Friday, July 12, 2013

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

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (October 2, 2012)
Format: Hardback; 304 Pages
ISBN-10: 0374214913
ISBN-13: 978-0374214913
Notes: Library Loan

Specific Requirements
Good Benefits

Clay Jannon is an unemployed designer of marketing materials which explain and promote products. His work for his former employer NewBagel earned him an Award from San Francisco's AIGA chapter (the professional association for design). When the great food-chain contraction swept across America in the early twenty-first century, numerous fast food chains went out of business including NewBagel. He's been been unemployed ever since, and when he saw the help wanted sign in the window of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour bookstore, he decided to inquire about the position.

After a brief interview, the job was his, and so began his employment at the quirky little bookstore. There were only three requirements for the job, they were:

ONE: You must always be here from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. exactly. You must not be late. You cannot leave early.
TWO: You may not browse, read, or otherwise inspect the shelved volumes. Retrieve them for members. That is all.
THREE: You must keep precise records of all transactions. The time. The customer's appearance. His state of mind. How he asks for the book. How he receives it. Does he appear to be injured. Is he wearing a sprig of rosemary on his hat. And so on.

Not long after he started his job, he began noticing there was something odd going on. He realized there were actually two bookstores. One, which resided in the front with your old, but typical books you'd find at a second hand bookstore, and a second store, which resided in the back, that Clay began to think of as the Waybacklist. The Waybacklist had a second set of customers--a small community of people who never were required to pay for the books for they were loaned out to them. When Clay attempted to do a Google search on the books, he realized they couldn't be found. Some looked old and weathered.When his friend, Mat, came into the bookstore one night and opened one of the Waybacklist books, he discovered the pages held long runs of roman type letters in an undifferentiated jumble.Was it a bookclub or something else?  He doesn't know, but he decides to try to puzzle it out. One thing he knows for sure...

Strange things are afoot at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. 


Clay is a little bit of a geek which is at odds with the fact that in school he was a jock. He's extremely likeable, very smart and extremely resourceful. Not long after starting work at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore he realizes there's something strange about the people who check out books from the Waybacklist, but hasn't a clue what. It appears that the Waybacklist books are in code, and he and his friends talk about attempting to break that code and discover what the secrets the books are hiding.

Working the night shift with very few customers, Clay decides to use a newly released 3-D graphics engine written in a programming language called Ruby to create a 3-D model of Mr. Penumbra's books store. After getting a decent 3-D model going, Clay decides to take the model one step further and create an animated logbook functionality for the inventory being lent out thereby making it easy to track the books each individual requests from the Waybacklist shelves. As he starts inputting the data, he realizes there's a pattern to all the madness. What is even more shocking, however, is what he finds when even more data is entered. The data reveal something that is by no means an accident and when he finally confronts Mr. Penumbra with his findings, he'll learn of a secret society who is looking to find the secret to immortality. A secret which someone long ago supposedly discovered only to hide it away behind a series of puzzles, tests, and codes. It is thought only the most worthy and skilled will be able to discover the secret and according to Penumbra, no one has been able to do it in hundreds of years. 

This was a rather charming book that was fun to read. The mystery behind the bookshop was intriguing, hooking me right away. I couldn't wait to find out what the big secret was. I liked how we get bits and pieces of clues as the book progresses, yet I didn't piece it together until the big reveal Clay does at the end. Overall I gave this one 4 out of 5 roses. It has a fun mystery, delightful characters, and a nice message to boot. If you loved Ready Player One, you'll probably like this one as well. It kind of reminded me of it. I thought the author went a bit overboard with his love of Google and at times it almost seemed to be incorporating an advertisement within the book for them, but otherwise it was a most enjoyable read.  

Notes to keep you in the know:

So I had to look and found that "Aldus Pius Manutius (Bassiano, 1449 – Venice, February 6, 1515),[1] the latinized name of Aldo Manuzio — sometimes called Aldus Manutius, the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, Aldus Manutius, the Younger — was an Italian humanist who became a printer and publisher when he founded the Aldine Press at Venice.

His publishing legacy includes the distinctions of inventing italic type, establishing the modern use of the semicolon, developing the modern appearance of the comma,[2] and introducing inexpensive books in small formats bound in vellum that were read much like modern paperbacks." (wikipedia)

So I didn't expect to find him (and clearly didn't), but thought it interesting to see what the name Griffo Gerritszoon would turn up. There was a Griffo who worked for Manutius, but he's not our Griffo. "Francesco Griffo (1450–1518), also called Francesco da Bologna, was a fifteenth-century Venetian punchcutter. He worked for Aldus Manutius, designing the printer's more important typefaces, including the first italic type. His romans show a degree of abstraction from calligraphy not present in the work of the earlier master Nicolas Jenson, while his italic and Greek types are notably cursive. Just as Manutius had achieved a monopoly on italic printing and Greek publishing with the permission of the Venetian government, he had a falling-out with Griffo. In 1516, after he returned to Bologna, Griffo was charged with the murder of his son-in-law, who had been beaten to death with an iron bar. This is his last appearance in the historical record." (wikipedia)

1 comment:

  1. It's the perfect clash of old and new: the ancient bookstore that is hiding a mystery and the guy with new technology trying to uncover the details. Super fun, well-written, fast read.

    Zaira Lynn (Skagway)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...