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

Nothing short of brilliant

by Robin Sloan
HarperCollins | Paperback 288 pages
Adult Fiction
Recent victim of the country’s weakened economy, Clay Jannon found himself unemployed and with little to no prospects. When he stumbled upon a bookstore that doesn’t close, he wasn’t prepared for the world that he would walk into: tall, narrow shelves as high as his eyes can see and volumes of tomes unlike anything he’s ever seen before. 

After a while, he begins to notice and question some things: how does the bookstore keep afloat when he rarely sells any books? Why does he have to keep track of the customers’ idiosyncrasies and behavior in a log book? When his curiosity gets the best of him, he goes on a quest to solve the most complex of puzzles and discover the mysteries lurking in every niches of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. 

I’ve read quite a few reviews of this novel. The general consensus is that it’s about technology, Google, and books. And yes, it’s about all of those things but I’m walking away with a little bit more understanding and appreciation for immortality. How does one live forever without having to subject your physical body to cryogenic? How do the heroes and villains of the past live way beyond what they have done in the history of the world? 

This book completely took me by surprise. For something that was infused with a lot of “nerdy” references, it kept me entertained and involved. The tour of the Google compound was certainly a delight. It’s like another world in its own. But those are not the only things that I love about this book. 

It has a secret society whose members have spent their entire lives trying to break a code hundreds of years in existence. It’s about the limits of advance technology and a novelist whose thought processes digested information far more efficiently than Google’s “big box”. It’s about a bookstore that rarely ever closes with just a handful of customers who doesn’t buy books but borrows them. And it’s about the books written in codes that only a few could decipher. It was a fantasy novel, in a way. It has a token rogue, wizard and warrior but without the fire-spitting dragon to slay. Though they slayed a different dragon entirely. 

The incongruity of this seemingly ancient bookstore in a city where techies thrive had me revisiting my initial abhorrence of e-readers. I was Corvina, resisting against the current of technology; I was Penumbra, easily swayed by the convenience of holding the entire library in my hands. This was basically the theme of the novel: the dwindling traditional way of life battling against the more aggressive technological advancements of the present. While it would’ve been far too easy for the author to write that Google solved the puzzle, I loved how the author didn’t resort to the easy way out. You’ll have to read the book and follow the wonderful ways in which Clay deciphered the codes. 

This book has a lot of quirky, memorable characters; and witty, sharp dialogues. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny but the subtle humor makes for an amusing and pleasurable read. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore made my top ten reads of 2013; geeky, yes. Bookish? Oh hell yes. It truly is for those passionate about books, libraries and bookstores. Book lovers and techies alike should have this book on their bookshelves. 
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars