May 05 2016

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan | Book Review

penumbraRating: ★★★

Review: Any book that has the word “book” somewhere in the title will always catch my attention and at least make me read the back to get more info about it before deciding if it’s worth a read and ultimately a purchase. I obviously thought it was because I bought it, and although it was one that spent several months on my TBR list waiting patiently I finally got around to reading it.

I have to admit I don’t think I’ve ever gone into an Independent Bookstore before. I know I know, such blasphemy! The discounts and deals that come with shopping on Amazon and Barnes & Noble are just too big to pass up. Perhaps one day when I’m earning enough money to pay full price for a book I’ll start shopping at IB’s. In the meantime, this book did peak my curiosity to at least want to venture into one to see if any might be just as mysterious in nature.

Mr. Penumbra, as you might have already guessed, owns the bookstore in question, and it never closes. There are 3 employees that take running the stores in shifts.

Clay, the main character, gets a job working at the 24-hour bookstore and quickly discovers there is something strange going on with the particular kinds of patrons who visit the store at odd hours of the night asking for books that have no ISBN’s assigned to them.

I have to admit, the way the author combined an old tradition of trying to decipher a seemingly indecipherable code with the technology of the 21st-Century wasn’t my cup of tea. I would have probably appreciated this book more had it not relied so heavily on the Google technology. I think that aspect, for me, made the story seem rushed, especially the last chapter which basically tied up every story line into a rather hectic bow.

I loved the concept of discovering what was behind these strange people trading even stranger books in order to decipher a code that, over time, turned into a sort of unspoken cult of followers. I wish that was explored more and the speed of technology was left out of it. Although, not to give up too big of a spoiler, it turns out that technology ultimately failed and it was good old fashioned human thinking that solves the unsolvable in the end.

It’s a stand-alone novel which I give huge points to in a time when making a stand-alone is virtually unheard of. Unfortunately, being someone who is currently waist deep into many trilogies and series myself, I have come to appreciate the value of stretching a story into more than one book. This one could have turned out much better had there been more time to develop the characters and the concept.

Synopsis: The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything―instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
by Robin Sloan

288 pages
Picador | 2013
Read in 13 days