Forgotten book title, YA fiction about erasing books
January 13, 2011 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Yet another forgotten-book-from-my-youth question. Probably in the early/mid-80s I read a book where there was a device of some sort which could either change the contents of a book or erase it completely. I don't remember the mechanism, but I'm pretty sure that when this device was used, it affected all copies of the book it was being used on, everywhere. So you could change the name of a character in your copy of the book, and in all the libraries across the world, that would now be the character's name. I don't remember if it also affected everyone's memory of the book or not, so that the new name would always have been that character's name.

I'm pretty sure the protagonist is male and around 16 years old -- at one point I think he drives a truck with a trailer. Or maybe he has a librarian friend who drives a truck with a trailer, and he's impressed at how well she can drive it in reverse, which is explained by her having driven the bookmobile or something.

The one thing I'm pretty sure I remember right is that the protagonist's favorite book is "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch", and the plot is at least in part driven by his either noticing a change having been made to it or wanting to stop the antagonist before any changes can be made. Maybe he notices that Nathaniel Bowditch's name has been changed?

The antagonist may have been a stepfather, or mother's new boyfriend. There may be two protagonists, a brother and sister.

On reflection, the device must have needed the original manuscript of a book to work, or something like that, because I remember there being a race-against-time element to the plot, and that wouldn't make any sense if the person with the device could just walk into a bookstore and use it on the first copy of the book he could find.

It definitely isn't anything by Jasper Fforde, but I think reading one of those is what reminded me of this.

Does this ring any bells? Normally I'm pretty good with Google, but since the only detail I recall with any clarity is "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch", all my search results are talking about that book, not the one I'm looking for.

posted by hades to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Wordchanger. I'm looking for a copy of the cover image, which shows Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.
posted by nonane at 12:25 PM on January 13, 2011

Response by poster: Sweet, that is definitely it. Thank you! This has been bugging me off and on for at least five years.
posted by hades at 12:28 PM on January 13, 2011

Response by poster: Huh. Someone else was looking for this in 2005. And while the Seattle Public Library doesn't have a copy, the UW library does. Awesome.
posted by hades at 12:38 PM on January 13, 2011

There are a couple of copies on various used-book sites, but I can't seem to find an image of the cover anywhere! There definitely were neutrinos as part of the equipment, as mentioned in the earlier question, as reading Wordchanger led me to Updike's poem (I can't remember if it is in the book itself or if I was trying to find out more about them).
posted by nonane at 1:37 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: An update, having read Wordchanger this evening:

+ The device does use neutrinos, but only affects books within some (unspecified) radius of the device itself, not all copies everywhere. It's never explained how the device is controlled. (Updike's poem doesn't appear in the book.)

+ The protagonist is 12 years old, but does at one point briefly drive a car towing an Airstream trailer. The _other_ protagonist, whose story is interleaved for the first half of the book until she joins up in the middle, has a librarian friend who drives the trailer in reverse, having acquired this skill driving the bookmobile. The two protagonists aren't siblings, but might as well be.

+ A passage in "Carry on, Mr. Bowditch" is changed, and the protagonist's name is changed on his passport.

+ The antagonist is indeed the stepfather (plus vaguely threatening men from a secret government agency).

Thanks again!
posted by hades at 1:59 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

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