Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
by Robin Sloan
After losing his job in the tech-world, Clay Jannon finds himself as the graveyard-shift clerk of an odd little bookstore. His curiosity and sheer boredom get the best of him; after teaching himself to code in the wee hours of the morning, Clay discovers that he has solved a puzzle that it typically takes the patrons of Mr. Penumbra’s store months, if not years, to solve. Instead of solving the mystery of Mr. Penumbra, however, Clay’s work only leads to more questions. Along with his friends, Clay sets off on a quest that results in finding a centuries-old secret society/religion. Ancient artifacts collide with new technology throughout this fast-paced novel that reveals the value of both past and present.
- If Robin Sloan has only one thing he does perfectly, it’s creating his narrator’s voice. Clay Jannon’s character in this first-person novel is hysterical. I love the thoughts that roll through his head and the witty responses he has to other characters. It’s written in a very say-the-first-thing-that-pops-in-your-head kind of way, and it works. Sloan’s characterization makes Clay a very believable character. He reminds me of me! Another note about Sloan’s wit: his secret book society is called The Unbroken Spine. HAHAHAHAHAHA!
- Awesome use of vocabulary. Kudos, Robin Sloan! It’s not so elevated that you have to keep a dictionary at hand, but it’s not on a 7th grade level either.
- The juxtaposition of vellum/papyrus/gold-leafed books and MacBooks makes for a truly great story. Sloan has constructed a perfect novel for our technology-saturated world.
- Stop reading here if you don’t want me to spoil the end! Clay’s discovery demonstrates that our current technology–the internet, smart phones, etc–does not supersede “old-fashioned” books and pencil and paper. Furthermore, neither does a 500-year-old book hold anything over today’s e-readers.
- The novel is set up as a classic quest story. The young man, after losing his place in life, goes on a journey to find some answers to his questions and a long-lost priceless relic (think Indiana Jones, National Treasure, Lord of the Rings, et al, ad nauseum), discovers the answer to life, and gets the girl. The modern-day setting, free of anything magical and/or unrealistic makes it unique despite the formulaic construction.
What Doesn’t Work:
- While the majority of the book reads very quickly, the first quarter or so read equally as slow. Lots of characters are introduced rather quickly, and it takes a little while to understand the premise of the story.
- This is a book written for many different kinds of nerds. 🙂 There are references to World of Warcraft, science fiction books, Star Wars, printing presses, ancient societies, and just about anything that gets anyone picked on in high school. Ultimately, this isn’t a “bad” thing, but I could also see how many allusions might be lost on some people.
- Some elements are just plain weird, and up until about the last 50 pages or so, it’s REALLY weird. Once Clay’s “quest” comes to an end, everything makes sense and I realized that Sloan’s goal is not the establishment of a new cultish religion. Ha!
While technically this is our May book club pick (and I didn’t actually pick it solely for the cover), the cover does really catch the eye, and I definitely would pick it up if I saw it at the book store. The story is unique, yet classic, and the characters are all a little strange, yet endearing. If you need a good beach read that isn’t a romance novel, this is a great one. I’m looking forward to our book club discussion later this week!
Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:
- My Rating: A-
- enjoyable storyline, quick-moving action
- a little out of my reading comfort zone, but a pleasant surprise
- at under 300 pages, this is a fast read
- Clean Factor: B
- a few language issues, mostly in the context of “Oh, crap!”
- implied sex, but no direct discussion; it’s irrelevant to the plot anyway
- Book Clubbishness: B
- considering the action of this novel revolves around a book club of sorts, it is fitting for a book club to read
- Educational Potential: B
- not necessarily a “teachable” book
- suggestions: summer reading list, book report
- the technology vs. “old knowledge” discussion would be a beneficial one