Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Published: 2012
Length: 304 pages

Clay Jannon is a recent college graduate in San Francisco. He worked for a short time as a web designer at a start-up that unfortunately went under. He wanders into a dark and dusty bookshop on a whim one day and lands a job on the night shift. The bookstore turns out to be even stranger than it looks. The owner is very secretive, there’s a whole section of books that Jannon’s not allowed to read, and most of the clientele seem mildly insane. His curiosity soon gets the better of him, however, and he finds himself very involved in this strange and archaic world.

All I knew of this was that it’s a book for people who love books, but I have to say it became something I really hadn’t anticipated. As much as it’s about books and secret societies and old mysteries, it’s also about Google and typography and cloud computing. I’m a software developer with a book blog, so you’d think that would be perfect for me, but I found it a little off-putting at first. It’s not a bad mix; it just wasn’t what I thought I ordered.

Once I got over the fact that Google was all up in my secret society book club, I really liked this. I was consistently excited to see what was happening next and did eventually find the world, the mix of old and new, really interesting. Some of the plot elements fit together a little too well, every character that was introduced in the book had a moment where their particular knowledge or access saved the day, for example, but I didn’t really care. The relationships did feel believable even if some of the plot and use of technology didn’t, and it was just a fun, fast-paced, nerdy adventure.

The pop-culture and technology worked for the most part. Every now and then he’d mention an author and I’d get that fanboy tickle. It was like Ready Player One in that way, except instead of spending a chapter listing off thirty authors, he’d list, say, three, which is much more manageable. I was of two minds on how involved Google was in the plot. On one hand it’s interesting to have that real reference point, as it can be a nice shortcut for the reader to feel a connection to the fictional world, but on the other hand it was starting to feel like Google funded the book.

Overall, this is a lot of fun. Recommended if you could stand the idea of Allan Quatermain using Google Maps to find King Solomon’s Mines.

2 thoughts on “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

    1. Rob Post author

      Yeah, the plot really took me off guard and I could see how some people might not bounce back from that. Looking forward to seeing what he comes out with next, though, since this was his first book I believe.


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