My Rating: Good Weekend Read
Suggested Audience: YA – Adults
Page Count: 288
After losing his job as a San Franciscan web-designer, Clay Jannon stumbles across the peculiar aisles of Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, where customers are few and, what's more, they do not seem to actually buy anything. Curious and in need of employment, Clay applies for a job at the bookstore, and through his computerised analysis of the clientele's behaviour, discovers that the bookstores secrets extend far beyond the stuffed bookshelves.
“Inside: imagine the shape and volume of a normal bookstore turned up on its side. This place was absurdly narrow and dizzyingly tall, an the shelves went all the way up – three stories of books, maybe more. I craned my neck back (why do bookstores always make you do uncomfortable things with your neck?) and the shelves faxed smoothly into the shadows in a way that suggested they might just go on forever”
It would be hard to find a review that doesn't gush all over Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. And for the most part, this review isn't going to be much different!
Not only did I really enjoy the melding of book geekery and technology, the storyline really drags you in and keeps you guessing. I really appreciated how Robin Sloan uses analogies and diagrams (who DOESN'T like diagrams in books!) to help the less tech-savvy understand the gist of what he was talking about. I admit that most of it STILL managed to fly over my head (I am so very very bad with technology – case in point: I am writing this post at the Apple Store while I wait for some desperate help from any Genius going).
But anyway – I loved the mix of sidekicks, especially Clay's artist roommate who turns their lounge room into a hand-crafted miniature city using bits and pieces he finds. Totally loved that and momentarily imagined myself doing this myself (only decided against it as I imagined my lovely fiancé's response to it, which would probably result in him tripping over said miniature city and my subsequent early demise, my body lying amongst crushed up cereal boxes scattered across the floor…). Aside from this character is a charmingly intelligent female sidekick, Kat, a refreshing portrayal of femininity in the 21st century. She works at Google and offers Clay a lot of support in a way that traditional, stereotypical portrayals of femininity avoid.
Robin Sloan is an artist of the written word. He paints together scenes with such penache that you just get absorbed into the narrative world. And with Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, it's a secretive and enigmatic bookshop – a place that most bibliophiles are not averse to in the first place. And so, in a lot of ways, reading Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore feels very comfortable and familiar to the lover of reading.
The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest—not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach. There were ladders that clung to the shelves and rolled side to side. Usually those seem charming, but here, stretching up into the gloom, they were ominous. They whispered rumors of accidents in the dark.
As I read it, I exclaimed to anyone who asked that I loved the book, that this would be one of those magical books that gets read over and over; a narrative that is devoured instead of read. Well… Now that I have finished it, I am not sure that I would re-read; you know what it's like – once the mystery is solved, the magic is over. But in saying that, I think that Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore has the potential to be made into a wonderful film (I see Tom Hanks as Mr Penumbra), and I would definitely pay to see it.
Where Can I Get It?
To buy Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookshop for a great price and have it shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository.