobile or something?”

“Sort of,” I say. I go to my car in the garage, fetch a bunch of brain-candy books, and place them on the top of the inert TV. “Take your pick,” I offer gingerly.

He looks them over and makes his selection: 1,001 Jokes for Every Occasion. Apparently one of those occasions is being stuck at a tire store because five minutes into the book, he chuckles.

With a big smile on my face, I think, “Wow, it’s nice to be back in the readers’ advisory business.”

We librarians never really retire because our work is never completely done. The baggy-pants kids need us. They really do.

Will Manley has furnished provocative commentary on librarianship for over 30 years and in nine books on the lighter side of library science. He blogs at Will Unwound.


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