It’s appropriate that at Litquake — the recent week-long celebration of books in San Francisco — I’d find out about unconventional ways of honoring the written word.
I came across the Bookmobile, parked on busy Valencia Street with its doors open wide, inviting visitors to come inside.
‘Is it a library or a bookstore?’ I wondered, trying to categorize it so I could understand it. The thing is, it’s neither.
It’s a truck that’s empty inside, except for wooden shelves on each of the side walls, which are filled with books. The concept is simple and brilliant: step inside and get a book. In return, they don’t ask for money. They ask to videotape your response to the question “what book influenced your life?”
Creative and thought-provoking, right? Even better, the Bookmobile will soon put its wheels in motion to reach people in small towns along the Lincoln Highway. It’s set to leave San Francisco in April and arrive in New York City in mid-May.
At the helm is founder, Tom Corwin, who has had success as an author, music producer, and film producer. And if you think the driver looks familiar, you’d be right. Along the way, different authors — including Amy Tan, Tom Robbins, and Dave Eggers — will be joining the road trip and taking their turn at the wheel.
At the end of the project, Tom will combine the interviews with a history of the Bookmobile and create a documentary, appropriately named “Behind the Wheel of the Bookmobile.” He hopes to finish the film by spring 2011.
“Books influence our lives in ways too often untold,” says Tom. “Our trip is designed to tell some of those stories while our back roads route connects the project to America’s literary history.”
You can only imagine the stories waiting to be told — both by people along the Lincoln Highway and the authors themselves. They’re likely to be as varied as the books out there. Already in the archives is the story of Ralph Eubanks, the Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress, who recalls being thankful to visit a bookmobile during his childhood. As an African-American in Mississippi, he could get books there, when he couldn’t get them at the library.
The Bookmobile on this trip is authentic, alright. Until recently, the “Old Gal” made her rounds of the suburban Chicago area for 15 years (and 70,000 miles) to bring books and the love of reading to children and adults. Bookmobiles have been used as mobile libraries for towns without library buildings and for people with difficulty accessing libraries — the first U.S. bookmobile ran in Maryland in 1905.
Books have already been donated by libraries and publishers, but what the project could use now are money donations (from $35 for ‘buy a mile’ to more for ‘buy a state’).
If you’re not on the cross-country route, you can still be a part of the Bookmobile experience. Submit the story of the book that influenced your own life (in 200 words or less) to the Bookmobile website. And follow along via the website’s blog and interviews, or get updates on Twitter and Facebook.