Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel

Robin Sloan
A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstoreThe Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.


Reviewed: 2016-11-01
Reviewed: 2015-04-08
A lovely book for the eternal learner, bibliophile, techie, sci-fi fanatic, fantasy lover, or friend. It takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of the jargon, buzzwords, and brand names but there's a fun story and good people in this book.
It reminds me of the books I loved when I was a kid, with enough detail and wit to keep my adult brain engaged.
It’s “Cryptonomicon” (by Neal Stephenson) for dummies…

This book became one of my favourite nerdish SF novels of the last couple of years: Ruby programming language, unimaginable computer power (aka Google…), secrets behind bookshelves, geekery, role playing games, data visualization techniques, mobile ads, algorithmy and typography. There was almost nothing (sort of…) in this book that I didn't love.

The part of the quest to NY that the protagonist tackles seemed somewhat rushed, aided along by multiple deus ex machinas. Unfortunately there were a few other problems as well, ie, the book was a little too heavy on cryptograms and a little too light on being a fiction novel. I badly wanted for this book to be great, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

Nevertheless it was a bit of a romp. It’s spoken to my geeky heart…

One of my favourite one-liners: "Books used to be pretty high-tech, back in the day."
This was a fun read! I really liked how it was a sneaky (maybe not so sneaky) ode to programming, books, and typography. I liked all of the characters and thought that they were well-developed. The first-person narration style wasn't really my thing but I still mostly enjoyed hearing Clay's inner thoughts and witty, sarcastic silent interjections.

Penumbra! What a mysterious fellow. He is just who I like to imagine running old and dusty workshops. He was just missing some half-moon spectacles, I think. Kat was cool, I liked that she was pretty fierce and also obviously very intelligent.

My favourite part of the book was when **SPOILER** the Googlers were trying to break the code. I thought this part of the story was written very cinematically, and I got really excited while they were trying to figure it out and even more-so when Kat put it to the "whole system". I was then thoroughly disappointed to find out that nothing was there but I had to say, I saw it coming. Also, since we are on the topic of spoilers, I felt so immersed and connected to the story when Clay cracked the mystery, finally. Gerritszoon! **SPOILERS OVER**

So all-in-all, this was a great, fun, quick read. It lost a star for me, for the narration style as well as the fact that it took a while for me to really care about the mystery.

A lovely book for the eternal learner, bibliophile, techie, sci-fi fanatic, fantasy lover, or friend. It takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of the jargon, buzzwords, and brand names but there's a fun story and good people in this book.
I’ve been seeing all kinds of articles and reviews mentioning Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan popping up all over the place. Since I want to be one of the cool kids, I decided to pick it up. My biggest regret? Not having a physical copy – because it GLOWS IN THE DARK y’all.The plot for this one…well. I read the book and I’m still not sure how to describe it. Literary fiction? Mystery/thriller? Basically, a guy gets a job at a super mysterious bookstore and accidentally stumbles across a secret society (a literary cult, if you will). If that doesn’t get your radar buzzing, then you and I have extremely different taste in books. It sounds like the perfect premise to me. And while the book definitely has some real fantastic points, my expectations were definitely set a little too high.The descriptions on the first few pages, you guys. THE DESCRIPTIONS. Whether of the people, the library or the books themselves – it all took me to my reading happy place. Perfect for readers, writers and imaginers of all shapes and sizes – I fell in love with this bookstore/library/breeding ground for literary oddballs from the get-go.Then things take a turn toward the software programming and writing code and such – and that is where the book started losing me. Computer programming isn’t really my preferred shade of geek. I would have loved Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore infinitely more if it had stayed purely in the realm of the bibliophile. Of course, the plot line would have developed much differently since the point of the story is seeing how technological advances shook the foundation of a group of old-school mysterious puzzle-solving literary dudes. But still. Throwing stuff at me like a “three-dimensional matrix of ink-saturation values?” WHOOSH. (The sound of something flying over my head.)But, there were some advantages to having the literary and techno geeks collide – awesome lines like this one:When I was a kid reading fantasy novels, I daydreamed about hot girl wizards. I never thought I’d actually meet one, but that’s only because I didn’t realize wizards were going to walk among us and we’d just call them Googlers.Love it.Also, there is talk of a cloth-bound ereader prototype that only made me drool a little bit. SOMEBODY GET ON MAKING THAT!Ultimately, even though I did have my issues with it, I think Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore is a good read for people that love books. Also – you do have to be patient. It is definitely a slow build without a lot of real action. Think more digging into the mysteries of a secret society and learning things piece by piece then an epic adventure tale. (Besides, when the action comes, awesome things happen. Like a dead drop scheduled with this epic code phrase: “ask for the hogwarts special. hold the shrooms.”)To Sum It Up:-Think ancient literary cult meets technology (with an unfortunate lack of sword fighting)-Even though I had some issues with the execution, I basically felt like I was reading a mystery story made just for bibliophiles-Guys, I really want an ereader made cloth-bound like a hardback book. And to write a sci-fi novel set more than 1,000 years in the future. And also, I’m a little scared of Google now.
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