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

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“[...] We keep a record for every member, and for every customer who might yet become a member, in order to track their work.” He paused, then added, “Some of them are working very hard indeed.”

“What are they doing?”

“My boy,” he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious: “They are reading.”

Clay Jannon was lucky to find a job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Times are hard and jobs are scarce. However, the bookstore sells very few books and the few regular patrons seem to have a strange mission that no one will talk about. Then there’s the fact that most of the books can’t be found in any index of published books. Naturally Clay begins investigating and winds up on a fascinating quest that includes secret societies, museums, ancient artifacts … and e-books, virtual reality, and Google.

This book feels like a nerd’s dream come true. Not only is there the high tech point of view but also the typographer’s inside details. Ok, key figure Griffo Gerritszoon is made up, but Francesco Griffo was actually Aldus Manutius’ employee. Who was Aldus Minutius? Every time you read something in italics, you can thank him for inventing them.

There is an interesting tension between the old ways and the new: old knowledge in books versus Google, bookstores versus e-books, tradition and innovation. These are things that all of us cope with in our own ways but it’s kind of fun to see it all linked together and hanging off of bits of real history, a la DaVinci Code, but with less of a mean spirit than in Dan Brown’s book.

If you ever played Zork or Baldur’s Gate, if you ever thrilled to a quest in a fantasy book, if you ever played a scavenger hunt or lost hours to solving mysteries, then this book is going to push your buttons. Mix that in with the idea of a “fellowship” and you’ve got a sense of where this book excels.

It doesn’t have deep character development, but that’s not the point of this book. It is skimming the surface of some themes but it still manages to present them and give you food for thought while having a good time. In that it is very much like The Haunted Bookshop or Agent to the Stars or The Rosie Project, just to mention a few light books that I love.

It’s a light, fun read with a sense of being an adult Harry Potter-ish book. Perfect summer reading.

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