Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Bookstores, puzzles, Google, a fantasy novel, the history of printing, a quest. Robin Sloan's debut novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, has all of those elements combined in a complex story with a perfect ending. I'll admit there were a few moments when I felt lost and didn't know where the book was heading. But, oh, when it got there, I actually cried.

Clay Jannon, the narrator, is an art school graduate who was learning how to write code and create ads when the bagel-making company he worked for folded. He didn't have the computer skills to compete with other designers for jobs, so when he saw a sign on the door of a 24-hour San Francisco bookstore advertising for the chance to clerk on the late shift, he jumped at the chance. The front of the store was a normal bookstore. But, in the back was the mysterious Waybacklist that brought in unusual customers. Clay was forbidden to read those books, but he had to log the appearance and actions of the customers, who only came in and borrowed the books. It wasn't long before his curiosity and boredom caught up with him. Clay started to create a 3-D model of the bookstore. And, as he searched for answers, he decided the store, those customers, and the manager, Mr. Penumbra, must be involved in something other than books.

Clay's inquiries lead him to gather a few friends including Kat, who works for Google, and Neel, a friend from childhood who is now a successful entrepreneur. It will take all their skills, and Clay's experiences as a gamer to take them into a world of "Old Knowledge", "Traditional Knowledge", and what Clay thinks might be a cult involving coded books. The answers are larger than anyone imagines. Clay just might discover the greatest secret to life.

Robin Sloan's novel is a gem. It's hard to let go of Clay Jannon at the end of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It's hard to let go of "the right book exactly, at just the right time." Any reader with patience will understand when they get to that last sentence.

Robin Sloan's website is

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2012. ISBN 9780374214913 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Jane R said...

Hmmm.... I have no idea if this is my kind of book so I think I'll have to give it a go and satisfy my curiosity. It certainly sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!

Susan said...

What a lovely review! I definitely need to get my hands on this book now! Thanks so much, Lesa. Don't you just love the idea of a 24 hour bookstore? I do. I'd work there, too, even though I have a full-time job :-)

Lesa said...

I wasn't so sure, either, Jane. And, it took me a little to get into it. But, I fell in love with the character & Mr. Penumbra.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Susan. You need to at least try it. Yes! I do like the idea of a 24-Hour Bookstore. The night shift might be a little weird, but I'd love to go whenever I wanted.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well, I'm glad I my way through that comment, reading faster and faster as I went along.

As for the book that is our discussion today (or a couple of days ago actually), it sounds fascinating! If I get any notion of the book, the phrase from the end seals it for me. You see, I love handselling. Putting the right book into the right hands at the right time. Then a couple weeks or months go by, and I hear from this person exactly that. Those words make my day. You can catch me inside ANY bookstore inevitably overhearing a conversation of someone looking for a book, and I get a clue of what they like to read and give them a recommendation which, when they open the dustjacket, they say sound perfect! I just love that!

I'll have to get a copy of that for my library. Thnks Lesa.

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I handsold that book just today, Sandie. One of the librarians said she couldn't get into it. I said, I know. It takes a little while, but I liked Clay. And, I talked about the quest, and the characters, the puzzle, the history of printing and books, and one of the other librarians said it's right up my alley! Perfect for her.

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Karen C said...

This book sounds interesting and one I'll look for in the library. I liked your review, Lesa.

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