BookBrowse Reviews Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2013, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


The mystery at the heart of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore takes Clay from the headquarters of Google to a subterranean library in NYC, from fifteenth-century technologies to the most sophisticated computing networks of the twenty-first century.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a novel whose own history uncannily echoes its themes. The original genesis of Sloan's debut novel was as a self-published ebook short story, which then, following its overwhelming success in that form, found its way to a print publisher and a new life as a traditionally published, full-length novel. Likewise, the plot and themes of Sloan's novel continuously - and vigorously - cross the boundaries between old and new technologies, between traditional knowledge and new ways of thinking, between a possibly irrelevant past and a still undefined future.

The central figure in this drama is Clay Jannon, a twenty-something graphic designer who has been the victim, on more than one occasion, of the Great Recession. To make ends meet, he finds himself working as the night clerk at the eponymous bookstore, which is really two bookstores in one. The front of the store houses more conventional titles like the Steve Jobs biography or the latest Murakami novel. In the back are the books Clay dubs the "Waybacklist", books so ancient and arcane that only a handful of people can even read them. Those people often come into the store in the wee hours, looks of desperation in their eyes, eager to borrow the next book in their self-defined series, often acting as if their very lives depend on pursuing the answers to a mysterious puzzle.

Which, it turns out, just might be true. The mystery at the heart of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is complicated and multilayered, so I don't want to give too much away here. Suffice it to say that Clay's investigation of the "Waybacklist" takes him from the headquarters of Google to a subterranean library in New York City, from fifteenth-century technologies to the most sophisticated computing networks available in the twenty-first century. Along the way Clay enlists the help of his oldest friend, his artistic roommate, a fetching Googler genius, his favorite childhood author, and, of course, Mr. Penumbra himself.

As you can probably tell, 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 to readers about the varied pleasures of reading, of discovery, of investigation, and of books themselves.

Ultimately, Sloan's novel offers the most profound respect for books and reading and learning in all its forms. As Clay notes near the novel's end, "We have new capabilities now - strange powers we're still getting used to." The novel both validates those powers and also values the centuries of old knowledge that came before. Whether readers are of the sort drawn to the smell of paper and the shape of typography or of the sort compelled by innovation, invention, and the thrill of the hunt, they can definitely find common ground in this novel that embodies - from the beginning to the end - the best of both worlds.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in November 2012, and has been updated for the September 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Google's Books Project

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...
  • Book Jacket: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -