Welcome to a recurring review feature: Books about Books

Book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore
Version: ebook
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Genre: Literature & Fiction



The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a web-design drone, and serendipity, sheer curiosity and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey have landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than its name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything. Instead they “check 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 has embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour and roped his friends into helping him figure out just what’s going on. But once they take their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the secrets extend far beyond the walls of the bookstore.

Evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or Umberto Eco, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like—an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave. (Via Goodreads).

My rating: 4 stars out of 5

A weaving of so many threads, this story is about reading books, writing books, selling books, libraries, computers and mysteries, all tied together in the most unsuspecting ways.

This book was nothing like what I expected. Sure, I expected a weird bookstore. That’s a given from the title. I did not expect the intricate web of so many layers, mysteries, and relationships. The story kept pulling me along, shocking me, making me laugh and ooo and aaah.

“Now: I was pretty sure ’24-hour bookstore’ was a euphemism for something. It was on Broadway, in a euphemistic part of town.”

A core theme of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore is the intersection of and relationship between books and technology, specifically computers. Can they coexist? Does one lose its value or wisdom when the other is used? And what about tradition? How do you reconcile traditional ways with the new? Does new always have to replace the old? And does the speed of modernity and its information seeking ways make knowledge gained through those ways less valuable than knowledge gained in the traditional, more difficult, ways? Many questions and ideas are explored through Clay and Mr. Penumbra’s adventure.

This book is filled with beautiful, intricate, imagery and lovely prose.

I couldn’t put my highlighter down.I had to pause and soak in the gorgeous imagery and sometimes strange connections Sloan made. Picturing a bookstore as a forest, for instance.

“The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing on the border of a –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 the moonlight’s reach.”

I love it. I can picture it. It’s so imaginative. So great.

There were so many lines I wanted to make note of. Here’s another one:

“I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say, it’s a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside you head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.”

The characters are intriguing, entertaining, and just plain fun to be with.

There are so many characters. But each person is unique, interesting, and feels fully developed. Each character has a role to play in the story. I laughed. A lot. Clay is funny. He’s sarcastic and nerdy. His perspective is so fun to read. And he felt real. I’d actually like to be friends with him. His roommates…not so much. But Clay, yeah, we could be friends. Okay…we could probably be friends because he reminds me just a little bit of my husband.

“Google’s astonishing advertising algorithms have delivered to me a supercute girl, and I have no idea what to do with her.”

Speaking of my husband, we don’t usually like the same books. There are a few–The KingKiller Chronicles, The Gentleman Bastards series. Our usual reads are not very similar. This book though, I could see him reading and enjoying. It’s quirky, but in a really intelligent and educated way. It’s intricate and sarcastic and lovely.

If you like puzzles to solve, mysteries involving lots of people, clues, and sarcasm this might be a book for you.

“When I was a kid reading fantasy novels, I daydreamed about hot girl wizards. I never thought I’d actually meet one, but that’s only because I didn’t realize wizards were going to walk among us and we’d just call the Googlers.”

“We need James Bond with a library science degree.”

Images via Goodreads and unsplash 

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