I am always going to pick up a novel that has the word, “book,” “bookstore,” or “library” in the title. So, when Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan popped up as immediately available through my library borrowing app, I had to check it out. Serendipitous joy! This book is everything you could want; a quest, old friends, new friends, foes and a mystery 500 years in the making.
Clay Jannon needs a job. The Great Recession has caused his bagel company to rebrand and subsequently fold. When Clay sees an opening at the mysterious Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore he applies. Clay’s only goal is to avoid living in a tent and, even though this job will not develop any connections or skills for future jobs, it will keep him in rent money. That is no small feat for someone living in San Fransisco.
Mr. Penumbra is as mysterious as his store. He asks Clay only, “What do you seek here?” before hiring him and forbidding him from looking in the books. More curiously, no one buys anything at this bookstore. Elderly people scurry in and out while exchanging huge tomes. Day after day Clay keeps track of the visitors in the log book and fetches books from the way-back list high up on the vertical shelves. After about a month, he can no longer resist. He peeks. The mystery he finds will take him across America, through time, and tax the combined efforts of all Clay’s resources to solve.
This book is epically entertaining. A unique mixture of history, computer science, cryptology, mystery, coding and humor all swirl together to paint an absolutely riveting story that transcends expectations. And, except for a very few references to sex, boobs and the bookstore’s proximity to a strip joint, the book could be for all ages. Because at its heart the book tells a tale of what happens at the intersection of old and new.
If you had asked me how it all ended when I was half-way through the book I would have guessed and I would have been wrong. At three-quarters of the way through I thought I knew with a certainty the ending and I was still wrong. Not only is the ending surprising but the writing is sharp with interesting characters at every turn. Some reviews have complained that this book is full of exceptional people but I think Clay was able to see where people were exceptional and employ their skills in that manner. The audiobook was extraordinarily well read and really brought the characters and action to life.
This book was a surprise that I didn’t even know it existed until it showed up on my Libby app. It is odd then that my love of books and my use of technology brought me to this wonderful story about the overlap between the two.
Tell me, please!
Do you have any subjects or cover art that will make you always pick up the book?