Paola (A Novel Idea)'s Reviews > Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
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Clay Jannon, jobless after the Great Recession, stumbles upon an odd little San Francisco bookstore and finds his humdrum existence forever altered. Suddenly he has a new gig: bookstore clerk. The tools of his trade are an extremely outdated Mac with a too-short keyboard, a leatherbound ledger in which he is instructed to catalog the comings and goings of the store’s (equally odd) customers, and a ladder with which to scale the towering shelves. His boss, the enigmatic Mr. Penumbra, provides absolutely no explanation for the bookshop’s unorthodox hours, or the shelves in the very back that Clay is never supposed to so much as peek into. But curiosity is too difficult to resist, and Clay’s first tentative glimpse of the secretive world behind Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore takes him on the kind of epic adventure he never imagined having. There are conspiracy theories, black-robed cultists, mysterious visitors in the dead of night, the supposed key to immortality… and books. Ever so many books.

This is a story about the power of human ingenuity, the amazing potential of our digital age, and the timeless magic of the written word. It’s a must-read for anyone who believes that books and technology are not opposing forces, but can in fact coexist.

Warning: it’s also an anthem for every kind of geekery imaginable. It’s for book nerds, gadget people, gamers, Kings and Queens of the World Wide Web. Name any type of nerdiness, and it’s probably in here. You will definitely not be able to identify with this book if you aren’t at least a little bit of a geek. Oh, and technophobes beware — there are many, many references to things only someone unafraid of going digital would be able to understand. That being said, also skip it if you think e-books spell the end for traditional books and booksellers everywhere, because Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is about exactly the opposite. It’s about a world where print and the Internet can unite to become something even bigger and better. Essentially, Clay’s quest to uncover the truth behind the bookstore and the books within could never have been accomplished without both traditional and digital resources. Consider it a book for a generation that grew up with Google and iPods, but also see it as a bridge between the old world and the new.

This book was a true delight for me because I am an unrepentant nerd in a lot of different ways. I’ve loved books and reading since childhood, so I got all the reading-related jokes and asides. I’ve also been online, designing and coding, since I was in middle school. There is a lot of design talk in the book; one of the biggest pieces of the central puzzle happens to be a font face. Yes, a font face. (Fellow webdesign geeks, rejoice!) So if you know the difference between serif and sans-serif, if you can look at a font somewhere and know its name without having to think, then you will appreciate Mr. Penumbra intensely. There are also references to the ridiculously nerdy realm of epic high fantasy — you know, bearded wizards and harrowing quests, singing dragons, rogues and warriors, the works. It’s a subtle piece of the plot that I’m sure a lot of people will be able to follow along with (it’s not a HUGE part of the story, but a lot of humor involves it), but if you’re familiar with the era of Dungeons & Dragons or play videogames, you will so, SO get it.

And I think I just owned up to being more of a massive nerd than I ever wanted anyone to know, so I will stop now.

Anyway, I obviously enjoyed it. The narrative is funny, but nothing complicated. I will describe it as very easily readable, as long as you aren’t bothered by simple structure and as long as you can keep up with the Internet-related, technology-centric references. I know my technophobe parents would probably look at this book and think it was written in a different language. But it isn’t a treatise on why the Internet is awesome or why our entire universe will soon be plugged in, gadgetized, and online. It doesn’t ever try to prove that the era of traditional books is at an end. It’s a story for readers everywhere, of every sort, whether you still prefer the feel of a hardcover book in your hands or you’ve transitioned (like me) to digital shelves of digital books. The message in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is this: books are forever. They are never, ever going away.

Oh, and that Google can accomplish virtually anything… which I would complain about, actually, but I can’t presume to know if everything about Google that appears in this book is true or false, and so I won’t even go there. I thought a few things were farfetched in that regard, and yet as an optimist when it comes to technology and what it can do for us, there’s a part of me that is so willing to believe that all of the prospective technology in the book is possible.

Read this if you think compromise exists between a world that is increasingly digital and a past where paper was king. Read this if you’re a nerd, because it will speak to you on a level that non-nerds can’t access. (Hahaha *gets shoved into a locker*) But above all, read this if you love books, no matter what kind.

** Originally posted at A Novel Idea! Reviews **

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Reading Progress

February 24, 2013 – Started Reading
February 24, 2013 – Shelved
February 24, 2013 –
page 61
March 10, 2013 –
page 147
March 11, 2013 – Finished Reading

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