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Robin Sloan – Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

August 7, 2015

35. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012)

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.

Technology and
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.)

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Allure of Books, BookNAround, The Novel World, and many more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

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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14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2015 9:43 pm

    I want to read it because of the title and the cover too. Glad to see it’s good.

    • August 9, 2015 11:35 am

      This is one of those books that I think is specifically designed to be appealing to bibliophiles!

  2. August 8, 2015 7:34 am

    Sounds great. I like how you put some definitions in your review, too.

    • August 9, 2015 11:38 am

      Thanks! I started collecting vocab words from my books almost eight years ago, with Atonement – it used the word “anodyne” a few times, and I’d never seen it before and had no clue from context what it meant.

  3. August 8, 2015 10:53 am

    I have had this on my TBR forever. I really need to find time to read it!

  4. August 8, 2015 4:34 pm

    I’ve been thinking of reading this one – glad you liked it!

  5. August 8, 2015 7:39 pm

    That’s a great quote! This was already on my TBR, but now I’m even more excited about it.

    • August 9, 2015 11:40 am

      Usually when I pull quotes, they’re more related to the central theme of the story, or some pivotal moment… this one isn’t important in that sense, but it just rang so true for me.

  6. Maya Panika permalink
    August 9, 2015 4:11 am

    I stumbled across this by accident. It came up as a kindle daily deal that I’d grabbed – must have been ages ago – then forgotten about. I rediscovered it when I was waiting for my sister to choose and buy a new computer, sitting in a hot car, nothing to do for almost 2 hours, started reading and was instantly hooked. I read it in 2 days, absolutely loved it – a wonderfully compelling and clever novel.

    • August 9, 2015 11:41 am

      As I was reading my paper copy, I was thinking a lot about what it would be like to experience it as an ebook or in audio, since elements of the whole paper vs. digital debate are so much at the heart of this story.

  7. August 14, 2015 10:59 pm

    I’ve been wanting to read this book. Your review made me want to read it now! I love solving puzzles and such so I think this would be a fun book. Also it’s about books so YAY! <3

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