Designing the perfect bookmobile

I’ve been thinking lately about my former dream of owning a bookmobile. It was always a dream that stemmed from two of my deepest desires: to be surrounded by books and to make a home on the road. These days, though, that dream is little more than a fantasy that I only occasionally indulge, usually after I’ve been following the exploits of Sarah from the Book Barge. Recently, too, it’s been on my mind as I read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which reminds me in many ways of Audrey Niffenegger’s graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile. Both feature magic, both are set in venues that, because they are rare and migratory, feel wholly magical. It’s fitting, then, that both authors infused their settings — one a circus, the other a bookmobile — with actual magic. If I were designing the perfect bookmobile, I would charm it with a bit of the stuff, too.

1. An airstream caravan would be the shell of my bookmobile, gutted and filled with retractable wall shelves and space-saving benches. I’d keep the kitchenette.

2. We would serve free tea and coffee, an idea pinched from two of my favorite bookstore (here and here).

3. Visitors would lounge on Deck chairs inspired by Penguin classic book covers and read their newly purchased acquisitions on the lawn.

4. Here’s where the magic comes in. I quite like the idea explored by Morgenstern and Niffenegger of the venue arriving unpredictably and operating at unconventional hours. And so I would carry a pocket watch set for midnight and, indeed, that would be the time we open our doors. Can you imagine peoples’ excitement when they see this rad bookmobile drift into town and then read the sign on the door that says “Doors open promptly at midnight”?

5. Shoppers would have the option to pay for their books with a story of their own telling. I’d quite like to make the bookmobile a space where the oral tradition is celebrated.

6. Of course, we’re not total Luddites. All titles would have QR codes, which browsers can scan with their SmartPhones. Customers would then have the option to purchase and download the ebook from our website.

7 We’d sell Rite in the Rain All Weather Notebooks for the visitor who becomes inspired suddenly while browsing the many rows of literature. It happens, and when it happens, you want to be prepared with the most weather impermeable notebook on the market.

8. A functional typewrite. Again, for the inspired visitor.

9. Handmade stationary: Have wheels, will deliver mail. Will also keep a well-stocked supply of fountain pens, bottles (with corks), stamps for purchase and wax seals.

10. Secure shelving so books do not dislodge while caravan is in motion.

11. The most important part of my vision is summed up perfectly by Audrey Niffeneger in The Night Bookmobile. As you know if you’ve read the book, the Night Bookmobile magically reflects each visitor’s personal library and reading tastes. That’s exactly the kind of impression I’d want every visitor to my bookmobile to have: that the inventory was selected exclusively with them in mind. I’ve transcribed the paragraph below.

I drank my tea and explored the farthest recesses of my collection. Each spine was an encapsulated memory, each book represented hours, days of pleasure, of immersion in worlds. At the very end, on the lowest shelf, was the book I had been reading that morning. I picked it up and opened it. There was my bookmark, but the text continued on, for I had read the book many times. I replaced The Complete Short Stories of H.G. Wells on its shelf.

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85 comments
    • Erin said:

      Thank you. I recognize a fellow bookmobile lover.

  1. As a fellow book-worm, I wholeheartedly approve of this idea. So cool. Congrats on being FP as well.

  2. Interesting idea, might work as a business if you can find like minded individuals.

  3. Great ideas. Especially love the idea that you could pay with your own stories. What kind of oral traditions would be celebrated? Would love book discussions and readings on the bookmobile at odd hours! Thanks for a great post!

  4. liamodell1 said:

    Fantastic idea! I’m a bookworm too! :) I would definately visit this book shop! :)

  5. Lisa said:

    I totally approve!

  6. Yes, yes and yes. Can I come visit?

    This brought back such powerful memories for me as I was off at boarding school at the age of eight. The day the bookmobile arrived in the parking lot outside our dorms was pure magic. The man who ran it had a thick mustache and seemed like he had the best job in he entire world. I would lose myself in there for hours before finally buying a few books. I’m a writer now and still think this might be the best job in the world, traveling and bringing a love of books to people.

    • Erin said:

      I’m with you on that one. Best. job. ever. By the way, I’ve had Malled on my TBR list since I saw you were speaking at the Decatur Book Festival in September. I’d wanted to come hear your talk, but unfortunately was engaged in another tent at that time. How did it go?

  7. Oh! I love it! Bring your magic bookmobile to my town! I’ll be the crazy lady in the jaunty hat drinking all the free tea.

  8. killkaties said:

    But surely no one would ever want to leave your bookmobile. It’s going to get mighty crowded.

    • Well she’ll just need a Tardis bookmobile then – it could take on the shape of an RV but it would be bigger on the inside than the outside.:D

  9. mesiegweeks said:

    What a truly wonderful idea. I would visit you often.

  10. Cool! I love bookmobiles! When I was a kid growing up in a small rural town, the library in the city sent the bookmobile out to our town once a week. I loved bookmobile day. Not just because I could check out up to 20 books at a time (that was the limit- I guess they wanted you to leave some for other people), but because the bookmobile itself was just cool. It was a converted RV, though not an Airstream. It had this old 70’s feel and smell to it. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a bookmobile in a years and I was starting to wonder if they had just died out. I hope you can your own bookmobile up and running soon. How fun would that be???

    • pezcita said:

      Small town libraries are indeed magical places – whether they have wheels or not. I work at one and love it.

  11. That sounds legit! Count me in. I’ll take an Asimov and a cup of Earl Grey please.

  12. So, it sounds like a mobile book store …. I have thought of that many times.

    Except, I would have the living separated from the selling.

    ;)

    ghost.

  13. Please make this happen! The world needs wonderful things like this. We bookworms especially do.

  14. njhasan said:

    Reblogged this on WriterGurl INK. and commented:
    I have a new dream and it this. Seriously, how cool would this be? I’d certainly buy books from here.

  15. If you combined the bookmobile with a fruit stand, I would be in heaven.

  16. Great ideas. I like the idea of a bookmobile with a kitchen to make tea. Make sure the frame and running gear is capable fo carrying the weight of all those volumes.

  17. Re3ecca said:

    Loving the idea and the cute picture you’ve made to go with it. Clearly I really need to read this Niffeneger book! Great post x

  18. L said:

    Oh god i love this idea so much, i have plans to have a mobile lending library of feminist/empowering books, with handmade bookplates and DIY bookplates and screenprinting book totes workshops which you can attend with membership. I’m not in Australia we have ANY airstreams.. I might have to travel and bring one back! Love love LOVE this post.
    xo Laura

    • Erin said:

      Laura – a “mobile lending library of feminist/empowering books”? That sounds amazing. We have a great feminist bookstore here in Atlanta called Charis Books that is a constant source of inspiration. Good luck with your plans, and thanks for taking the time to comment!

  19. L said:

    **sure

  20. Miss Erin!!!!! So excited right now. First, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment on my bloggy! Second, a site about bookshops and all things book-goodness related? Lucky day for me! I think we are bound to be great book blog pals :) I want a bookmobile too….

    • Erin said:

      Haha, yes! I think you’re right. Plus, I just noticed you’ve been reading The Night Circus, which I just finished (and loved!), and which was one of the inspirations behind my book mobile. I’m telling you, that book brings people together.

  21. Erin said:

    It’s so exciting to hear from this many book-lovers. If you want, just include the name of your city and I’ll start mapping out our bookmobile route.

  22. Jenny said:

    Ahh, what a dreamy post. I love seeing something so fantastic (by which I mean literally fantastic) featured on Freshly Pressed. Speaking of which, congratulations to you! Thanks for sharing your lovely ideas. Please bring your caravan to Boston ASAP. I’ll return the offer by giving you a happy and enlightening supply of tea.

    PS I love that one of your tags is “free tea.”

  23. When I was a child living in a small, northern Maine town with no library, the bookmobile came every few weeks. It was always a magical day. We were allowed to borrow the same number of books as our current grade in school. I’ll always remember the wonderful smell of the books. The librarian was a delightful woman. Her husband drove the bookmobile. Believe it or not, over 45 years later, I still have that precious library card.

    • Erin said:

      You still have the library card? Wow! My husband and I love Maine – went there for part of our honeymoon. I can totally picture a bookmobile rolling through one of those lovely small towns. After a long winter, I can imagine it would have been the height of excitement. What wonderful childhood memories.

  24. I’d never thought of owning a book mobile..now it’s all I can think of. It would be cool to sell geographically, i.e. stock up on Eugenides when you’re in Detroit, read Gatsby on Long Island, etc.

  25. This would be a great chance for our public libraries to take some of your tips! Awesome blog!

    • Steve said:

      My Aunt used to work for the Detroit Public Library System as a children’s Librarian. They had a book mobile that went to the rough neighborhoods, and allowed the kids to barrow books that way. It was a great public service.

  26. I dream similarly to you, only instead of a bookmobile, I dream of the extensive personal library I am going to have when I have my house one day, inspired by Nyles Crane’s library in “Frasier” and by the library at the beginning of the book in “Portrait of a Lady” (or at least how I envision the library). My collection has started, but right now it only takes up a little more than a nine cubby bookshelf.

  27. So cute!!! I would start reading more if I had a BM like this around my town :)

  28. My uncle drives a bookmobile and has for many years. Yours sounds lovely! His was always a little dark and cramped, so there’s another point – light! Definitely need good light for reading.

    I now want one of these myself haha. Great post.

  29. We got bookmobiles here in Munich from the local city library. They are rolling libraries and reading rooms, fitted in public busses. I love them! – Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  30. We have them here in Australia too. I love yours, chuck in a portable easel and it’s my perfect bookmobile too. Great post. Cheers

  31. Jean said:

    You sure you didn’t want to become a librarian ages ago? I was one…(I have a Master’s in Library Science). I started off working in bookstore for 8 months. Not great pay but truly interesting to see what people buy. Now it’s a struggle for libraries to keep their bookmobiles since the world has gone electronic increasingly. I haven’t myself become a user of e-books for pleasure but the big libraries are striking big database licenses so people can use a temporary e-book without plunking down more money.

  32. Sounds inviting, maybe you could make it an air bookmobile and land it here in Brazil for a few weeks? =)

  33. Thats such an amazing idea!! I would love a place like that! You should definitely do it. I especially like the idea of how it would seem exclusively tailored for each person and the beach chairs! Also the typewriter would be fun to work with. Good luck!

  34. Loved this post, thank you for sharing your bookmobile vision! I have the most wonderful memories of the bookmobile that came to my neighborhood when I was a child. They did storytime on the lawn. The smell of the books was… fabulous. I can literally close my eyes and smell it all over again :-) Good luck starting your own bookmobile! We’ve got food trucks, so why not book trucks ;-)

  35. Skatha said:

    Totally stealing your idea. LOL That’s a fabulous idea! I’ve never thought of having a bookmobile; in my mind it’s always been a bookshop in one place.

  36. Wondeful post! I spend all my time with my face stuck in a book, thanks for sharing and congrats on being freshly pressed!

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  38. What a beautiful (and well thought out :)) idea! Wonderful post!

  39. I have Audrey Niffeneger’s story in Glimmer Train (I think). I have been moved by it too. I reread it from time to time. It would be great to have a bookmobile.

  40. Anna said:

    Loved the bookmobile idea! Great post!

  41. My best friend has 3 Airstreams and I think she and I need to have a talk! Your ideas are wonderful!I can see it! I’ve read the Night Bookmobile and moved on to The Night Circus which is really how I’d like to live.

    • Erin said:

      3 Airstreams?? Wow! Well, hey, either pass the idea along to her or send her over to me. And yes, I would love to be a reveur and go around following The Night Circus.

      • I’m forwarding your post to her because I think it’s such an appealing idea. They have a 3 bears sized collection large, medium and small.

  42. Katie J. Morris said:

    I think if I owned one of these I would never be seen again!

  43. mrszeg said:

    Really love these ideas. Would totally dig a place like these to hang with like minded folks!

  44. Micah said:

    This is wonderful! This is a great idea for a book mobile… I started imagining myself in some country side waiting for the book mobile to pass. Ahhh. Thanks for sharing and congrats on making FP! :)

  45. Great post, I love reading books, in Italy it is difficult and expensive to buy UK books. I have to purchase my books from amazon. I know I can buy a Kindle to easily down load books but… it is not the same. A book is a book.

  46. Oh books! I dream of owning a new and used book shop so i could just read whenever I wanted to. I love your idea *grin*

  47. This may be the best “what I want to be when I grow up” dream EVER! I may have to do some internal reshuffling and become a book gypsy to follow your fabulous bookmobile!

  48. You’ve literally blogged my definition of heaven. Love it!

  49. When this becomes a real life thing, can I come and work for you? I’m really good at making tea, and I’ll bring all my favourite books!

  50. elizabethweaver said:

    I love this expanded version of a bookmobile. It is magical, especially the round the clock visits and being able to scan and buy the books on the spot. It doesn’t seem undoable, especially in certain regions of the country…or other countries. Thanks for sharing this as well as the book recommendations. Now I can hardly wait to read them. I’ll pretend I got them from your bookmobile…which I kind of did!

  51. xkapelanski said:

    In some of my visual works I use recycled/recuperated books and book parts. I see the transformative process as an extension of the life of a book, albeit in a very different form. I wonder what you would think.
    http://xkapelanski.wordpress.com

  52. What a wonderful idea! It sounds like my absolute dream occupation. A very fond memory of my childhood was the ‘bookmobile’ that used to come to school. My enthusiasm meant that I was always one of children who got to go into the bookmobile when it came to choose new books for the library. I have read The Time Travellers Wife but hadn’t heard of The Night Bookmobile. It is now the next book I shall be buying, so thank you! The excitement a ‘bookmobile’ like the one you describe would surely warm the hearts of seasoned bookworms and inspire new readers to read and enjoy among free tea and coffee! Maybe the customers could provide the cake ;). A post I wrote a while ago describes my love for all things ‘book’ and my discomfort over the modern developments. http://emmaineuroland.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/to-kindle-or-not-to-kindle/. However, I am glad to see that you have encompassed both the old and the new in your bookmobile. I’m sure the books will bring the magic themselves ;). Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  53. Can I come too? I can just imagine the look on people’s faces as we pull into a neighborhood park with our bookmobile. I’ve always wanted to inspire people to gather and read in the open air. It’s my favorite place to read…even in the rain. We’d better bring a lot of wood for reading by the bonfire at night. I volunteer for the 2 am shift. :々

  54. I’d love a ride on the bookmobile too.

  55. Definitely go for it. Everyone loves a magical book fair!

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