Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
A Novel by Robin Sloan
2012 / 288 Pages
Robin Sloan’s debut novel transports readers to a highly unusual and mysterious bookstore in San Francisco. When Clay Jannon, a former computer programmer, web designer, and all around tech geek, begins to work at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, he immediately notices that the little bookshop is more peculiar than he first imagined.
For one thing, the store rarely receives any customers, and the ones that do come in hardly ever buy anything. Instead, they borrow items from the shelves. After a few weeks on the job, Clay’s geek senses are tingling beyond control and he devises a computer program that maps the contents of the store and the behavior of its most devoted patrons. What Clay finds is a clue to an ancient mystery that Penumbra’s customers have been trying to decode for decades. With the help of a few friends, a Google staff member (who just happens to be super hot), and bizarre old Mr. Penumbra himself, Clay sets in motion events that lead him all over the country (and the internet) in order to solve one of the greatest and well-kept literary mysteries of all time.
A fair warning to readers: the title of this book somewhat belies the novel’s plot and content. Yes, it is a book about a bookstore, but it’s also a book about information in the digital era, computers, science fiction, typography, and Google. In fact, the majority of the book doesn’t even take place within the walls of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But even so, Robin Sloan’s book is a quick and entertaining read, especially for the generation that bisects the print and digital technology eras. And the concept of information management is especially interesting to me, since I just completed my Information Sciences degree. While most of us may not realize it, our digital footprints are growing exponentially every day, and as both creators and consumers of information, it’s easy to forget how difficult sharing information and data once was.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is an incredibly nerdy work of literature, but its quirk just adds to the charm of the characters. The dialog is witty, Clay’s narrative is often hilarious, and Mr. Penumbra’s mannerisms will have you wanting to scour the streets of San Francisco in search of the unassuming little bookstore with a very big secret.