Summary and book reviews of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2013, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.

THE BOOKSTORE


HELP WANTED

LOST IN THE SHADOWS of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder. I am exactly halfway up. The floor of the bookstore is far below me, the surface of a planet I've left behind. The tops of the shelves loom high above, and it's dark up there—the books are packed in close, and they don't let any light through. The air might be thinner, too. I think I see a bat.

I am holding on for dear life, one hand on the ladder, the other on the lip of a shelf, fingers pressed white. My eyes trace a line above my knuckles, searching the spines—and there, I spot it. The book I'm looking for.

But let me back up.

*   *   *

My name is Clay Jannon and those were the days when I rarely touched paper.

I'd sit at my kitchen table and start scanning help-wanted ads on my laptop, but then a browser tab would blink and I'd get distracted and follow a link to a long magazine article about genetically modified wine grapes. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Reading Guide

Sweeping from Europe's legendary Renaissance book printers to the new frontiers of the Information Age, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a rollicking adventure and an inspiring ode to the published word.

Like many victims of the Great Recession, the web designer Clay Jannon finds himself out of a job. Then, thanks to serendipity (and his ability to climb a ladder like a monkey), Clay lands a new gig working the night shift at a mysterious San Francisco shop, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. After just a few days on the job, Clay begins to wonder how the store stays in business. There are only a few customers. They come in repeatedly, but never seem to actually buy anything, instead "checking...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

Full Review Members Only (507 words).

Media Reviews

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

Delightful.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Beguiling . . . The plot is as tight as nesting boxes, or whatever their digital equivalent . . . Sly and infectious.

Entertainment Weekly

[A] winning literary adventure . . . Sloan grounds his jigsawlike plot with Big Ideas about the quest for permanence in the digital age.

Newsweek

An irresistible page-turning novel.

Booklist

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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb Nick Harkaway
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.

Reader Reviews

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 Bookstore, ...   Read More

Lainey18

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store
This was our Book Club choice, and the only reason I finished it. I can't tell you how many times I fell asleep trying to read it. It would, I am sure, appeal to the younger generation. I did like the characters, however, but it was not that ...   Read More

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Google's Books Project

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.

Google BooksSetting 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 ...

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