Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Genre: Adult Fiction
Paperback release date: September 24 2013
In a word: A magical bookish mystery, a quirky blend of technology and dusty old books, an odd group of characters that have the best adventure ever, full of hijinks that will have you cheering by the end of the story.
All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.
I read Mr. Penumbra over six months ago, but I can still remember the goose bumps I got after reading the final page, and the overwhelming desire to shout my love of this book from the rooftops. This book has something for everyone. Many of the characters are tech-savvy and so there are lots of pop culture references (and some of the action even takes place in the offices of Google in San Francisco). Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is a marvel and a puzzle just waiting to be solved, as our main character Clay comes to realize shortly after he goes to work there. It’s also an adventure story, as our characters must go on a quest or two throughout the course of the story. Do not judge this book by its cover. It looks innocent, innocuous even, but the story that unfolds between the covers is one you won’t soon forget.
Clay is an out-of-work web designer who stumbles upon a used bookstore one day, drawn in by a Help Wanted sign in the window. But this isn’t any ordinary bookstore. Shelves tower into the shadows above and the books themselves are mostly unfamiliar. The owner, Mr. Penumbra, gives Clay a job working the night shift, but gives him a strange task: he must keep track of everything that happens during his shift in a journal, including who came into the store and what books they borrowed, what they were wearing, even what their demeanor seemed to be. Clay begins his strange job and soon after decides to use his computer skills to create a real-life schematic of the bookstore. In doing so he manages to unlock a deeply buried secret, and so begins his adventure.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is one of those books that just makes you happy. It’s one of those books that’s hard to stop reading once you start, it’s that good. Clay is a problem solver who, once he discovers there’s a mystery afoot in the bookstore, is unable to rest until he finds the answers. He brings some trusted friends into the story to help him, including a girl named Kat who works at Google and a wealthy guy named Neel who is working on a most unusual software application. Mr. Penumbra himself is, of course, part of the story, and he’s holding on to many of the secrets that Clay and his friends are trying to uncover. Each character adds something different and wonderful to the book, and I loved each one for different reasons.
One of my favorite scenes takes place near the end of the story, when Clay is trying to hunt down some old printing press punches of a certain font (and if you’re like me, you’ll Google the font to see if it really exists!). His search leads him to a warehouse for lost artifacts that reminded me so much of the television show Warehouse 13. Everything about that scene was surreal and magical.
Clay learns many life lessons along the way, mostly imparted by Mr. Penumbra, but the book isn’t preachy at all. It simply presents these snippets of advice as part of the story. Sloan’s pacing was particularly good and he ties everything up neatly by the end. The ending was without a doubt the best ending I’ve ever read. The last couple of paragraphs in particular will fill your heart with joy and make you want to shout out to everyone you know to READ THIS BOOK NOW!
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Praise for Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore:
“A book about passion—for books, for history, for the future…There is nothing about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore that I didn’t love.” —Cory Doctorow
“Part love letter to books, part technological meditation, part thrilling adventure…Eminently enjoyable, full of warmth and intelligence.”—Roxanne Gay, New York Times Book Review
“One of the most thoughtful and fun reading experiences you’re likely to have this year.”—Michael Schaub, NPR Books
Robin Sloan begins his 10-City Paperback Tour today! Are you close to any of these locations?
San Francisco, CA – 9/24: Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 7:00 p.m. 10/9: University Press Books, 6:00 p.m. 10/13: Litquake, 5:00 p.m.
Denver, CO – 9/25: Tattered Cover Book Store, 7:30 p.m.
Austin, TX – 9/26: Book People, 7:00 p.m.
Chapel Hill, NC – 9/27: Flyleaf Books, 7:00 p.m.
Baltimore, MD – 9/28 & 9/29: Baltimore Book Festival
New York, NY – 9/30: McNally Jackson panel moderated by Sean McDonald, 7:00 p.m.
Cincinnati, OH – 10/1: Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 7:00 p.m.
Iowa City, IA – 10/2: Prairie Lights, 7:00 p.m.
Chicago, IL – 10/3: The Book Cellar, 7:00 p.m.
Portland, OR – 10/4 & 10/5: Wordstock