Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan

"The books I love most are like open cities, with all sorts of ways to wander in." So says Clay Jannon, the narrator of Robin Sloan's marvelously magical book, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Honestly, any novel that combines a celebration of a lifetime in the literary world, a lifetime of reading, along with a rollicking, mysterious adventure, is one I could imagine myself living inside of.

The economic recession has hit Clay Jannon hard, causing him to lose his job as a web designer and marketer for a profitable bagel company in San Francisco. Finding himself doing everything but looking for a job, one afternoon walking around the city, he comes upon Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and after proving his ability to quickly climb a ladder to fetch books from high shelves, he finds himself employed, working the late night shift.

But the more time he spends in the bookstore, the more he realizes it's not your average establishment. The inventory is random at best—there is very little rhyme or reason to what books the store carries. Very few customers come to the store while Clay is working, and those who do come in repeatedly and don't actually buy anything, but instead borrow mysterious books written in an indecipherable language from strange corners of the store. And then there's the matter of the logbook which Mr. Penumbra requires Clay write in after every customer leaves, and record every aspect of the transaction, down to the customers' moods, even what they're wearing.

Clay knows something strange must be going on, and to fill his late night hours, begins investigating. He enlists his girlfriend, Google employee Kat, his childhood best friend Neel (now owner of a successful tech company), and his artist roommate Mat in trying to figure out what mysteries lie within the books, the store, and Mr. Penumbra himself. And what they find takes them all on a rollicking adventure which touches on data visualization, literary and graphic history, the choice of hewing to tradition vs. embracing change, and, most importantly, a love of books.

This is a magical, compelling, well-written book I absolutely loved. I'm a big fan of books that take you on an adventure, and even if I wasn't always completely sure what was going on, this book hooked me from start to finish. Robin Sloan has created a tremendously fascinating, complex, and exciting world, and the characters are multidimensional and very appealing.

If you like your stories with a side of adventure, or if you like books that don't follow a traditional plot or story flow, definitely pick up Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. You'll find yourself utterly captivated and wishing you could find his bookstore and be part of the adventure.

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