Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Book - 2012
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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.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780374214913
Branch Call Number: SLOAN R
Characteristics: 288 pages ; 22 cm.


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

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Mar 25, 2021

The narrator, Ari Fliakos, has such an amazing voice for narration that it was impossible to stop listening to the story. I highly recommend this book for any audiobook listeners, as well as those who enjoy reading. The story was delightful.

AndreaG_KCMO Feb 24, 2021

This was my favorite book five or six years ago, so when I found it second-hand for a few dollars, I was excited to give it a re-read. It did not disappoint! I am far enough removed from every career field/occupation/hobby featured in this book to be able to suspend disbelief for the sake of the really fun story combining a book cult, rpg and fantasy enthusiasts, and the dawn of slick tech companies.

Aug 21, 2020

This turned out to be a real treat. It took some time for it to really grab me... a little over halfway through. But when it did, it really did. And from that point on, it just got better and better.

Aug 01, 2020

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is the average mystery and adventure book. Clay Jannon was unemployed for months before finding a job as an overnight bookstore clerk, but the bookstore is not an ordinary bookstore. Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is dark, spooky and has a set of unusual customers that rotate through the store. Join Clay and his two best friends, Kat and Neel as they uncover the secret of Mr. Penumbra’s Bookstore. This book was not enjoyable to read and I do not think I would ever read it again. The story was interesting, but the writing was messy and executed poorly. The mysterious characters and secret society were the only things that got me through the book. The book also seemed like an advertisement for Google and Amazon, the two companies were mentioned every three pages. I do not recommend this book, however it is suitable for ages twelve and older. Review- 1.5/5
@readit12 of The Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

JCLJENNYT Mar 30, 2020

The amount of times Sloan decided to put the word "Googlers" in this book was upsetting and cringy. Clay the main character is very dry and doesn't really add much and while the whole book sounds interesting in theory but it just didn't meet that in execution. The use of technology in this book reads like someone who joined facebook and now thinks that they are a technology expert. Seriously the only technology related people in this book are either "Googlers" or "Ex- Googlers". Additionally for some reason on this romantic quest he suddenly has a girl friend this girl he just met and suddenly they are an item like what? Also they have this really weird unnecessary scene with his friend Neel who if you hadn't picked up at this point isn't white but Sloan has this whole weird scene where face id can't recognize him and he blames it on him not being white. I felt like it was Sloan being like see I added a minority characters give me a pat on the back but in reality it just felt like tokenism.

Overall this book was way overhyped and doesn't really focus on the books just people in a bookstore in an indian jones style adventure which to be honest I felt a bit baited with the bookstore bit.

Feb 17, 2020

I'm of two minds as I reflect on the book. On one hand, I finished it and enjoyed it. I enjoyed the characters and while the finish wasn't what I expected, it was a great finish.

Robin Sloan's writing is tight and descriptive. I could feel myself enter the bookstore and I can imagine enjoying working through the store looking at volumes and loving the experience. I want to find a tall thin bookstore and climb the ladders as I inspect it's collections.

I found many of the characters believable, but not all of them and this is where my other side comes out. On the whole I found Kay (the leading guy's love interest) believable, but then we entered Google where she works to with other Googlers decrypt the book and that whole section felt force. Maybe force is wrong, but it certainly felt rushed and out of place in an otherwise good book.

When it came to The Unbroken Spine, I enjoy the idea, but the execution feels a bit thin to me. There should be a bit more gravitas to an organization that's been working on decoding a book for hundreds of years. While The Unbroken Spine had some depth, there wasn't much. I would have liked a bit more from that organization.

## Should You Read Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore?

Overall while I was questioning the book during the whole Google decoding chunk, I finished it and felt satisfied. It's a fairly short read and it's now on my list to purchase. Further, I want to hear another story of Penumbra and Clay in their consulting agency and some mystery they solve. If that's not a vote in favour of the book, I'm not sure what is.

If you're up for a bit of a mystery set in current times that delves into some programming and a stodgy secrete society, this book may be up your alley.

Jan 04, 2020

Such a quirky story. Loved it!

Dec 25, 2019

Listened to this on CD during a long drive. The basic premise was interesting, but the execution was lacking. Bad selection.

Nov 03, 2019

rb Simon Carless

Aug 01, 2019

A fun read, first and foremost. This is for you if are looking for something based on a mystery, with adventure, a lot of shadowy characters and sinister overtones that actually isn't full of tragedy, human cruelty and suffering. There is so much fiction that centres around pain and suffering. Isn't there enough of that in the non-fiction section? Reminded me of Ready Player One. And I could smell the wood and old books in the bookstore, the libraries and the museums you explore. And the copy of the book I read had an Easter Egg that came with it, which added to the fun.

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Add a Quote
Jan 16, 2020

"What are you seeking in these shelves"

Aug 25, 2017

" Let me give you some friendly advice: make friends with a millionaire when he's a friendless sixth-grader."
pg. 115

Aug 25, 2017

“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."
pg. 34

Aug 25, 2017

"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."
pg. 162

Mar 16, 2015

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.

JCLChrisK Aug 01, 2014

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.

JCLChrisK Aug 01, 2014

Maybe his big build isn't a linebacker's after all; maybe it's a librarian's.

Jun 30, 2014

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.

Jun 30, 2014

Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines -- it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.

Mar 01, 2014

" 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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Add Age Suitability
Aug 25, 2017

Sierrachick07 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

lbi316 Apr 26, 2013

lbi316 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

Apr 19, 2013

MistyBlue22 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


Add a Summary
May 01, 2013

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?

DanniOcean Dec 13, 2012

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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