Hooray for the Bookmobile!

Bookmobiles (or mobile libraries, as they are known in England) serve a vital need in both city and country. Chicago has used them when a branch is shut down for remodeling or rebuilding. However, I am going to be showcasing mobile libraries used in a more rural setting. Two take place in Great Britain, and one in America.

Mobile Library is the new novel by David Whitehouse. Bobby is a terribly lonely, bullied, and abused boy. He meets a singular girl, Rosa, and her almost-equally unusual mother, Val, who cleans the mobile library. When the mobile library is slated for deactivation and Bobby gets in trouble for exacting a little revenge on the toughs who torment him and Rosa, the three run away in the title vehicle. They meet a man who is also on the run and has survival skills they lack, and take him along. You read this story hoping that as unlikely as it is, things will turn out okay for our heroes. Whether they do or not, you'll just have to read it. Appeal: well-drawn characters, quick read, and a celebration of the stories we tell and the families we make.

Ian Sansom has a delightful Mobile Library Mystery series, starting with The Case of the Missing Books. Israel Armstrong arrives in rural Northern Ireland to take a job as a librarian and minister to the benighted natives, only to find himself in charge of driving the mobile library. Jewish, vegetarian, and urbane, Israel can't wait to quit. The problem is, his boss won't accept his resignation until Israel finds fifteen thousand books that used to reside in the mobile library. Let the hilarity begin. The latest in the series (but hopefully not the last) is The Bad Book Affair, in which a teenager borrows a controversial book from the mobile library and promptly disappears. Under pressure from his journalist girlfriend and the girl's politically ambitious father (to say nothing of his unctuous boss), Israel is sleuthing again. Appeal: laugh-out-loud scenes, trenchant satire, and keenly-observed portraits of Northern Ireland and her people.

This last title doesn't directly deal with bookmobiles as such and takes place in the United States, but I feel it belongs here anyway. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai is a road story. Lucy is working in a Midwestern library as part of her post-college flail and gives ten-year-old Ian books that are not on his fundamentalist mother's approved list. After attending a therapy session to cure his increasingly-apparent gayness, Ian runs away with the library first on his places to go. Lucy discovers him in the stacks, and they hit the road, ostensibly to see his grandmother in Vermont. Lucy seems to be the one kidnapped here, and she is haunted by the books she read in college, the books she reads to children, her parents' emigration from Russia, and a suspicious car as she drives cross-country. Appeal: literary references, a touching story, and a belief in the salvation books provide.

Whether you come to us or we come to you, these are good books to pick up. You get to travel without leaving the couch, and celebrate one of the places you like to go. Happy trails and happy reading!

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