Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Let’s here it for the fans of old libraries, the mysteries of books, and the intersections of old and new technology! Booya! Writer Robin Sloan has woven these elements together in his debut novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, in a wonderful way that mostly keeps the pace and interest going (although the ending is a bit of a letdown). The story revolves around the narrator, Clay Jannon, who is skirting on the edges of the web design business in San Francisco when he takes a job as a clerk at an old bookstore. It’s an odd place, built more vertical than horizontal, with shelves reaching up high into the air.

And while the place has only a few customers each day, the regulars are an odd sort, who return and take out ancient texts from deep and high in the shelves — books that seem undecipherable to Clay, until he discovers a secret society and enlists his new girlfriend, a woman who works at Google, to help him break an ancient code and discover what the society — and his bookstore boss, Mr. Penumbra, a kind man with a heart like Yoda — has been seeking. With a mix of humor and acknowledgement of the programming power of Google, plus a love of old books, Sloan has crafted a fun and engaging story that mostly holds together.

This is a book for the hands of friends who love old bookstores and books, and I have just the right person in mind, too. He used to work at a bookstore, and loves a good mystery. If you are that kind of person, then check out Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Prepare to be pleasantly engaged and entertained.

Peace (in the stacks),


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