Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Some books just sneak up on you, and for me, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan (FSG), was no exception. I had seen a lot of buzz on Goodreads about the book and managed to squeeze it in last month.

The book opens with Clay Jannon, a laid-off Web designer in San Francisco that gets a job as the overnight clerk at the eponymous bookstore.As he works there, he realizes the strange store has plenty of secrets. Along the way, he meets a gal who works at Google and are more in tune with modern technology than the bookstore or its patrons. While that premise may seem a bit short, the second half of the book is best kept unspoiled. Let's just say the book takes an unusual turn or two before it wraps up.

If I had to sum up the book in a word, it's quirky, and I don't mean that in a bad way. The Google designer character is a product of her time (apparently, the company will be able to solve all our problems), Clay's roommates are memorable in their brief moments, and Mr. Penumbra for some reason reminded me of a sort of literary Mr. Miyagi. A character towards the end that sort of acts as the story's villain reminded me of a few people I know in real life that detest modern technology. The usage of San Francisco as the setting works well and you can tell Sloan is familiar with the city and manages to weave in Industrial Light and Magic, Google's hometown of Mountain View, along with some landmarks and other Bay Area icons. There was a sense of authority during the sequences at Google, as though Sloan was using his own personal experience as a template. There are moments where the book seems to go off in a strange direction, but when the last page is read, it all ties together and makes a wonderfully cohesive plot.

In a summer that had few "light reading" books, Penumbra was a pleasant surprise. It still manages to pose big ideas about technology, the pending death of print publications, and how generations interact over technology while providing an entertaining story.

Rating: 4/5 stars

One bonus tidbit: If you buy the hardcover or paperback versions, expect the cover to glow in the dark. The first night I had it on my nightstand, I was trying to figure out what was glowing until I realized it was the book.

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