Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

Book coverFrom Global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, young love, and the secret to eternal life — mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore. The Great Recession shuffles Clay Jannon from his web-design drone job to night shift at Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Curiously, few customers come in repeatedly and never buy. Analysis reveals astonishing secrets …

Why I Chose It: I came across this book on a blog that stated it was one of those books you either love or hate. I decided to take that challenge.

The Review:

I’m not even really sure how to talk about this book. The words I can think of to describe it are…odd? Quirky? Totally unexpected? And absolutely, undeniably cool.

Clay takes a job at a book store to make some cash. This just happens to be Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. And this store? Packed floor to ceiling with books, complete with the slidey ladders to get to the higher shelves. It’s dark and dusty, full of old tomes, and reading this book I could just start to imagine how amazing that place smelled. Mmm musty bookstore smell. <3 Then of course we have really quirky customers who come in to the 24-hour bookstore at all times of the night, not to buy books, but to borrow them. So, awesome bookstore that also functions as a library? I can dig that. Oh, and the quirky people? Possibly part of some cult that looks for mysterious messages in old books and calls themselves “The Unbroken Spine.” Excellent.

So we have this amazing bookstore/secret society that I totally fell in love with. Then we have Kat, the girl Clay falls in love with. To say that she is tech savvy is an understatement. She works at Google. GOOGLE. And she’s ridiculously passionate about it, so if you don’t like Google watch out, because Kat will make you love it a little by the end.

Really old books and super technology. Of course the book goes in to a discussion about the digitization of books and data visualization. Yet it’s so tactful with the subject, never really saying which side is better than the other, but investigating – rather thoroughly I think – the issue of paper books versus digital books. And then, of course, once Clay the bookstore clerk and Kat the Google junkie get together, they become determined to break the code held in the books – in any way they can.

I’m not sure why I loved this book so much. It’s quite possibly because I went to library school and this book discusses a lot of the issues that we librarian students liked to debate over. It may have been because I like books and this story is filled to the brim with old dusty tomes. Perhaps because I enjoy adventures that set out to solve ancient mysteries. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely obvious: I loved this book. It is incredibly weird, but I drank up every minute of it. There were just so many perfect little details, that even if I thought the overall story of the secret society searching for the meaning of life was slightly crackpot, it didn’t matter. Those little details overshadows the slight crazy feel to the book. It was just simply one of those stories where just reading it was an experience. If you love old books, discussions of digitization or data visualization, or slightly crazy societies searching for the meaning of life, read this one.

Rating: 5 / 5

Finally, I must leave you with my two favourite lines from the book.

“Her home is the burrow of a bibliophile hobbit – low-ceilinged, close-walled, and brimming over with books.”

“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines – it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”


2 comments on “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

  1. Yay for loving this one! I actually just got the audiobook of it at work yesterday! Now I’m debating whether I should read the paper copy instead since it has such lovely quotes! I’m really looking forward to this one now :)

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