Clay Jannon is one of those people that rarely touch paper. Need news? He uses Google. Looking for a job? He scans the job openings online. Looking for something to read? He downloads books, magazine articles, blog posts to his laptop or his early version Kindle. He is a child of the internet and his job is at a startup, creating logos, web sites, administering a Twitter account. However, a severe downturn in the economy results in the loss of Clay's job. He's been out of work for a year, there is nothing in San Francisco for him; he is a dime a dozen.
It is paper that gets him a job.
Because he cannot concentrate on actually finding a job while he is online, one link sends him to another site, then to another until his entire day is shot and he is no closer to finding a job. What he does to combat the internet is to print out the want ads and take a walk around San Francisco while reading his printouts. Strangely, that does not help him land a job. But San Francisco is an interesting place, as he discards his latest printouts, he sees a "Help Wanted" sign in the window of Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. "What the heck," he says, walks in and interviews for the job of the night clerk at the store. He is hired.
This is not an ordinary book store. While they have some popular books, the store is dedicated to different kinds of books, strange books. Which are loaned out to a wide variety of people who arrive at the store at all hours of the day and night. Curious, Clay takes a look at some of them; they appear to be written in some sort of code.
Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore is an incredible balance between "new" and "old." While books are the primary focus, Robin Sloan incorporates new technologies, such as Google, OCR, crowd sourcing, and more. Old Knowledge, that which is not indexed on a search server, has a definite place in the world and is very much relevant. In addition to the wonderful characters and excellent plot, it is this balance that allows the novel to soar. Sloan really shines when he focuses on Clay, a man who may live a technical world but, underneath his web-centric world, really likes pen and ink. The reader recognizes this early, but enjoys the ride as Clay discovers this for himself. And it's not because Clay is a Luddite at heart. He really has a deep appreciation of the glue, the feel, the smell of books (and bookstores) and ink. Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore is a fabulous page turner that is very appealing; it is very hard to put down. It is also one of those books what will remain with you long after you have powered down your e-reader or marked your place.
It never ceases to amaze me how many doors have opened up for me since I started reviewing the books I read. Publishers now send me free books to read and review. Authors contact me. Kind folks at Lunch … more
Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2012 (Debut Spotlight): Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is an old school mystery set firmly in tech-loving, modern day San Francisco. Clay Jannon (former web designer) lands a job at a bookstore with very few patrons and even fewer purchases. His curiosity leads him to the discovery of a larger conspiracy at play, one exciting enough to rope in his best friend (CEO at a startup) and love interest (works at Google). As Clay and company unravel the puzzles of Mr. Penumbra's book shop, the story turns into a sort of nerdy heist, with real-life gadgets, secret societies, and a lot of things to say about the past, present, and future of reading. Sloan originally self-published Mr. Penumbra as a short story through Kindle Direct Publishing, before expanding it to its current form with a traditional print publisher--a fitting trajectory for a fast, fun story that has so wholly and enthusiastically embraced the tension between the digital and analog books. --Kevin Nguyen