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

  • Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
  • Author: Robin Sloan
  • Genre: Contemporary, Literary, Mystery
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  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.

I can just imagine a group of nerdy, but hip guys sitting around, drinking beer, and solving all of the world’s problems. During the course of the conversation, they lament that no one has ever truly written a book designed to appeal to fantasy-reading, dungeons & dragons playing media techno-geeks who have a deep appreciation for cheesy 80’s movies. Clearly, one of those guys thought the idea still sounded good after the buzz wore off and decided to go for it. That book is called Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. How do I know that it probably went down like that? We sense our own kind (except the “guy” part).

I love this book! While I found a lot of geek culture references to be highly amusing, I can see where the mass market audience might not get the humor. Also, the abundance of high tech references will date this work quickly. I don’t care, I still love it. In fact, the potential lack of appeal to the masses may make me like it even more – they DID buy into Twilight, ’nuff said.

The main character, Clay, is so nerdy, but lovable. I absolutely love the way that as he pulls his friends into the mysteries of Mr. Penumbra’s shop, he thinks of them in terms of D&D roles. I sympathize with his struggle to find his place as an adult. It is like the bookstore provides a safe refuge from the fickle and chaotic storm of corporate America in down-size mode.

The excitement of Clay’s merry little band of misfits is palpable as they try to solve the Penumbra’s puzzle. There are no explosions or assassination attempts, and yet this book is chock full of adventure, albeit a dorky one.

Whether you are a hard-core geek, or geek-light, I recommend you read this sooner rather than later to get the most bang out of the pop culture buck. What are you waiting for? Go get it. Shoo!

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