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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2012)
Global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, the secret to eternal life. Mostly in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.

Clay Jannon tells how serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has sent him from Web Drone to night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. After just a few days on the job, Clay realizes just how curious this store is.

A few customers come in repeatedly without buying anything. Instead they “check out” obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. All runs according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes.

He embarks on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and ropes in friends to help. Once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore. A quest to New York City dips in a world conspiracy for eternal life. The current of romance pulls Clay onward.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published September 26, 2012

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About the author

Robin Sloan

23 books30.1k followers
Robin Sloan is the author of the novels Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and Sourdough. He grew up near Detroit and now splits his time between the Bay Area and the internet.

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5 stars
45,701 (22%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 28,240 reviews
Profile Image for Blair.
1,768 reviews4,238 followers
July 9, 2015
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is one of those books that appears to have the perfect blend of ingredients for something brilliant. It's a mystery/adventure set in San Francisco, revolving around an out-of-work marketeer and web designer who takes a job as a clerk at the odd little bookshop of the title. He soon realises that there is more to Mr. Penumbra's than meets the eye, and together with a group of his friends, he embarks on a mission to get to the bottom of the shop's real purpose. What follows is a fantastical series of events involving an international secret society and almost impossibly complex codes hidden inside a series of books. It's a collision of ancient mystery and very modern, internet-savvy characters. It really sounded like something I would love, and it was in fact a really enjoyable little story. However, it's short - almost certainly far too short for all the ideas it tries to cram in - and at the end I realised it had been something of a letdown, for two main reasons.

Firstly, I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that it was very familiar, that I'd almost read it before. It didn't take me long to realise that this was because the narrative voice reminded me so much of Ready Player One, a great adventure book which I read about a year ago. If it wasn't for the fact that Ready Player One is set in the future, I could easily have believed that this story was being told by a slightly older version of the same guy. Obviously the stories are very different, but their voices sound and feel very alike. Also, the plot is similar to Lev Grossman's Codex. Incredibly similar. Both have a kind-of-likeable, kind-of-annoying young male protagonist whose sidekicks are a computer-obsessed best friend and an unusually intelligent young woman (who's also the love interest), a central mystery involving a peculiar library and a centuries-old encoded book, and the use of modern technology and software to help solve a very old-fashioned conundrum. (There's even one scene, involving the main character visiting a warehouse full of museum objects to retrieve an important artefact, which I'm pretty sure is in both books, but I'd have to re-read Codex to know for definite, it's possible I'm confusing it with something else.)

Secondly, I found it very juvenile. I'm only sure it must be intended for an adult market because all the characters are adults - I really felt the author's style and execution would be much better suited to an adventure for teens (more specifically, teenage boys). Weirdly, it felt more like YA to me than Ready Player One, which actually has teenage protagonists. It also had all the hallmarks of YA that normally stop me from enjoying it: lack of a properly detailed backstory; two-dimensional characters (the bad guy is a collection of clichés and a damp squib all at once); way too many convenient details (Neel is a millionaire who can pay for everything the group needs, Kat can get them into Google and utilise all the company's resources for their task, etc). There's no real tension or peril: it's too obvious any obstacles are going to be overcome easily. I did genuinely like the fact that the power of new technology was so closely woven into a story about an arcane fellowship of book-lovers, and the progression of the story illustrated that there will always be a place for both 'old' and 'new'. But all those references to Google, Twitter, apps etc are going to sound very dated very soon, and the fact that the characters could solve practically anything by looking it up on the internet - while accurate and funny - diffused a lot of potential tension.

I thought this was a likeable, quick and very easy read but I have to admit I'm a bit bemused by all the rave reviews it's been getting. It's a nice idea, but it's been done before and done better. Ready Player One is more involving and more fun, and there are countless versions of the secret-society-intrigue-and-mystery story that have more power, atmosphere and punch.
Profile Image for Libby.
157 reviews11 followers
November 9, 2012
Meh - 1.5 stars because the plot was interesting enough that I finished the book and there were some funny moments. While Mr. Sloan is imaginative and quick witted it does not make up for poor writing and boring characters. The book is just bad first person narrative. This would be an acceptable as a Syfy Saturday movie but not for a novel.For example "It's early in the morning. We came straight from the airport. Neel visits Manhattan all the time for business and I used to take the train down from Providence . . ." or "I tap Kat's shoulder and point to the glowing lamps. Neel narrows his eyes." The entire narrative is just so damn obvious its annoying - here is what I see, here is what we are doing etc.

Also, the book is a novel long ad for Google and Amazon. The narrator can't stop talking about "Googlers" and Kindles. I like my Kindle but not as its own character in my book. I can see that the author was trying to marry the old and the new - traditional books and new technology but he failed, really, really failed. I'd like my $12 back.
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
June 29, 2018
suuuuper fun!

this book is going to sell like gangbusters when it comes out in october. mostly because each and every one of you reading this review are going out and getting yourselves a copy. this is a command.

you like books, right? yes, you do, because you are a member of goodreads. and this book is about books! and puzzles! and adventure! there's not a whole lot that's better than that.it is shades of Salamander and The Grand Complication: A Novel and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler and The Name of the Rose, but it is definitely distinctly its own.

this book is just a pure joy to read - each character has their own particular skill set, and are quirky without being cutesy about it, and each contributes to solve one hell of a book-mystery involving secret booknerd societies, typography, ancient artifacts, codes and puzzles, the capabilities of computers,and the coolest bookstore you have ever heard of.the mystery is satisfying and the attention to detail is very much appreciated, plus i learned a thing or two.

this is one of those books it is better if you discover and experience on your own, so i am not going to say anything else about it, suckers!

but this is wild, page-turning fun, and i urge you all to get your hands on a copy if you like books about books. and you do.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
December 31, 2013
HOLY MOLY, BATMAN, EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS. I am actually so excited to write this review... I HAVE SO MANY THINGS TO SAY!

Because I have so many thoughts, let's do this bullet-point style.

- This story was so positive and mood-uplifting! Geez. I never felt that horrible dread you feel sometimes when you're reading: that loss of faith with the author where you ask the horrible question "Is the author going to screw this all up?" All throughout reading the book there were moments where I felt the exciting jolt of panic.. “Oh no! What’s going to happen?!” but I never felt worry that the story would end badly. It was constantly fun and happy. It made me happy.
- I LEARNED SO MUCH. Okay, as a person I love to learn new things, but the truth is that I don’t read very much non-fiction. When reading you are constantly learning new things through the decisions of people, by taking on new perspectives, but in this book I actually learned new facts and things! It felt like I was picking up interesting knowledge and it kept me excited to read.
- There were so many great uses of setting in this book. Wowzapants. To places like Hogwarts, to places like Spy Kids, from Google to a knitting museum, this book never felt stagnant. It was fresh and exciting and the settings all felt so legitimate.
- The best way I can describe the idea of this book is “National Treasure for Book Lovers”. I love the National Treasure movies, they are just a good ol’ time, and so was this book!
- The characters were so complex! And there were so many of them! We had so many different secondary characters constantly being introduced but the writing never made them feel unnecessary… in real life we have people that we need for certain things but only interact with very little. This book had lots of different levels of interaction with people, which was new and great. Also, the characters were all super complex and fascinating. None of them felt flat or 1 dimensional.. they were all real people and were constantly surprising.
- The collaboration between old and new. Between older people and younger people, older technologies and newer technologies, older thinking and newer thinking. Brilliant!
- Speaking of technology, THE TECHNOLOGY. There was such an amazing use of different technologies in this book, but best of all they were all plausible. There are some movies and books where a character pulls out a tool that is specifically designed to solve the exact problem at hand and it’s so unrealistic… those tools can’t exist! But everything used in this book was real, and it made me feel like this adventure actually happened.
- Finally, the main character. WHAT A MAIN CHARACTER! He is exactly the kind of lead you want in this type of story! Constantly clueless BUT TRYING HIS HARDEST, absolutely hilarious, and genuine and earnest.

I had such a riot reading this book. And the best part? I know I’m going to love rereading and rereading this book until the end of my days. It was so well crafted and had me in smiles and laughs every time I picked it up. Ultimate recommendation!

PS: A shout-out to my main men, Jesse from JesseTheReader and Dylan from DylanBooks, for reading this with me! Talking to them throughout the reading made it even more fun! The mystery had us going and it took us to a happy place :)
Profile Image for Sarah.
431 reviews107 followers
February 8, 2013
Should probably be two stars, but I feel mean and petty today. Sorry, Mr. Sloan.

It all just seemed so...amateur. I feel kind of pretentious saying that, which makes me sad, because there's nothing I hate more than pretentious book reviews. It's just a mess of worn-out tropes and utterly unoriginal characters. Mysterious dusty bookshops and peculiar old men. I think Sloan tried to revamp that old line with some "hip" new technology stuff, but he just failed miserably. He almost made me hate Google just by talking about it so much. And he killed any potential for intrigue and adventure in the book by making his main character (oh-so-coincidentally) friends with experts on everything with access to every resource one could possibly need. Need to figure out a code in a book? By golly, guess it's good he's friends with a girl who has access to the best scanner and decoder in the world! Need money? Not a problem, 'cause his elementary-school best friend is a millionaire! Need a moveable scanner? Luckily he knows just the site to find one, and a stranger is willing to build and transport it to him! Needs to know about ancient art shit? Thank the Lord his co-worker is an archaeological genius! Christ. Sloan was clearly a Harry Potter fan, so I'm just glad he didn't write that series: "'We have to find the horcruxes!' Harry realized. He logged onto the horcrux database and typed a simple search: 'horcruxes AND voldemort OR he-who-must-not-be-named.' Seven results! Perfect! But how to destroy them? Harry called up Dumbledore, who had made his fortune building a special transportable Horcrux Deactivator made of wizard cardboard. Hedwig fetched it for him immediately, and Harry utilized it to great effect. All was well." Yes, technology can make things easier. And I appreciate that Sloan didn't ignore it--too many books nowadays build elaborate plot points around things that could be solved with a simple Google (yes, Google again!) search. But he went too far in the other direction and killed his own story's intrigue.

I thought the climax of the story was terribly underwhelming. I had no interest in any of the characters. I appreciate what Mr. Sloan was trying to do, but it fell flat for me. Things felt rather gimmick-y. It's probably a bad sign when the best thing about your book is that it glows in the dark.

Sigh. What a mean review this is. I feel a bit bad about it, actually. If the book sounds really interesting to you, go ahead and read it. But I got nothing from it.
Profile Image for carol..
1,535 reviews7,871 followers
May 28, 2018
Authors are magicians. I was in the early pages of Mr. Penumbra when I realized that Sloan was sneaking in a major chain of events in only a few short paragraphs with the intention of moving the story to where he needed it. It was the authorial equivalent of "look, nothing up my sleeve" in preparation of a hat trick. Rather than irritation from this momentary flap of curtain or glimpse of rabbit ear, I was rather captivated.

Thinking back on books I've loved or hated, it occurs to me that in that moment of authorial sleight-of-hand, the reader willingness to accept the underlying set-up is fundamental to the experience of the story, particularly in fantasy, sci-fiction and magical realism. A suspension of belief at the right parts, or at least belief enough in the presentation to accept and enjoy it, is crucial to a good read.

Penumbra is charming, and it was easy to be interested in Clay's search for a job, intrigued by the mystery of the bookstore, and captivated by the charisma of Clay's friends. Eventually, Sloan reaches a bit too far, tries a large-scale trick that requires more stage presence and set-up than he can pull off. In particular, the New York section started to feel like someone imported The Da Vinci Code. It's the equivalent of seeing a magician at the local theater and watching them try and disappear the Empire State Building. The story veers out of control and falls apart, yet still manages to remain charm and sincerity to be worth reading.

Part of Sloan's skill is in his ability to capture familiar emotion. I remember those days when I had job-idealism:
"But I kept at it with the help-wanted ads. My standards were sliding swiftly. At first I had insisted I would only work at a company with a mission I believe in. Then I thought maybe it would be find as long as I was learning something new. After that I decided it just couldn't be evil. Now I was carefully delineating my personal definition of evil."

There's a lovely, lovely description of a bookstore, instantly familiar to any book-lover:
"The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest--not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight's reach."

A description of Clay's co-worker, Oliver, instantly resonated with that interesting dualism of solid and dreamy:
"Oliver is a graduate student at Berkeley, studying archeology. Oliver is training to be a museum curator... He speaks in short, simple sentences and always seems to be thinking about something else, something long ago and/or far away. Oliver daydreams about Ionian columns."

I too have a nebula friend:
"So I guess you could say Neel owes me a few favors, except that so many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula."

I also have to commend both Clay and Sloan for writing a meeting of a love interest that involves hair, tee-shirt, nail and chipped tooth, culminating with:
"This girls has the spark of life. This is my primary filter for new friends (girl- and otherwise) and the highest compliment I can pay."

Despite the strong, delightful beginning, Sloan lost me by the end. I thought the quest metaphor was clever, and appreciated the connection with a fantasy trilogy and friend that was instrumental in Clay's formative years but it didn't quite stretch far enough. Or maybe it did, and the quest was an illusion. It's hard to say; Sloan was showing his hand too much by the end and the spy caper didn't fit with the sweet bookstore mystery. The romance was lost in the quest, and imperfectly resolved. Neel's professional fascination with boobs struck me as a false note, although it had the feel of a ten-year-old voyeur over the thirty-year-old creeper. My final complaint is rooting the story so solidly in Google; perhaps integral to Sloan's version of the story, it significantly roots it in time and will date it faster than any other element. For me, these concerns added up to too many wires and mirrors, and allowed me to lose the illusion.

Three, three and a half stars.
Profile Image for Maciek.
562 reviews3,315 followers
January 15, 2013
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is the debut novel by Robin Sloan, and a publishing sensation - it was Amazon's Best Book of the Month in October 2012, and received a lot of attention and praise from reviewers, authors and readers. No wonder - who wouldn't want a 24-hour book store?

The novel aspires to be classified as a "literary mystery", or an "intelligent thriller" - both labels are somewhat insulting by suggesting that mysteries and thrillers are by default a lower tier of literature, and that the classic whodunnit does not require the use of the reader's brain other than to remember what the detective is called, hence the need to emphasize that this particular one is in fact intelligent and should not be grouped together with the common paperback, featuring the latest case of inspector Z in the series Y. Its premise usually aims to be more complex than a simple murder scenario: the protagonist(s) usually search for a long lost document of great importance, one which can change the history of the world. Of course the existence of such a thing is also known to the bad guys, here played by an underground group/secret society. This scheme presents plenty of opportunities to include laboriously researched data, allowing the reader to feel the impression that they're learning facts along with following the plot, which moves at the pace of a "regular" thriller - and you've got a bestseller. The poster boy of this movement is of course Dan Brown, who with his The Da Vinci Code shot up to fame and popularity unexpected by anyone; hundreds of novels following aiming to cash in on the scheme have appeared since its publication in 2003.

Mr. Penumbra reminded me heavily of Lev Grossman's forgotten novel Codex, which also follows Brown's pattern: Both Penumbra and Codex have a male protagonist who is friends with a computer genius; the central mystery involves a special book (and a secret library) and features the use of contemporary technology to understand its contents. It also struck me as completely plain and almost juvenile, despite being marketed as a work for adults.

The characters lack depth and originality, and barely provoke any interest in the reader; from the paper-thin protagonist and his wealthy IT yuppie friend, the love interest - a slim and geeky girl who is of course attractive and willing to be interested in our protagonist (she's described as having feline-like qualities, and is called...Kat) - because the author makes so. Even the old Mr. Penumbra with his quirky name provokes little interest. There's a foreing character from Belarus, who's also hopelessly presented with attempts at a foreign accent and a foreign name of Igor (at least it's not Ivan).

Although the book is set in San Francisco, it does not have any sense of the place; it could have been set in any city on the East Coast - or West Coast for that matter, or in truth in any major city in any country: the only references to San Francisco are the mentions of the IT businesses and people profiting or getting laid off, and just once - "the smell of the ocean". The setting is like a cardboard prop in a B-movie, threatening to fall apart at the slightest gust of wind.

The central mystery does not feel like a mystery at all, as there is no sense of any possible danger looming ahead; although the main character is presented as a man in a tough spot he and his friends always easily find a convenient solution to any problem, which comes at a little to any cost. The novel is short - very short - and packed with references to pop culture and books - communicating via Skype, the inner workings of Google, working at a bookstore and dealing with weird customers - but these references seem to do little for the overall plot, as they are what most of us already experienced and know well. With a well-oiled engine to drive this book forward, the pace slows down, and the road ends up nowhere.

I was not surprised when I discovered that the author has initially published a short story, which he later expanded into a novel. I did not find the short story any better, and the added fat did not give the novel any extra merit: it has been done before and better, and undoubtedly will be again. This book is forcefully hip, tries to accomplish too much and accomplishes too little; even as an allegory or fantasy it's too bland and obvious. The comparisons readers and critics make strike me as unbelieveable - Umberto Eco? Neal Stephenson? William Gibson? Really? I remain puzzled by its popularity and the praise it gathered - perhaps the real (and much more interesting) conspiracy lies there.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 46 books128k followers
May 24, 2013
Well, I can't say I've been charmed by a book more in a while, and jealous I didn't write it. This is a totally hipster book that rings all my bells, I feel like it sort of summarizes the zeitgeist of our internet generation, the gap between old and new.

Basically the main character, Clay, is unemployed tech guy, gets a job in a run-down bookstore that has a mysterious agenda that he can't help but get roped into. I'm a sucker for secret societies, and there's a touch of Amelie whimsey that is right up my alley in this as well. I mean, Google comes into it, it's so almost a cliche for me this book!

If I were to quibble, it's that the ending isn't quite dramatic enough, but the journey was so fun I can forget that. Recommended!
Profile Image for Ami.
5,809 reviews499 followers
January 4, 2016
Forgive me, people, this review will be all gushing!

This book charmed me from the very beginning -- with fresh internal monologues, from Clay Jannon, a recent unemployed young man, who just lost his first job out of art school... Then he walks into a bookstore (OMG BOOKSTORE!!) and he climbs the ladder, and I'm in love.

How could I not?

This book is a love letter for books, bibliophiles, but also for technology. We know that the world of books, publishings, and reading have changed in the recent years, thanks to the wonderful world of Internet. There are ebooks, ereaders (Kindles, Nook, Kobo, etc), and tablets. We start looking for definitions from Google (instead of those huge print dictionaries). We start looking for facts on Wikipedia. It's NEW, it's EXCITING!

This book refers to all that. It combines the wonderful world of stories (fonts! printings! hidden messages in stories!!), manual crafting (people making props for movies! Knittings!) and technology (data visualization! GOOGLE! computer language!) and creates a great adventure for a simple reader, like myself. It's not futuristic, it's not high fantasy, it's simply a use of contemporary items around us ... and of course, BOOKS!

I'm simply in love with the feeling that this book evokes. I feel like I'm right there with Clay, and his eccletic friends: there's Kat, the smart girl working at Google, there's Neel, his millionaire best-friends who is making money by creating the best BOOBS visual in the world (yes, people, BOOBS!), Mat who is an extraordinaire with props, and of course, Mr. Penumbra, the owner of the store who is also involved in a secret literary group. And it keeps the right balance between books and technology. Just when I think technology will win it all, to solve everything, the book throws a twist. That nope, the great human mind can still win. It's just so, SO amazing.

The book is not without flaws. I'm quite disappointed that the whole adventure pretty much happens at Google or at the store. I sort of want the story to go all "Indiana Jones" or "National Treasure", you know, with secret caves, and such. Also, the very VERY contemporary feeling of this story, might make it go outdated quickly. But in the end, I go back to the whole feeling I have when I'm reading this. It's excitement, it's happiness, it's like being with friends who are really, really enthusiastic about the things I love.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:

A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

And the last sentence just makes me all shivery and tingly ... because yes, the RIGHT BOOK, at exactly THE RIGHT TIME, will make everything worth while *sigh*
Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,844 followers
June 15, 2012
I am so happy that we happened to be walking past the booth were Robin Sloan was signing, and someone was holding up a copy of the attractive ARC trying to lure people onto the line (which I now see the cover has been added to the book on goodreads, the book looks better than the picture suggests). This is good and I'm thinking if the world has any fairness at all this will be a fairly good selling book this fall.

In a perfect world this would go blasting up the sales charts and topple the Fifty Shades craze, but that's not really going to happen but this is one of those books that succeeds at being a good 'page-turner' and fairly smart (and not smart in the way of say, I cribbed all the details from Holy Blood, Holy Grail kind of smart).

I'm pretty excited for this book to come out, and fellow book-nerds you should be too.

It's about books, and an old bookstore, and hidden secrets mixed with some hacker / internet stuff and it's been written as if it were super-super contemporary (which I think is a little unfortunate, it's written almost too up to the minute for the bookworld, and the references will get dated fairly quickly).

It's not the best written book ever, and it's not as smart as say Flame Alphabet, but it's super-fun. It's the kind of book that makes me wish that there were more books like it in existence. It's sort of in the same league as The Shadow of the Wind or a pared down Umberto Eco novel written but William Gibson (or actually by a reigned in Neal Stephenson would be accurate, but he can't seem to write books that aren't gigantic meaty tomes, and this isn't that kind of book).

Maybe I'll re-read this book and write more of a review when it gets closer to the October 2nd pub date, but for now take my word on this and put it on your to-read shelf so you don't forget about it!

Oh and this book really makes me wish I had been smarter and younger and been the type of person that google would hire.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews660 followers
September 13, 2017
OK, I'm going to try something different with this review...a bit of snark!

I have been wanting to read this one for so long. I was enchanted about the idea of this 24 hour book store. A book about a bookstore, with book references...yeah! But what I got instead, was a drinking game. That's at least what I got out of this one. The story starts with Clay Jannon, who has lost his job at a bagel place where he is doing tech work and then goes to work at Mr. Penumbra's 24 hour book store. He tells his story and I was a bit worried initially when he gets into tech talk about his job, doing web site design, coding, and more. Describing the bookstore was good, but then you keep hearing more and more tech jargon. I started getting bored, then it was GOOGLE this and that. Over and over again. So I decided when he was began talking tech, DRINK a shot! When he mentions GOOGLE, drink a double shot, DRINK! Oh wait, every time he opened his Mac book or closed his Mac book (never just a computer) DRINK! Oh my goodness! Anyway, Mr. Sloan is obviously a foodie - from the info on the job at the bagel place, to the risotto making roommate, to the...wait for it.... GOOGLE (DRINK!) cafeteria. Where he had the lentil salad that is awesome at the GOOGLE (DRINK!) cafeteria. But there's more, there is a heavy tequila shot you must DRINK when we hear about Steve Jobs, Apple, and Microsoft (DRINK!). At this point, I just don't care about the bookstore and how the GOOGLE (DRINK!) pixie chick with her friends help with....oh I dunno, I've had too much to drink by now.

Seriously, I work in the tech field. I hear all this stuff all day, I write and read code, I read technical books, I write technical documents, I use GOOGLE (DRINK!) search engine for troubleshooting, and the last thing I want to do in my evenings is read a technical book. I had no idea this book would go down this path. I actually did a GOOGLE (DRINK!) search of Mr. Sloan to see if he was an employee at one time of GOOGLE (DRINK!). After awhile, I though he was this geeky tech guy who wrote a book about all his favorite stuff - coding, different programming languages, a friend whose company creates boobs for computer games, food, GOOGLE (DRINK!), and his favorite book. It was almost like he had this idea to create a video game but out of that instead came a book. So yeah, this did not work for me. But I've created a drinking game that is much more fun than quarters.

I give it to the author as many people really do love this book. I listened to this one via audio and I really did like the narrator. I'm not done reading this authors books. I've been patiently waiting for his latest, which NG is making me wait forever on a decision. I do plan to read it. I just hope there are no references to GOOGLE (DRINK!) in it.

One more thing.....I actually do not drink at all! :-)
Profile Image for Baba.
3,560 reviews856 followers
June 26, 2022
Highly original page turner with a wonderful mix of dusty bookstores and old bibliophiles, alongside the digital age of Googling masters and venture capitalists, and how both worlds have their ideas and uses in the mystery that emanates from Mr Penumbra's book shop :-)

One of those (many?) books written by book nerds, edited by book nerds and published by book nerds to be read by book nerds :) 8 out of 12.

2014 read
Profile Image for Mark.
393 reviews307 followers
January 26, 2013
I have just lost the will to live. Have spent two hours writing a review of this brilliant book and then saved it but somehow Goodreads managed to lose it . Will probably kill someone if i sit here any longer so am off to the gym to do something sweaty, noisy and pointless and maybe will try again later. Very f***ing annoyed. Bye for now....................its a brilliant book by the way. I hate the 21st Century sometimes

'Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in'

'All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight'.

'There is no immortality that is not built on friendship'.

For me these three quotations sum up this madcap book. They are the foundation stones on which the whole fabulous edifice is grounded. Fabulous in every way imaginable.

'There is no immortality that is not built on friendship'

It is, put simply, the story of a young bloke, Clay Jannon, growing in knowledge of himself through his relationships. Well actually, he is a dude . This word appears to be one of Sloan's favourite ways of describing people and I have said somewhere else that I love this word and all the associations it has in my mind with cool and laid back and being part of an 'in-crowd'. However, in my case, if to be a dude was ever on offer i did not notice and so here i have one of those great moments of imagining myself in amidst this eclectic group of friends. A great piece of middle aged escapism. Anyway this 'dude', having lost his job as a website designer, stumbles across a bookshop in which he gains a shaky foothold and then begins to realize there is far more to its dusty and vertigo inducing bookshelves then first he thought.

Sloan's characterization of the different relationships between the main characters is lovely. Their interaction is really believable and the gradual deepening of the various frienships is a joy to behold.

'All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight'

Our hero begins to ask himself questions as he settles deeper into this wonderful shop. 'What are all these books for, couched as they are, in a seemingly pointless and meaningless mixture of letters and numbers?'. 'What are these bunch of eccentric oddbods who flit in and out at all hours grabbing first one book and then another excitedly when none of the books seem to bear any relationship to each other and none seem to mean anything?' He begins to realize there is a quest for something momentous but what it is, he is unsure. It is the search for the solving of this underlying mystery at the heart of the bookshop which is the fascinating triumph for Sloan.

Computers, Ancient Printing Presses, Secret Societies and mysterious hidden buildings, sinister, shadowy rumours and theories move and revolve around each other to create an intriguing story which moves back and forth across history cleverly showing the essential truth of the little aphorism quoted above. However it is the fact that the truth of this quotation stretches beyond the book and out into my mind which i found fascinating. What goes unnoticed to me? What truths do i ignore or misunderstand or, more likely, take for granted and dismiss?

Sloan has a great imagination. Two little examples of the world he creates; He presents us with a system of storage of information on the web which, in its complicated and far-reaching stretch, seems totally believable and he describes an enormous warehouse in which all discarded and overlooked treasures are kept safely and securely awaiting reclamation or just abandonment. In this warehouse, enormous beyond imagining, the different storage cases and shelves move around via computer programmes as if with a mind of their own as people go to claim or borrow them. Both these creations were so well presented that i felt they must have already existed, they must have been things Sloan was simply describing from reality. His Quidditch if you will, so real that it must already exist somewhere. This is the sign of an excellent imagination and a first rate writer .

There is one small little scene in the warehouse involving Clay and a portrait...when you read the book you will know exactly the scene I mean and it made me smile, broadly. That is another strength of Sloan's book, it is not thigh slappingly funny, and I did see Tom Cruise do that very thing on an interview show once so I know there are some idiots who actually do that, no Sloan's book is gently amusing. His dialogue, his descriptions and his plot, all these things make you smile and that can never be bad.

There is something for book lovers here and for computer geeks and technophiles, for health freaks and conspiracy theorists and for code breakers and suspense fans. Is there much for those of a love persuasion ?.....Well there is the gentlest fragrance of a romance or two to keep you wondering, there is a heavy musk of testosterone induced hetero bro-mance, there is the incense laden scent of disciple and master and the underlying whiff of hero worship and, of course, the over-riding odour of book-adoration but wherever the love comes from Sloan is saying something of real significance it seems to me.

'Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in'

Don't block off those exits or entrances that you think are unusable or defunct. You never know who will enter your life and by which by-way. Any locked door or no entry sign or keep out marker does not protect but impoverishes. Jannon comes to realize that more and more and so do the people with whom he comes into contact. This is, as others have said before, a book of friendship but it is friendship in a myriad of forms.

My apologies to Mr Sloan for this paltry attempt at review. The one I toiled over this morning, the one that got away...it was so much bigger and better...lol

Seriously though, I loved this book but the GR demon who ate the last review ate a bit of my soul at the same time and I could not bring myself to launch in again. So please, dear reader, take this as a small offering and maybe when i have the heart for it i will try better. It is an excellent book though.
Profile Image for Ben.
177 reviews12 followers
November 26, 2012
Ugh, not recommended. I considered stopping reading several times, but it was such a quick read that I just sped on through.

The novel made a dramatization of numerous topics that I do feel like I have a bit of expertise around - San Francisco, Googlers, data visualization, encryption - and the book's representation came off as a shallow, borderline painful overt dramatization. It seemed ridiculous. I know little of the author's background, but the novel itself gave the impression of too strong an effort to tie in lightly researched topics rather than topics of the writer's intimate knowledge. Normally, I like the reference to something I know - it creates a personal attachment to the narrative...that was not the effect of this book.

The prose wasn't particularly laudable. After the first 50 pages or so, I found myself skimming the paragraphs and not really feeling like I was missing much via a skim versus a proper read. I can't imagine that this book will fare well with time either: the contemporary references are set in such a way that five or ten years from now, this book will be incredibly dated feeling. Furthermore, there seemed to be numerous details and plot points that seemed totally irrelevant to the story: the core of this story seemed to be about 40 pages long.

I'm struggling for positive feedback on this book...it was a short, easy read which made the pain points bearable.

Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,890 reviews1,919 followers
April 26, 2016
Rating: 3.9* of five

The Book Description: A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.

With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.

My Review: A bookstore with no customers wanted. A secret society called “The Unbroken Spine.” A library of books in a code that even Google boffins have trouble breaking. In the end, a resolution to the seemingly mortal combat between tree books and ebooks that will leave the true-hearted reader smiling.

Escapist fun. Rollicking silliness. Eccentric amusement. All on offer in heaping helpings, with a garnish of goofy grins.

Election season has me on Outrage Overload, and my antidote to any ill is reading a good book. Short of terminal disease, I believe a good read will cure any ailment of mind, body, or spirit. I stopped frothing hysterically about Bain Capital owning an interest in a voting-machine contractor in Ohio for almost an hour while reading this book. Watching the evil-bastard GOP set up for another election steal like 2000 causes me to scream imprecations loudly, so Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore hath wrought a miracle!

Take a break from your cares. Read this enjoyable, entertaining book about improbable people doing implausible things to solve an impossible, absurd problem. It will leave you refreshed!

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Profile Image for Kaylin (The Re-Read Queen).
422 reviews1,629 followers
May 6, 2018
DNF @ 48%

Just... so very boring.

There's literally a MAGIC BOOKSTORE this should be AMAZING. But instead it wastes time on:

- a protagonist so boring I've forgotten his name
- a manic-pixie-nerd-girl who's soooo down-to-earth guys (she seriously only owns 10 replicas of the same shirt because she just DOESNT care about fashion and she works for Google, she's just super chill, okay??)
- random my-roommates-are-making-out-drama
- a bunch of technobabble about how because of Kindle and Nook books will die out and we will live in a sad, desolate future.

There's a somewhat interesting mystery that kept me going for a little while, but the story forgot to make me care?
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,825 followers
January 16, 2015
This book reminded me of Ready Player One a lot. I think fans of that book will enjoy this one. The ideas may not have been as tight in this one, but pop culture, book, and computer geeks should enjoy this.
Profile Image for da AL.
366 reviews366 followers
October 4, 2017
The first third of it was promising, then everything about it petered out. The Harry Potter meets techie vibe began ok, but got tedious. A romance started off interestingly, then quickly wallowed. The same for the author's philosophical ruminations on book love in all its forms: print, ebook, audio. Be it characters, settings, or situations, all started interesting, then turned into duds. I skimmed through the last third, finished it only because I'd started it.

The audio book reader, however, was great.
Profile Image for Rachel.
289 reviews32 followers
October 2, 2014
What started out as an engaging novel about a charismatic bookstore became a nearly 300-page ode to Google and Millenial entitlement. Google was really the main character here. The Google butt-kissing started early, and served to make it so that I never once found Kat appealing or endearing. In fact, I felt that she was just a big, whiny child playing with shiny toys and having a temper tantrum when the things around her didn't go exactly her way. She basically represents everything about my generation that is awful, and is the reason why so many of us are struggling to find jobs (NOT at Google where, quite honestly, I had been desperate to work until I read this book). Our generation has a terrible reputation, and Sloan does a great job showcasing why, frankly, I wouldn't want to work with us either.

The vast majority of the characters in this book feel entitled to knowledge that they haven't earned. Much like the ill-fated scientists in Jurassic Park, they stand on the shoulders of those who came before and - having skipped the hard work that requires patience and discipline - wield their new power with tremendous immaturity and disregard for the hard work of others. They also seemed to forgo adherence to things like laws, binding contracts, and the general principles of ownership since, you know, basic and understandable societal rules are in the way of what they want.

I also started to get sick of all these extraordinarily talented - and, in most cases, very wealthy and highly educated - characters spending all this time standing around and patting each other on the back for being so wonderful. The ending would really only be possible for super-rich, talented, and connected folks, not the average person looking for work or struggling through life in SF, a reality faced by myself and many of my friends every day. Most of us don't have rich friends to bail us out when we get stuck in crummy, going-nowhere jobs after plunging ourselves into debt for our now-useless degrees.

This book, while initially promising, was really a love note to entitlement and privilege. It left me feeling angry about the state of the world, especially the state of the city I cherish so much; a city where now, students can't afford to live even in basement "apartments" because these start-up tech industry folks will pay out the butt for them, so rent has been blown sky high.

Screw you, Sloan, for trying to paint some sort of jaunty, sympathetic portrait of these hapless, childish, selfish idiots who are making life utter hell for the rest of us by sucking so hard at caring about anyone but themselves. It was also especially revolting to see the rampant nepotism of start-ups (which has screwed so many of us out of positions we've worked hard and studied hard to fill) played off as some cute, meaningful artifact of extra-best-friendship. This book encapsulates everything that sucks about SF right now, everything that sucks about my generation, in a 300-page nutshell.

So, unless you want to read about some uber-privileged hipsters making all their dreams come true with loads of money and unearned knowledge, I suggest you take a hard pass on this one.
Profile Image for Janet.
248 reviews61 followers
June 16, 2012
This is not a review, it's a love letter.

I adored this book. Why? It had a likeable narrator in Clay Jannon, a mysterious bookshop, romance, puzzles, secret societies, a San Francisco locale (with side trips to New York), and a sly sense of humor. The theme of Old Knowledge (books) vs. Internet knowledge gave the author the chance to slip in scenes at Google, a museum dedicated to knitting overrun by first graders, information about fonts, a character who made his fortune creating realistic 3-D versions of breasts, and a warehouse of artifacts that seemed a cross between what I imagine Amazon's warehouses to be and the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The theme also allowed for scenes that reminded me of other books and movies, from Lord of the Rings, Canticle for Leibowitz, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Shadow of the Wind, and, strangely enough, O Brother Where Art Thou.

There were so many parts of this book I wish I could quote here! But I will restrain myself and wait until it is published in October. Until then, I will content myself with recommending it enthusiastically.

This book is fun . It's the kind of book that made a reader of me, the kind of book that keeps me reading, the kind of book I can't wait to tell people about. So be prepared.
Profile Image for Darth J .
417 reviews1,252 followers
July 10, 2016
4.5 Stars

Oh, so much of this book is exactly what I wanted.

There was first an old and dusty bookstore.

With an old and whimsical caretaker.

And a prophecy surrounding a secret cult of black robe wearing bibliophiles, written in code form.

Did I mention that this secret cult meets in an underground library? The entrance is a fricken' swiveling bookcase!

Hell, even the characters have interesting names such as Kat Potente, Corvina, and Ajax Penumbra.

There's even a bit about google and coding which reminded me of one of my recent new favorite books, The Circle, and made this book seem both classic and contemporary at the same time.

The writing is really witty and I was caught off guard quite a few times by the unexpectedly funny twists in storytelling.

BUT... oh, how I was disappointed towards the end. The interesting parts of the story just fall apart and there are a few trips to dullsville. The whole reveal of the code was a major letdown, which I thought did not suit the rest of the book at all. I was loving this book up until that last 3rd, and it feels like the writer just handed the rest of the story off to someone who didn't know how to make it connect to the beginning. For that lame ending, I'm giving this 4.5 stars - and trust me, it is killing me to do that to one of my favorite books of the year so far.
February 24, 2019
I recognized this book was special immediately. Unless Robin Sloan fumbled the writing, I knew I would love it and award five stars. When an oeuvre is distinct from anything that has come before, you can't guess what it will entail. This quest didn't delve into the metaphysical realm I envisioned. Its ultra modernity was unexpected but so too, its stunningly successful balance with elements of antiquity. Where Robin did steer us does not disappoint. I whizzed through his novel with the elation a satisfying excursion brings! After I closed it, I scoured reviews; revved-up to furiously refute low feedback. It is a downer, that some oddballs fail to appreciate a feat of literary uniqueness that has you soaring. My review is for future readers!

What really reels us in is better than the cover: cryptic synopsises. Good ones are hard to find. Many are over-dramatically, exaggeratedly cheesy: "Lives changed forever!", as if plain change isn't alerting enough! Many synopsises are spoilers. The summaries of "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and "A Wrinkle In Time", 1962, give the least information I have ever seen and they dazzled me. I yearned to know what made this bookstore secretive: a mission dependent on childhood fans of fantasy, an internet geek, a relay of cooperation, and old-fashioned effort. They travel, flee, and inspire loyalty between friends.

The ancient history I imagined definitely makes the cut too. There is a coveted mystery to solve, the rare kind of treat I relish! Instead of churning out a crime, this is a genuine mystery: it is all about a puzzle! This novel bestows an unexpected nugget, an overlaying message that moved me most profoundly of all. Computers are great assets but can only handle some forms of intelligence. Books, archives, and creative smarts will not become obsolete!
Profile Image for Ms. Smartarse.
590 reviews248 followers
May 11, 2019
There was something odd about this book. Not entirely sure what exactly, but I'm thinking it might've been the setting. Waaaay too close to... my real life, so to say. I'm used to stories that happen in either a far-off realm, or a place I've been to, but with just the right twist to make it seem "fantastic". This one seemed all "huh, I could actually see it happening".

As a computer programmer myself, I was lucky enough to go on a business trip to Silicon Valley, where I also visited the Google campus in Mountain View ... among other things *cue proud chest puffing*

For all that I'm not a big fan of fiction with techie characters, this book actually depicted them quite well. The visit to Google, as a guest of an employee, was rather similar to my own experience. I, of course, can't vouch for the validity of the book scanner or the entire process of putting it on hold, but a quick Google (hah!) search tells me it's a real thing.

I might have even seen something like Mr. Penumbra's book store. There are lots of cramped "mysterious"-looking second-hand bookstores in the San Francisco section of my long-term memory. Though they may not have been 100% like Mr. Penumbra's, I recall them having been close enough to serve as fodder for my imagination during reading.

Now on to what I didn't like:
So Clay, a designer with virtually no coding knowledge, learned enough Ruby( in a few days!) to build a 3D model of a bookstore, aaaand also animated it to observe possible patterns as to how they were being bought. FINE, so he might've been some undiscovered genius, who just needed the right incentive to unleash his inner geek. The animation pattern analysis though... not very likely.

Next, there was just something off about the narrative style. It was easy to read... but it just didn't feel right. Perhaps it was the narration style that didn't really fit the book's theme? I couldn't say precisely now, but it just bothered me enough to affect the flow of reading.

And last but not least, the epilogue. Ideally someone would just burn it, lest it starts breeding! I haven't been practicing my eye-rolling techniques so much since I watched... well never mind that now. Suffice to say, that the book would've been much better without it.

As mysteries go, it's not a very exciting one, but I really liked Clay's resourcefulness. It seemed quite realistic too, and made me think "hey, that's actually a real-world solution that could work". So I guess it's not a complete loss... overall.
Profile Image for Puck.
645 reviews298 followers
May 22, 2019
This book sounds like a dream, but ended up being a nightmare.

I’ve been deceived. Duped. Cheated on, or whatever you want to call it: I’ve been tricked by this book’s intriguing premise and instead of getting a story about a mysterious old bookstore, I get a book overflowing with overused tropes, stereotypical characters and lots, LOTS of references to nerd culture, Google, and boobs.

WFT happened? The first 100 pages were so promising! Clay gets a job at working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and he quickly starts to notice something strange going on. The few people who visit the store are a select, eccentric group of readers who come to loan a book every few weeks. When Clay decides to investigate one of those special books, he discovers that the bookstore is part of a secret society spread all across the globe, whose members are all guarding a very special secret.

So that sounds all very thrilling and the plot reminded me of The Shadow of the Wind, but the bookstore is the only interesting part of this book. Because the story is spiritless, the writing isn't anything special (the first-person narrative actually really got on my nerves) and neither are the characters: all of them are paper-thin and one-dimensional. We have:
- A geeky, ordinary guy who suddenly gets to be the hero (Clay, our MC with zero personality and an everlasting love for a children’s fantasy book series. The guy is in his mid-twenties.)
- His wacky best friend (Neel, whose company made millions developing Boob-software and a dude who constantly makes D&D-jokes)
- A Manic Pixie Dream Girl as Clay's love-interest (Kat, who praises Google in every line she speaks. Next to that she’s beautiful and quirky and has GREAT BOOBS! and so basically she’s a Nerd’s Wet Dream brought to life)
- And to guide them there is Mr. Penumbra as the wise, old mentor (who has no problem sharing top-secret information with youngsters he barely knows and constantly calls Clay “my boy” like he is Clay’s grandpa).

Of course we also have the old-fashioned leader of the secret bookstore-society who wants to stop our hipster heroes at all costs, but Corvina does little except call Penumbra an extremist and twirl his moustache. Very threatening.
The mystery surrounding the secret book-society is laughable as well, because any trouble that the characters run into gets fixed by modern technology. Movable scanners, data visualization, and most of all Google (the real MC of this story): high tech is the solution to every problem. Too bad it also kills any suspense or excitement that this story could have.
The ending to this uninteresting adventure is a letdown too and it only teaches Clay that you’re nothing without your friends: how original.

So the biggest mystery of this book isn’t the one about the bookstore, but how this book got so much praise and popularity. Because in my opinion, it deserves none.
Profile Image for Priscilla.
146 reviews9,725 followers
April 1, 2013
Initial thoughts:

1. Loved Clay. He is wonderfully funny, and geeky. His journey throughout the story was fantastic.
2. Loved the combination of new and traditional, young and old. Seeing ideas, and characters that are different and opposite come together.
3. Lot's of wonderfully geeky elements. Design, typography, technology, books, and other very nerdy things. It was AMAZING.
4. I really liked and appreciated how the characters and the story was grounded in reality. There are a lot of elements that had the potential to shoot off in the fantasy/sci-fi realm, but I was glad that it didn't. Really grounded the story and made it more realistic.
5. Why doesn't my cover glow in the dark?! -__-;

Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews4,021 followers
November 15, 2015
This review originally appeared on my blog, Shoulda, Coulda Woulda Books.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour-Bookstore is a book with a perfectly charming premise and a number of flaws. The premise, is, of course, what landed it on my to-read list nearly two years ago, and, I’d imagine, the list of many another bibliophile. The book centers on the new night-shift employee at a 24-Hour-Bookstore in San Francisco, who has taken the job after being laid off from his tech-start up in the Great Recession of the late aughts. He works from 10 pm to 6 am under the elderly, mysterious Mr. Penumbra and his even more mysterious clientele. For, while there is a (very idosyncratic and eccentrically chosen) bookstore at the front of his establishment (which only the occasional stripper from the club next door buys from), his real customers come for the good stuff in the back, which Clay (our protagonist) is told never to read. They appear at all hours of the day and night, borrowing books and returning them in fevers of excitement. And of course, like with any plot where there is a big red button one is very explicitly NOT to press, the day comes when Clay opens one of the books in the back. And then we begin the main plot, finding ourselves in the midst of a hundreds of years old cult of book-worshippers, secret puzzles and codes and a ragtag group of characters that stretches from your expected conservative cult leaders to modern-day tech CEOs and programmers, all thrown together by the draw of solving a puzzle.

It sounds like a premise that should work- it really is a new twist on the literary cult mystery, trying to see what it might mean for a generation with new ideas and new technology. Sloan definitely creates a true-to-life feeling about how many younger people would process finding something like this in their life: way that many characters treat this as a Saturday-night trivia exercise rather than the serious undertaking any other book would present it as (the part where they are on the major, dramatic bit of their “quest” and the two characters with actual jobs/lives are taking meetings, going to work and obsessed with stuff on their phones and only keeping half an eye on the main mystery felt really true). I also liked how Sloan really stared pretty unflinchingly in the face of the idea that computers can do decades of human work in minutes or hours and hinted at some of the different kinds of knowledge that that offers- is it “cheating”? She definitely refused to indulge in a great part of the romanticism that a lot of us book-lovers cherish for our favorite hobby. I also appreciated that the main female character was allowed, at least a few crucial points, to not conform to being just a wish-fulfillment for the main character.

But unfortunately, that’s about it for the positives. None of which has anything to do with the most important parts of a book. All of which I felt this book failed at or at the very least did a very lackluster job of showing. Let’s start with the plot, which I never found in the least suspenseful. The main character finds a problem and solves a problem within pages-usually not even by virtue of his own ingenuity (he even admits this towards the end of the book, that everything gets solved because he brings the problem to someone else). Even as the plot ramped up towards the end, there was never any mad dash or suspense- we’re flying quite comfortably on Jet Blue, thank you, and able to go about our normal lives for 3/4 of the time we’re on this “adventure” (both other main characters use vacation days and branch offices in order to go on the journey- it’s a pretty disappointingly responsible and middle-manager way to go on a quest). There’s no sense anyone is ever really in danger (ooooh no, what if the book nerds discover you’re in their secret library during unapproved hours??? I wonder if he will be able to escape the grasping arms of octogenarians who have spent their whole lives underground bent over large books???)- the greatest danger is the occasional fear of embarrassment. And, and this is something of a spoiler, but honestly you won’t be surprised by the time you get there…. the climax is told by means of a powerpoint slideshow. I don’t know if there’s a more depressing way for an author to try to indicate triumph. And let’s not even get started about the fact that a solid 100 pages of this read like an advertisement for how great it is to work at Google.

I also found myself reading this book from a great distance. It’s told in the first-person, and the book we’re holding is supposedly written by the narrator. However, despite deploying these multiple ways of hooking your reader into a personal relationship the main character, I still found myself outside the book . I never felt that moment of “I feel you, bro,” or found myself sympathizing for his struggles. Perhaps because the man himself never really let me see him beyond the surface- he told me about wanting to punch guys his girlfriend spent time with, or feeling surreal about some of the things he’s noticing, “Like, OMG, isn’t this so weird,” and being too much of a sissy to open the books he’s not supposed to open (though he takes credit for it later), but that's all I got. I think this also was at least in part due to an odd, seemingly minor, choice the author made to have the narrator's thoughts written indistinguishably from the general description and narration of plot, without italics or some other thought tag. This meant that I would often read his thoughts without the feeling they were supposed to be read with. I did occasionally like Kat, especially towards the end of the novel when Sloan really emphasized how much of her own person she is, rather than a function of the book’s technology vs. books narrative. But Neel’s whole thing (and his virtual boobs company) felt like a weird, absurdist element thrown in to make the book feel more postmodern. He belonged in some other book by Franzen or Wallace, but he definitely didn’t belong here. And Sloan really half-assed the mysterious, ancient appeal of Penumbra and the whole cult- she made them dusty shams past their prime whose ancient rites and rituals were easily taken apart by technology.

Which, I suppose, would probably be true of a lot of organizations like this (especially if they are technophobic and don’t change with the times-lookin’ at you, DaVinci Code). But then… what’s the point of this book? I don’t get it. Was centuries of work and dedication really there for an unemployed dude in his late-twenties who needed a self-esteem boost? That makes me want to side with the grumpy old cult members who are pissed that you took the meaning out of their hobby. I really thought, actually, after all the hints it gave us, that the book was going to go with “it’s all about the journey, not the destination” at the end and I was prepared to accept that as part of a growing-up shift in priorities for our hero, and when it went with what it did instead in the end, I didn’t even know what to do with it. Because you’re trying to tell me this is a book about friendship instead? And how valuable it is? Really? But you spent this book having your main character use his friends and manipulate them into doing what they wanted, so… how does that make sense? The examples of older friends in this book appear delusional and out of touch with each other, willing to use their friendship to try and twist minds and hearts. And don’t even get me started on how you stuck Kat on as a pretty bow on the end, when the entire book had made the case that that would be a horrible idea for everyone involved. Even the whole effort to “save” Mr. Penumbra didn’t feel real- I never understood why this guy was so motivated to help him, given that they had barely any interactions, he judged him constantly and he had known him for less than a few months. The work to establish the relationship, or at least the allure, of Mr. Penumbra, was never done.

I can’t even process this as a deconstruction of all of those literary conspiracy, secret society type books out there, because if your only point is “well technology would destroy that in a second,” then you are missing the point of that entire genre by dismissing it with a surface clever observation better suited to a New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs column than a serious book length treatment. I also don’t really think satire was the point in the end- too many pieces of the puzzle were left intact- because they were ineffectively drawn to begin with. So I guess… in the end I don’t really understand what this book was for. Who was it supposed to appeal to? You’ve annoyed bibliophiles, you’ve alienated a lot of readers over thirty, never mind serious readers of fiction and character studies who like to attach to your characters… and I don’t understand why.

Why are you ruining the fun without having something useful to say about why you’re doing it? I guess that’s what I’m asking. I left this book still not understanding. If you’re aiming for anything like satire of or comment on a genre and still expect the target audience to buy it, you better tease with love and understanding and be so devastatingly accurate there’s nothing they can do about it, and then you had better let them know that you get them and you’re one of them at the end. (Please see Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for reference on how to do this in beyond brilliant fashion.)

And all you had was a powerpoint slideshow at the end?

I’m sorry to all you neglected books who deserve to be pulled out of eternal middle-of-the-pile land, but this book was not one of you.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
October 6, 2021
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, #1), Robin Sloan

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest.

The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything instead, they "check out" large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store.

Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele's behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends.

But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore's secrets extend far beyond its walls.

Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز پنجم ماه اکتبر سال 2018میلادی

عنوان: کتابفروشی ۲۴ بیست و چهار ساعته آقای پنامبرا؛ نویسنده: رابین اسلوان؛ مترجم سید سعید کلاتی؛ ویراستار ساقی قاجار؛ تهران، نشر هیرمند، چاپ نخست سال1396؛ در342ص؛ شابک9789644084720؛ چاپ سوم و چهارم 1397؛ چاپ هفتم 1398؛ چاپ نهم 1399؛ چاپ سیزدهم 1400؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

داستانی درباره «کلی جانون» را بازگو میکند؛ پسری که در زمان رکود اقتصادی «آمریکا» کار خویش را در شرکتی از دست میدهد، و پس از تلاشهای بسیار، در شیفت شب یک کتابفروشی بیست و چهار ساعته، دلمشغول کار خویش میگردد؛ در اینکار تازه همه چیز از دیدگاه او ناباورانه جلوه میکنند؛ از آدمهایی که به کتابفروشی سر میزنند، تا کنجکاوی، که چرا باید چنین فروشگاه کوچک و خلوت، شبانه روز باز باشد؟ این حس کنجکاوی «کلی جانون» را به جاهای ناآشنایی میبرد، که همه چیز بسیار با دنیایی که همیشه در آن زندگی میکرده دیگرگونه است؛ شخصیت اصلی داستان، «کِلی جانون»، از سویی به دنیای چاپ، و از سوی دیگر به دنیای دیجیتال وابسته است؛ او در کنار چند گوگلی و استارتاپی تلاش می‌کند، تا با شیوه‌ های نوین، موازی کردن رایانه‌ها، و فن‌ آوریهای مصورسازی داده ها، پرده از این راز بردارد؛ داستان روایت همین کوششهاست که با ضرباهنگی ملایم ولی پرکشش خوانشگر را با خود همراه می‌کند

نقل از متن: (راهپیمایی برای کاریابی مرا حسابی از خانه دور کرده بود؛ اسم مغازه ی کناری آن کتاب فروشی بوتی که تابلویی با پایه های نئونی ضربدری داشت
درِ شیشه ای کتاب فروشی را به داخل هل دادم. با بازشدن در زنگوله ای بالای سرم به صدا درآمد و به آرامی وارد فروشگاه شدم. آن لحظه نفهمیدم از چه آستان و گذرگاه مهمی عبور کرده ام
داخل: شکل و ابعاد یک کتاب فروشی معمولی در گوشه ای از مغازه دیده می شد. آنجا به طرز بیهوده ای باریک و به طور غریبی مرتفع بود و قفسه ها در سرتاسر فروشگاه تا سقف بالا رفته بودندـ سه طبقه یا بیشتر کتاب! گردنم را تا جایی که می شد کشیدم -چرا کتاب فروشیا همیشه کاری می کنن که گردنتون اذیت بشه ؟!- و قفسه ها هر چه بالاتر می رفت و در سایه هایی محو می شد که آن سویشان چیزی پیدا نبود، این تصور را در ذهن به وجود می آورد که انگار آن مغازه سقفی ندارد
قفسه ها کیپ­ تا کیپ هم روی زمین نصب شده و این چیدمان صحنه ­ای به وجود آورده بود که احساس می کردی در حاشیه ی یک جنگل ایستاده ای ـ نه یکی از آن جنگل های دوست داشتنی کالیفرنیا، بلکه یکی از جنگل های قدیمی ترانسیلوانیایی، جنگلی مملو از گرگ ها و جادوگرها و راهزن های خنجر به دست که همگی آن سوی مهتاب به انتظار نشسته اند؛ داخل فروشگاه نردبان هایی وجود داشت که به قفسه ها تکیه داده شده بودند می شد به کمک ریل های پای قفسه ها جابه جایشان کرد. معمولاً در حالت عادی دیدن چنین چیزهایی دلچسب است، اما آنجا، وقتی به طرف تاریکی بالای قفسه ها کشیده می شدند، بدشگون به نظر می­ رسیدند. انگار در آن تاریکی مشغول شایعه ­پراکنی بودند
به نیمه­ ی جلویی فروشگاه، جایی که روشنایی درخشان نیمه ­ی روز حکمرانی می کرد و احتمالاً مراقب بود گرگ ها از آن جنگل خارج نشوند، چسبیدم. دیوار اطرافم و بالای در، شیشه ای بود. شیشه ضخیم مربعی شکل در شبکه ای از آهن سیاه حبس شده بود و با حروف طلایی درشتی به شکل سروته رویش نوشته شده بود:
زیر نوشته ی کتابفروشی ۲۴ساعته ی آقای پنامبرا نمادی قرار داشت؛ یک جفت کف دست به هم چسبیده که از وسط یک کتاب باز بیرون آمده بود
آقای پنامبرا کی بود؟
از پشت کتاب ها صدای آرامی گفت: «سلاااام.» بعد هیبتی ظاهر شد؛ مردی کشیده و لاغراندام، درست مثل یکی از نردبانهای فروشگاه، مُلبس به یک پیراهن دکمه دار خاکستری روشن و یک ژاکت آبی از پشت قفسه­­ ها بیرون آمد؛ مرد تلوتلوخوران، در حالیکه دست بلندش را به قفسه ها گرفته بود تا نیفتد، به سمتم آمد؛ وقتی از سایه خارج شد، متوجه شدم چشم­های آبی رنگش پشت خطوط نامنظم گذر سالیان پناه گرفته اند؛ سن و سال خیلی زیادی از مرد گذشته بود
با سر اشاره ای به من کرد و به سختی دستش را در هوا تکان داد و گفت: «توی این قفسه ها دنبال چی میگردی؟»؛
شروع خوبی برای یک گفت و گو بود و به دلایلی باعث شد احساس راحتی کنم؛ پرسیدم: «شما آقای پنامبرا هستید؟»؛
سری تکان داد و گفت: «من پنامبرا و نگهبان این مکانم.»؛
دقیقاً متوجه منظورش نشدم، و در جواب گفتم: «من دنبال کار میگردم.»؛
پنامبرا چشمی بر هم زد و بعد تلوتلوخوران رفت طرف میزی که درست جلوی در ورودی قرار داشت؛ میز چوبی بزرگی که مثل دژی محکم جلوی ورودی آن جنگل انبوه قرار گرفته بود؛ در صورت حمله ی قفسه ها، به راحتی میشد از آن برای دفاع از خود استفاده کرد
پنامبرا باز سری تکان داد و گفت: «کار.» خودش را ول کرد روی صندلی پشت میز و از پشت بدنه­ ی ستبر میز نگاهم کرد؛ «قبلاً هیچ وقت تو یه کتاب فروشی کار کردی؟»؛
خب، دوران مدرسه تو یه رستوران غذاهای دریایی پیشخدمت بودم که صاحب اونجا کتاب آشپزی خودش رو هم میفروخت؛ ـ اسم کتابش «کاد سِری» بود و سی و یک روش پخت مختلف ماهی «کاد» را با دقت توضیح داده بود، «البته، احتمالاً این جزء کار کتاب فروشی به حساب نمیاد»؛
آقای پنامبرا گفت: «نه نمیاد، اما مساله ای نیست؛ تجربه ی قبلی ت تو زمینه ­­ی فروش کتاب اینجا به ندرت به دردت میخوره.»؛
صبر کنید! شاید اینجا واقعاً جای عجیب وغریبی بود، به کف زمین و اطراف نگاه کردم، اما هیچ مورد مشکوکی پیدا نکردم، در واقع درست کنار دستم روی میز کوتاهی یک دسته از آثار غبار گرفته ی «داشیل همِت» قرار داشت، این نشانه ی خوبی بود
پنامبرا گفت: «برام از کتابی که عاشقشی بگو.»؛
جواب این سوال برایم خیلی آسان بود و اصلاً مرا به زحمت نینداخت؛ گفتم: «آقای پنامبرا، اون یه کتاب نیست، یه مجموعه س؛ شاید بهترین کتاب نباشه و شاید بیش از حد طولانی باشه و آخرش افتضاح تموم شه، اما تا حالا سه بار خوندمش و دلیل آشنایی م با بهترین دوستم هم این بود که هردومون وقتی کلاس شیشم بودیم، خوره ی این کتاب بودیم.»؛ بعد نفسی تازه کردم و ادامه دادم: «من عاشق کتاب تاریخچه ی ترانه ­های اژدها هستم.»؛
پنامبرا ابرویی بالا انداخت، بعد لبخند زد و گفت: «خوبه، خیلی خوبه!» بعد لبخندش عریضتر شد و دندانهای سفید و ردیفش را به رخم کشید؛ زیرچشمی بهم خیره شد و با چشمانش سراپایم را ورانداز کرد و گفت: «می­تونی از نردبون بالا بری؟»؛
و اینطوری شد که خودم را روی این نردبان، بالای طبقه ی سوم، البته منهای همکف، کتاب فروشی ۲۴ساعته ی آقای پنامبرا یافتم؛ اسم کتابی که دنبالش آمده ­ام این بالا «الاسمری» است و از سمت چپ حدود یک بازو و نصفی با من فاصله دارد؛ طبیعتاً باید از نردبان پایین بروم و نردبان را جابجا کنم تا دستم به کتاب برسد؛ اما آقای پنامبرا از آن پایین فریاد میزند: «خم شو، پسرم! خم شو!»؛
وای خدای من! واقعاً هرگز دلم میخواست چنین شغلی داشته باشم؟)؛ پایان

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 13/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,128 followers
March 3, 2015
4.5 Stars. Over a year ago, before I was on Goodreads, I tried to read this book and gave up on it early on thinking it was for a much younger group of readers. I also had too much going on and sometimes when you have a lot going on in your life it can impact everything, including what you're reading! After reading so many other people's glowing reviews I finally decided to give it another go. This time I read the whole book and by the 1/2 way mark I was hooked! Loved loved loved it! It was so much fun. If you like quirky stories I highly recommend this book! So glad I gave it another try!
Profile Image for Lois Bujold.
Author 183 books37.7k followers
October 15, 2013

Good first-person voice, and through it, characterization. The narrator/protagonist has a head I enjoyed spending time in.

This is a book both from the 21st century, and that delights in the 21st century, an incredibly welcome change from all the grimdark political dystopias out there at present.

They sly explorations of the differences between a map and a territory, analog and digital, reality and its representations, (not to mention the past, the present, and the future, tho' I am reminded that this book's present is my future, or was for most of my life) was very fine.

Highly recommended.

(I bought the Kindle edition because the wait at my library was 78 patrons long when I went to join the queue, so that word-of-mouth thing must be getting around pretty well.)

Ta, L.
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