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.
Sloan effectively combines real-world technologies, settings, and situations with unabashed fantasy - trying to discern the difference (and in many cases deciding it doesn't really matter) is a great deal of the fun. Ultimately a very satisfying (and surprisingly old-fashioned) adventure story, Sloan's debut is also a reminder for readers about the varied pleasures of reading, of discovery, of investigation, and of books themselves. (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
San Francisco Chronicle
A jaunty, surprisingly old-fashioned fantasy about the places where old and new ways of accessing knowledge meet . . . [Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore] cleverly uses the technological age in the service of its fantasy . . . Sloan’s ultimate answer to the mystery of what keeps people solving Penumbra’s puzzle is worth turning pages to find out.
The Washington Post
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Beguiling . . . The plot is as tight as nesting boxes, or whatever their digital equivalent . . . Sly and infectious.
[A] winning literary adventure . . . Sloan grounds his jigsawlike plot with Big Ideas about the quest for permanence in the digital age.
An irresistible page-turning novel.
Sloan has crafted a delightful modern-day fantasy adventure, replacing warriors, wizards, and rogues with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a Googler, and a book clerk. Even nongeeks will appreciate the technological wizardry used by Clay and his sidekicks as they jet from San Francisco to New York in an attempt to unlock the secret message encrypted in a mysterious pattern of codes.
From the shadows of Penumbra's bookshelves to the brightly lit constellation of cyberspace to the depths of a subterranean library, Sloan deftly wields the magicks (definitely with a "k") of the electronic and the literary in this intricate mystery.
Starred Review. [An] old-fashioned tale likably reconceived for the digital age, with the happy message that ingenuity and friendship translate across centuries and data platforms.
George Saunders, in Blip Magazine
Wonderful ... I had a great time reading [Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore], flew through it in one sitting ...The reader gets that deeply satisfying feeling of entering a wholly created world, and looking on in wonder as that world gets created by the author's fearlessness and disregard for convention ... It's a lot of fun, a real tour de force.
I love this book ... It's a good-hearted, optimistic book about friendship and being alive and the lure of the mysterious. It's a book that shows you Google the way Google sees itself, and bookshops the way bookshops ought to be. It's a tonal roadmap to a positive relationship between the old world and the new. It's a book that gets it. Plus, you know: book cults, vertical bookshops, hot geeks, theft, and the pursuit of immortality. This book is in my emotional heartland.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Dianne, Book Shop owner Old meets New This month I stepped away from my usual historical fiction books and read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a contemporary novel by debut author Robin Sloan. I was of course drawn in by the title. Upon finishing Mr. Penumbra's 24 - Hour... Read More
I don't think it's giving too much away to note that the process of book scanning plays a significant role in the plot of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. At the center of the novel's plot is the high-speed book scanning process used by Google in its Books project.
Setting aside any of the controversy around Google Books and potential copyright infringement (a recent law suit determined that Google's book scanning is fair use), anyone could agree that Google's project is both ambitious and impressive.
Originally launched in 2002 and inspired by databases of public domain works like Project Gutenberg, Google Books has since scanned more than 20 million books using high-speed robotic cameras that can process as many as a thousand pages per hour. Google has partnered on this project both with libraries and with individual rights holders and publishers....
A comic journey into the ultimate land of whiteness by an unlikely band of African American adventurers
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A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...