Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour BookstoreBook - 2012
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 bookstore
The 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.
From Library Staff
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 bookstore.
LPL_DirectorBrad Jan 06, 2016
Really enjoyed this one. I like the balance of old school bibliophilia and high tech Google stuff. And the cover (of the paperback at least) is GLOW IN THE DARK!
This story of complex code breaking, global conspiracy, and adventure all starts with a lonely bookstore and one unemployed web designer.
From the critics
QuotesAdd a Quote
" Let me give you some friendly advice: make friends with a millionaire when he's a friendless sixth-grader."
“So I guess you could say Neel owes me a few favors, except that so many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula."
"I intend to carry out a clandestine scan ASAP, and the target is one of the most important books in the history of printing, In other words: this might by bigger than Potter."
But hey, nothing lasts long. We all come to life and gather allies and build empires and die, all in a single moment—maybe a single pulse.
You know, I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.
Maybe his big build isn't a linebacker's after all; maybe it's a librarian's.
Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.
Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines -- it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.
"...so many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula."
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SummaryAdd a Summary
The protagonist, Clay Jannon, is hired by San Francisco independent bookstore owner -- Mr Penumbra -- to retrieve books from 10 pm to 6 am, at the request of long time bookstore customers holding an unusual interest in highly obscure volumes. Clay has never heard of any of these book titles, which are never purchased, only loaned.
When Clay examines one of these books, he sees page after page of unreadable encrypted characters, no spaces, no punctuation. Yet the customers return night after night, returning one book, and taking another.
The question is: Why?
Clay Jannon is a graphic and web designer who finds himself unemployed in the new economy. While wandering the streets of San Francisco he accidentally finds Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and after a very brief interview based on his favourite book, finds himself the store’s new night 10pm-to-6am clerk. There are three rules to working there – he must be on time and cannot leave early, he may not look inside any of the ancient-looking books that are reserved for members, and third, he must keep precise notes about all transactions (including how they smell, what they wear, what they say and how they appear mentally). Mr. Penumbra’s unique approach to store-keeping is matched by his odd clientele who appear in the oddest hours of the night, but they are few and far between so to occupy his time Clay starts developing a web-presence for the store. He creates a 3-D map of the transactions and… a face appears in the results. What follows is a literary adventure of the highest order – a cult of readers bent on discovering but keeping secret the immortality locked in ancient texts of an early typographer, versus Clay and his band of quest seekers, albeit their modern-day equivalents of rogue, wizard and hero. And although the modern-day wizard uses all the power of Google to help them, the printed texts do not give up their secrets easily. It is not until Clay uses all the tools in his magic bag – from the ultimate hacker site to his ultimate favourite novel to the ancient texts themselves - that the code is broken, and the answers are not at all what everyone involved thought they would be. Digital vs. print, Google vs. books, technology vs. old knowledge, piracy vs. privacy, these are the battles of our times and all themes in the book, but the overall story is an adventure, a quest simply reimagined in the techno-age. Given that the author was once an employee at Twitter and has released the book in both print and e-formats, Sloan may be hedging his bets - but his first novel has all the feel of a love-letter to books.
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