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

Robin Sloan
A Winner of the Alex AwardA Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First FictionNamed a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco ChronicleNew York Times Book Review Editors’ ChoiceNew York Times Bestseller The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2019-06-15
I really enjoyed reading this book. It had a good mystery and was interesting to hear about working at Google.
Reviewed: 2018-11-19
Islamic Book Service, New Delhi
Reviewed: 2018-04-29

I have seen this book promoted on many of the booktube channels I subscribe to, and one of favorites in particular, Ariel Bissett, has RAVED about the book so I so just had to pick it up!

Sloan’s debut novel follows main character Clay Jannon who is a recently jobless web designer who is looking for work and finds a job at “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.” The plot of this novel was just so damn enticing, I was on board from the very beginning! I really enjoyed the main character, Clay Jannon, as he is in my age bracket. The minor/supporting characters were a great ensemble too that added so much to the story. I loved how the plot combined books and modern technology as I and many other younger readers have a passion for both! I also enjoyed that the plot contains a secret society, there always seems to be so much mystery surrounding the secret society and I love to learn about its ways, history, and reason for existence.

I thought the novel had good pacing throughout and that ever-changing setting really aided the plot in not feeling dull or dragged out like it can in other novels that has either a central and sometimes even a limited setting. I also found during my readthrough of the novel that it has a good “voice” and good flow, both of which are key to a pleasant reading experience; I’ve read books with poor flow or choppy writing and it can completely kill the ambiance and take you out of the story.

Throughout my readthrough of this novel I rarely was disappointed. There was a point in the novel where one of key characters was absent after a big event took place and I was just surprised that this character would just up and disappear. I also felt the ending, though good, was a little anticlimactic, I was hoping for some revelation in the climax of the plot, however the climax was different so my expectations weren’t meant, which is a little disappointing.

When I read a story I am not looking at the author’s writing with a critiquing lense, I read for enjoyment and if do not notice grammatical errors that may be present, then it does not pose a problem for me. Others may be reading with a critical lense and any grammatical mistake will take away from the experience, I however did not experience that during my readthrough of the novel. If you love reading for enjoyment also just love books then this book is probably for you. If you like a story to be about something more than books then proceed with caution, you may be surprised and like it but this book may not be your cup of tea and that’s okay too.

Reviewed: 2018-04-22

This book was a hard one to put down. From start to finish, I was completely enthralled in the adventure and mystery of one tiny little book store.

Reviewed: 2017-08-29
Book Description A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything-instead, they "check out" large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele's behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore's secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.
Reviewed: 2017-01-17

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was a surprise read for me. By that, I mean I picked it pretty much at random to read on my phone whenever I might have a few free minutes that needed to be filled. I was surprised to find that, after I slowly made my way into the beginning of the story, I was hooked. I quickly discovered that I couldn't put it down. I read the entire book on my phone (not an optimal reading experience), but still loved it. It's funny, smart, and not lacking in intrigue. I particularly love the interweaving of modern life with classic literature in a way that feels absolutely natural. Why wouldn't those two things go together? If you haven't read Mr. Penumbra's yet, definitely give it a try. 

Reviewed: 2017-01-02
This was AWFUL A bookstore. More to the store's owner than meets the eye. A mystery. Sounds like something I would totally love as a book. And yet...not.
 
Clay Jannon is a down on his luck unemployed former web designer guy who needs a job. So he decides to apply to Mr. Penumbra's bookstore, which really is open 24 hours. What? What bookstore, even in San Francisco, is open for 24 hours? Why doesn't it stock more popular titles? Who are the customers that come in at such odd times? Why does Mr. Penumbra have such strange rules about the books and work shifts?
 
These questions get answered and more. Instead, this leads to a underground book cult, a relationship with a Google employee and an adventure of a lifetime.
 
And yet...I found it didn't work. The first chapter had me hooked: introducing ourselves to Clay and his own introduction to the bookstore. Great! Then I felt the book got weirder and weirder. I resisted the temptation to read reviews until I finished and I just do not understand any of the positive reviews (as in, those with glowing praise to those who find the book okay).
 
The characters get little to no development. Some of the story aspects are just too convenient (one character happens to work at Google, which is not like one of the most powerful corporations on Earth or anything), has a best friend who just happens to have loads of money, etc. The book seems jumbled: part mystery, part meditation on books and bookstores, part long monologues about Google, part grand adventure epic, etc.
 
Several reviews make comparisons or mention Dan Brown and Lev Grossman's Codex (haven't read the latter but have read a few of Brown's books) and I think I agree. It seems to be some sort of updated formulaic Brown mystery in the Google/tech world rather than art history.
 
There are too many cliches and stereotypes and really problematic issues that the author uses. Other reviewers mention one of the characters (Kat) is a "Manic Pixie Dream Girl", and I must agree after looking up the phrase. She shows up, is there to magically help Clay in his quest, adores him for some reason, and has Google's resources all at her disposal. And happens to get into a position that will give her even more sway (which in itself is fine, but it's just too convenient for the plot!). Clay also says roommate Alison is an "android," without talking about why. Women don't really have much of a role in the book overall and don't get much development, but then again no one does.
 
And while I may have missed any explicit statements on what is his ethnicity or skin color (text says Clay's and Neel's classmates said Neel "looked funny, talked funny, smelled funny" and based on the name I would guess he's Indian), I believe rich best friend Neel is the Asian Sidekick. Who made his fortune creating digital representations of breasts. This is repeatedly referenced to and mentioned throughout the book. And of course, the main character is responsible for helping Neel get his first date. It sounds like less of a friendship but a bond based on the fact that Clay deigned to helped him out in sixth grade.
 
Skip it. Cannot understand the hype and love for this one.
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