Maureen's Reviews > Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
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's review
Sep 10, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, first-reads, novels
Read from October 07 to 23, 2012

**disclaimer: i got this book through the GoodReads "First Reads" giveaway program. nonetheless, this is my true and honest opinion of the novel!**

clay jannon, the protagonist and narrator of the novel is a bright young art school graduate who takes a job at mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore after losing his job as a web designer, only to stumble upon the mysteries that the narrow building contains within its walls, and within the pages of what he calls "the way-back list". there's no acknowledgement printed in my ARC to my old friends mr. peabody and his boy sherman here, yet i felt them hovering over it in their WABAC machine and the novel really felt at times like it was an extended, more complicated adventure of theirs. clay embarks (pun intended -- sorry, blame mr. peabody) on a quest to understand the secrets of the store, with the help of some very resourceful pals (including a hot nerd chick who works at google, and a roommate who builds models for ILM), and with clay's voice, in this quick and entertaining novel, the author robin sloan cleverly pays tribute to technology, to books, and to knowledge, and most of all, to friendship.

i enjoy books that contain puzzles. i adore intertextuality, and i thrill to find books that have other books within them, and as one might imagine, mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore contains multitudes. some of them you can pick up at your local library-- with pleasure i found hammett name-checked early on. first editions of borges, the king of fictional libraries and imaginary books are boosted; murakami also makes an appearance (and there are apparently more biographies on richard feynman than i was ever aware of), while other books like the codex vitae of aldus manutius exist only in this novel that reminds us that the early printing press had a lot in common with the internet. it also points up that while the technology might be different, the intent, to share knowledge and the human story is in essence the same today as it was when the early publisher fictionalized here as part of the encrypted story in this charming, almost too contemporary novel, first brought key greek works like those of aristophanes and herodotus to be printed on his press in pocket-sized editions for the masses in the fifteenth century.

in the same way a new reader relies on a dictionary to understand the meaning of unfamiliar words, i often referred to the wikipedia and the wider resources of the internet when reading penumbra, as there were many references to people and technologies mentioned with which i was unfamiliar, and wasn't certain were even real. manutius' pivotal friend griffo gerritszoon seems to be based on his real-life employee francesco griffo and it was with great pleasure that i discovered that hadoop and the mechanical turk were real tools of the tech trade. sometimes, i'll admit, i worried that these references were too esoteric - i questioned an allusion to a bloomberg terminal probably supposed to inform the description of another technology (which didn't help me at all because i had no idea what the bloody bloomberg terminal was either), but in general i found that sloan embedded his technical terminology with dexterity, folding it into his narrative with good context and understanding of the general audience that would receive his book. sometimes my suspension of disbelief was hard-pressed by the convenience of the resources at clay's disposal as he unravels the secrets of penumbra's store but ultimately i embraced them, as part of the puzzle that i was unpacking as a reader, a lover of knowledge, and if you will, a literary detective.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan "...while other books like the codex vitae of aldus manutius exist only in this novel that reminds us that the early printing press had a lot in common with the internet, and that technology might be different but that the intent, to share knowledge and the human story, is in essence the same today..."

This is why I love ya Mo.

Maureen aw thanks, dan! i love you too -- and the internet that brought us together because we both love books. :) mo/xo

message 3: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Oh, I just picked this book up the other day. Hopefully I'll get to it soon.

Jenng i am almost doen this book. I love it!!

Maureen glad to hear you are enjoying it. :)

Jenng you read Ajax Penumbra 1969?

message 7: by Maureen (last edited Oct 03, 2013 09:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Maureen Jenng wrote: "you read Ajax Penumbra 1969?"

nope -- i didn't realize there was a prequel. thanks for letting me know. :)

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