Robin Sloan – Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Faintly fantasy-tinged (or maybe a little bit of magical realism) general fiction / mystery.
Started: 24 June 2015
Finished: 25 June 2015
Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? I’ve wanted to read it since it came out, pretty much entirely based on the title and the cover (which glows in the dark!)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 25 October 2014.
a very strange bookstore can
unlock old secrets.
Summary: During a recession, Clay Jannon finds himself let go from his web design position and looking for a new job. He happens upon a small but unique bookstore that happens to be looking for a night salesperson, and he gets the job. However, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is not like any other bookstore Clay’s been to… there is a small selection of regular books near the front, but most of the tall, narrow store’s shelves are taken up by strange books that all appear to be in some kind of code. Similarly, most of the regular customers never actually buy anything, but instead borrow one coded book at a time – which it is Clay’s duty to record in the log book as it happens. As Clay becomes more curious about what’s really going on, he starts to write programs to see if he can uncover any patterns in what these people are searching for… but as he (and his friends) will discover, the truth is much bigger than one little San Francisco bookstore.
Review: I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It’s a light, fast, engaging read that’s clever and funny and has a good heart. It kept me absorbed and reading through several flights (I can be a nervous flier, so getting lost in a book on a plane is not always the easiest task). I loved that this book took a tension that’s familiar to probably every bibliophile today – the tension between old and new, between paper and digital, between the past and the future, between tradition and technology – and built its plot around that basic idea. There is a place in this book for someone who would love nothing more than to climb the ladders in the multi-story back stock of a dusty old book store, and there is a place in this book for someone who dreams of having access to all of Google’s computing power to solve some of the world’s biggest mysteries. And there is a place in this book for someone – maybe especially for someone – who wants both of those things. I can see this book appealing to people who would never dream of giving up their paper books for an ereader, and I can also see this book appealing to early adopters of new tech. In some ways, this book reminded me of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother – partially the San Francisco setting, but also the way of talking about and explaining technology in a way that’s accessible to non-technophiles. But it’s also a got a feeling of dust and old brass and worn leather covers in candlelight too, with secret societies working by hand to solve a mystery that’s hundreds of years old. The answer to the mystery itself (because: spoiler, of course they figure it out) wasn’t entirely satisfying on its own, but it absolutely did fit with the clues we were given, and with the tone of the book itself, so on the whole it was a very satisfying reading experience. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: This was a very fun book, perfect for book lovers and puzzlers and code-breakers and anyone who enjoys wandering around library stacks and old dusty bookstores.
“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your 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.” — p. 236
I liked this observation, because it 100% fits my own experience. (Although since I can drive while listening to audiobooks, it’s not *quite* like a cap pulled down over your eyes. But I am typically more immersed in the story if I’m listening to it vs. reading it.)
First Line: Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 247: “There are Mediterranean ceramic plates and Japanese samurai swords and Mughal fertility statues – pretty hot Mughal statues, all hips, totally yakshini – and more, lots more, there are old stopwatches and crumbling muskets and even books, nice old books bound in blue with fat golden crosses on their covers.” – A member of the Muslim dynasty founded by Baber that ruled India until 1857; mythical beings of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology that are often depicted as beautiful and voluptuous, with wide hips, narrow waists, broad shoulders, and exaggerated, spherical breasts.
- p. 276: “… in the colophon.” – An inscription placed usually at the end of a book, giving facts about its publication.
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