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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (2012)
by Robin Sloan
Fiction, fantasy, mystery
288 pages
Read 01.05.2015 – 01.10.2015


While I try not to give away important plot details, please note that I do discuss the book below. I will never give away any endings or big secrets, but remember that I will discuss the story and how I feel about it.

Imagine learning that Tokien’s The Hobbit or Lewis’s Narnia series was more than just letters on the page. Of course, to many readers, including myself, they are. They’re stories of action and adventure. Mystery and fantasy have kept kids spellbound for years. It’s no question why writers like Rowling and Funke have contributed to the genre. These stories come alive for us as children. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore reveals that the magic doesn’t need to end when you reach adulthood.

The novel itself is a wonderful fantasy for an adult. Clay, a former designer for NewBagel, has just lost his job. With no portfolio to speak of, he picks up a job at Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore. Clay notes that the patrons of this establishment are strange, even more so are his instructions to record everything about them when they come to check out a book. Yes, check out. Aside from selling books, Penumbra also has a library with regular visitors who make their way through the stacks. Bored and curious, Clay begins to mess around with his computer at night. When Penumbra sees the results, he reveals to Clay what has really been happening in the bookstore. Clay begins to find his way into this world where codes must be cracked and the hope of discovery fuels actions.

I liked this book quite a bit, especially when I got to the end. I actually felt like I was cheering on Clay and his friends in their mission. It also marries the worlds of books and digital media. Sloan does not crucify either method of reading. In fact, he seems to welcome both. As he tells the story of Clay and Neel coming across the Dragon Song Chronicles as boys, you get the sense that it doesn’t matter how a child discovers reading. It only matters that he does discover it.

That having been said, the female character Kat bothered me slightly. I think it had a lot to do with her idea that writers should step aside and let programmers take over. I’m thinking of Ray Bradbury who foresaw a lot of things before his time such as giant big screen televisions and iPods. I think it also bugged me because she would go on about Google Forever. Immortality is clearly not an idea created by programmers. She is correct that many ideas were created by writers. Why should they stop? I don’t think of old knowledge as just OK. I think of it as the backbone on which new knowledge is built. Without it, we’d be nowhere. So why should the people who have (sometimes eerily accurately) foreseen certain futures sit back? Why not, I don’t know, work together? But I do think this was Sloan’s point. We need to try to reach more for the harmony of books and computers in this digital age. Kat seems to be the extreme side for the computers. Corvina is, obviously, the side who thinks computers and books should never mingle, and Penumbra seems be the happy medium. Certain aspects of Kat still bother me. She feels stuck in that all smart girls act this way category that I can’t stand. If Sloan didn’t seem to be making a point with her character, I might have rated the book lower than I did. However, it did hold my attention, and the idea that the magic from a book is not really over even after you’ve grown up? That’s pretty priceless.

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Amanda

December 2015

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