Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Book Review

     In present-day San Francisco, the recession has caused Clay Jannon (a RISD graduate and former web developer) to be out of work. He takes a job as a clerk in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, working the graveyard shift.
     As time goes on, Clay realizes that the bookstore is not simply a bookstore but perhaps a front for something else. The only customers he ever gets are the same three or four old, crazy people who don't buy books at all but rather borrow from a section of books at the very back of the store that seem to be written in code.
     With the help of his now-millionaire childhood best friend, a potential love interest working at Google, and a few other interesting characters Clay pursues this mystery to find out what it really going on at the bookstore and discovers it is much bigger, and weirder, than he imagined.

     I really enjoyed Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I found the writing style very easy to read and the story was captivating enough to keep me interested but not so much of a page-turner that I couldn't put it down (which I appreciated as I was reading it over the holidays when I had lots of social obligations and couldn't just spend time reading all day.)
     It's a book for people who like books, essentially. There is lots in the novel about publishing, and the digitization of texts and the supposed impending extinction of the physical book, which are subjects that I find very interesting.
     There is also a lot of computer-talk (one of the main characters does work at Google after all, and the narrator was a web developer) but as someone who doesn't know much about computers, I found it easy to follow without being too talk-down-y to technology dum-dums like me.

     Without being too spoiler-y... one thing I really liked about the novel was the mystery and how that was developed and how it all fit together in the end. The book jacket makes a comparison to Murakami so I was expecting the novel to be very fanciful and, well, weird...but even though it was a very entertaining adventure story the events in the book didn't seem too far-fetched. It felt like it could happen in the real world, in the present, which is the setting, so that worked for me.
     One thing I did not like was that it seemed like the whole novel was working up towards a specific climax, which happened, but then the novel didn't end. It almost seemed to switch courses and get off track after that. For the last 40 pages or so I was kind of thinking, "where is this going? that seemed like the big ending back there..."
It all came together at the end and I understood the derailment but it just felt a bit disjointed to me towards the end.

     I have never read any of Robin Sloan's other books or even heard of him. I read about this book on...it might have been Goodreads, or maybe it was on one of Chapter's year-end best-of lists or something. I read about it on the internet and it sounded really interesting so I bought it on Boxing Day and I'm glad I did.
     The book itself is beautiful. It's white with lime green books on shelves on both sides of the cover and the spine. It's a big trade paperback and the pages aren't evenly cut on the one side and I always like that in books. Aesthetically, it's a really nice book.
     I was interested because of the premise and the comparison to Murakami and because I haven't read a really good adult novel in a while, and I was not disappointed. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is an easy read for over the holidays or if you are going on a trip somewhere, or even if you are at home and looking for a light read. You'll get invested in the quirky characters and the adventure. It's not a book that makes you think too much but it's entertaining and enjoyable and exactly what I wanted it to be.

Click the link to buy the book.
penumbra sloan

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