“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
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For any fan of books and reading, it sounds like a dream come true: a twenty-four hour bookstore, where you can show up anytime and be willingly accepted to browse the stacks and be surrounded by thousands of books and breathe in the literary scents.  But then there are some weird things going on at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore during the early hours of the morning, as well as some very strange characters coming in.

Clay Jannon is unemployed and looking for anything that will bring in some money, after being dumped out of the web-design world with the tough recession; and it ain’t cheap living in San Francisco.  And then one day he sees the help wanted sign at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  After having the interview and experimenting with going up the ladders that stretch high up the stacks of the three-story tall bookstore, he gets the job.  He works the nightshift from 10PM until 6AM, where Mr. Penumbra greets him in the early morning.  It seems like an easy job for okay pay, since there are hardly ever any customers.  At the front of the store is a small selection of regular selling books, but most of the store is taken up by unique and strange books all written in code.  Occasionally Clay gets customers coming into the story in the early hours of the morning, returning a book and borrowing a new one.  His job is to record the details and condition of these strange people in the great bookstore log.

As the story progresses, the curiosity grows and grows, for both Clay and the reader, wanting to know who these people are, what these coded books are all about, and what exactly it all means.  Clay wonders how a bookstore like this even stays in business.  And as he begins to dig deeper and deeper, he opens up the mystery and learns answers that lead to more questions and more curiosity.  The bookstore appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Robin Sloan’s debut novel plays well on the enjoyment of the reader, as well as slowly unraveling the mystery, in addition to taking the reader around San Francisco and into the heart of the Googleplex, and then across the country and back in time through a hidden history, all on the subject of books and their meaning.  Readers will be hooked with Sloan’s easy reading style and curious tale until the very end.

Originally written on November 10, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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