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299 of 317 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A love letter to literature *and* technology
There's so much in this slim volume that I'm not sure where to start. Here's the TLDR version: it's an utter delight, and you should buy it immediately.

Our hero is a graphic designer with some meager programming skills who is left jobless by the recession. He finds new work as a bookstore clerk, and soon discovers that the store is much more than it seems...
Published on October 8, 2012 by M. Hollingsworth

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92 of 99 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The ideas earn a 4, the characters bring it down to a 3
Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore is two books woven together. In one book, Clay Jannon happens upon a secret book cult while working at a mysterious store run by the eponymous Mr. Penumbra. In the other book, author Robin Sloan hijacks his characters' voices in order to deliver introductory lessons on font type, The Singularity, immortality, and anything else that happens...
Published on November 9, 2012 by Zipp Dementia


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299 of 317 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A love letter to literature *and* technology, October 8, 2012
By 
M. Hollingsworth (Austin, TX United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Hardcover)
There's so much in this slim volume that I'm not sure where to start. Here's the TLDR version: it's an utter delight, and you should buy it immediately.

Our hero is a graphic designer with some meager programming skills who is left jobless by the recession. He finds new work as a bookstore clerk, and soon discovers that the store is much more than it seems. His quest to uncover its secrets leads only to mysteries, eventually sending him not only across the country but (figuratively) back in time to when the technology to make books widely accessible first became available.

The "I love the smell of glue" crowd is represented, as are the "print is already dead" folks. Neither are wrong, because the book as object *and* the book as text are important in different ways. The vast power of the Internet is harnessed, often to great effect, but human handcraft is also vital.

That would be plenty, but there's so much more. For instance, consider the idea -- so casually tossed off -- that the world is simply filled with secret societies, the only hitch being that most of them don't realize that they're secret. Or ponder how the standard adventuring party from role-playing games, when the roles are translated into modern terms, actually is a fine combination of human resources for accomplishing a goal quickly. Or think on how movable-type presses were, in their day, the equivalent of a young Internet -- a new technology with limitless and thrilling potential to open vistas theretofore undreamed-of.

It's missing a few things, most notably combat and sex. I didn't miss them. I didn't even really notice their lack until I sat down to write this review. There's no need for faux excitement when there's so much genuine excitement. The book is so full of *story,* not to mention ideas, that the pages very nearly turn of their own accord.

Buy it. Read it. Rethink parts of your world.
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92 of 99 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The ideas earn a 4, the characters bring it down to a 3, November 9, 2012
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This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Hardcover)
Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore is two books woven together. In one book, Clay Jannon happens upon a secret book cult while working at a mysterious store run by the eponymous Mr. Penumbra. In the other book, author Robin Sloan hijacks his characters' voices in order to deliver introductory lessons on font type, The Singularity, immortality, and anything else that happens to interest him.

If it sounds like that last sentence is being written in an annoyed tone, you're only getting half of my emotions. The truth is, I enjoy Sloan's viewpoints and his interests. The way they are written and explained is--like the rest of the book--not only entertaining but even gripping. This is because Sloan employs a casual voice throughout the book that makes you feel like you're hanging out with him at a coffee shop in downtown San Francisco. Sloan sits across from the reader for the entire book and doesn't let the written words overtake what is being said.

Having explained that, I must admit that annoyance is definitely there. These scenes of history and theory are not fit neatly into the narrative of the main plot: which involves the mystery of the cult. Instead they take place at odd interludes--while characters are having drinks or going out on dates. The reader rarely understands why these characters are talking about these things and many of the subjects raised do not have a bearing on the plot.

They could have! The most interesting conversation Sloan starts is a much more subtle one. It involves the question of "Digital versus Physical" (this was particularly ironic for me, reading the book on a Kindle) and gives some startling examples of what cannot be done with all of our vast technology that CAN be done through tactile sensation. The arguments are there in the book and clear for any reader to see without having to rely on asides, random conversations, or interruptions to the flow of the story.

And it is a good story. The mystery described in Mr. Penumbra will keep you flipping pages until the final reveal, which is more or less satisfying in its philosophy. Why does the book work? Because it's a good, old-fashioned mystery with all of our favorite characters and settings. Cultists in cloaks, old libraries, wealthy investors, hidden messages and cryptic clues, and an ensemble cast of characters who literally name themselves after DnD classes (the thief, the wizard, the warrior). It's hard not to have fun while reading Sloan's tale.

Unfortunately, these characters aren't developed at all. This was my biggest complaint with the book. No motivations are described aside from the grand one of "let's solve a mystery!" which puts these guys on a level with Scooby Doo. No change occurs in Clay, our main character, because he enters this book without any need to change. He has no inner-destination. Without a destination, there cannot be obstacles, and without obstacles there cannot be the all important conflict (the heart of any good book). Without this, the journey ends up feeling too easy. There's never anything at stake, because nothing has been risked. Even physical danger doesn't come into play, which should be raising some alarm bells for those of who are remembering the last paragraph. That's right: this is a book with cultists and there's no danger. The biggest risk is that they will fail to solve the mystery, but you know from page one that they are going to figure out the answer. It's just clear that this is that kind of book--a little too tidy, a little too nice to its characters.

Because of this flaw, Penumbra can only be called a success in the ideas it raises and the conversations it may start. And it does do a good job in this. It could've gone deeper and it could've been given more weight if supported by real characters dealing with problems a reader could relate to. It is just smart enough to make you think, and I appreciate that; but the premise itself promises more.
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164 of 187 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good concept, nice setup, but did it end well?, October 17, 2012
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This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Hardcover)
Mr. Penumbra is one of those books that start a story with a quite good concept. The central narrative is crafted well. The scenes are described concretely and with attractive texture. I think the characters, however, came and went without much, if any, depth.

But I am willing to be charitable on character. This is a fantasy tale, in the best sense of the word -- and fantasies can be skimpy on characterization. Its narrative leads to some ultimate statements that may or may not correspond to reality: this is expected, of course, in the fantasy genre.

Here is the intriguing point. That very possibility -- that the final revelation of the novel's central gnosis is less than metaphysical -- is itself the most fantastical notion of the book.

Nevertheless, this most fantastical conclusion is articulated in a way that does not do justice to the richness of everything the writer has invested in the tale -- even his less-than-solid characterizations.

I enjoyed Mr. Penumbra. However, it joins an ever-lengthening shelf of recent books that promise a lot at the outset, and even succeed at establishing an attractive world, but do not advance a conclusion that is worthy of the beginning.
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138 of 159 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Past meets present and envisions future., September 8, 2012
This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Hardcover)
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I had placed this book on my "want" list as soon as I read a blurb about it some months ago. The concept was one that I hoped would not let me down. It didn't. Not one bit.

Number one, Mr. Sloan writes well. Number two, he can tell an enjoyable story. Number three, he understands that the past still has meaning in the present (and the future).

The story is deeply simple: a semi-secret society is trying to translate a five-hundred year old encoded volume in order to learn the secret to immortality. The robe wearing members race to be the first to do the decoding. This society recruits new novices through a series of bookstores.

Aside: the first minute I spent in Mr. Penumbra's was grand; just like the first moment I spent in a "real" antiquities type of bookstore over half a century ago. I still remember the smell of those books and it wafted through the room as I read this book (in a room with nearly two thousand books).

Our protagonist, Clay Jannon, goes to work in Mr. Penumbra's bookstore and proceeds, as Mr. Penumbra, hoped/knew he would, to break the rules Mr. P. had laid down. Clay has friends of the type we all need to have when we need help or money or extra brains or a date. This is a reminder that, for most of us, there are many fictional elements to the story.

Clay and his army somewhat secretly seek to bring the five-hundred year old book into synch with the present and put all the resources of google at work to decode it. All that follows is then devoted to that effort. I found myself turning the pages faster than I would have liked and the end came too soon.

Comparisons are made on the back cover of the ARC to Haruki Murakami and Neal Stephenson. I truly enjoy reading both of them and have copies of everything they have published (though I haven't made it through all of Murakami's - yet). There are elements of both in "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore", though this author's style is his own.

If you like a book that is respectful of the world of the written word, old bookstores, new bookstores, ebookstores, reading, writing and thinking, then grab this one.

I will gladly read the next book by Robin Sloan and have discovered more to read on his website whose address is easily figured out (it isn't even in code).
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars Only Because it Had to End, October 21, 2012
By 
LibraryGrrl (Hudson Valley, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Hardcover)
Ever read a book that surprised you because it had so much in it that you love? This book did it for me (and I read the palpable, papery version). Technology, books, libraries, museums, secret societies, puzzles, typefaces, design, art, and yes - knitting (brief, but I got a kick out of it). In short, it was a nod to the things that you read as a child which profoundly affected you and will always be a part of you. And it was about friendship, too. Great, gorgeous read, and it left me smiling. When's your next one out, Mr. Sloan?
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Age Sensitive, November 10, 2012
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My early assessment was that this was a silly book. I suffer from a compulsive disorder that mandates that I must finish any book I start. This explains why I read enough to conclude that it is not a silly book, it is in fact a rather charming book that isn't for everybody, or more specifically, not for every age group. Were I between ages 16-20 I'd probably have given it five stars. Were I between 20 and 25, four stars. Older than 30? There are more rewarding books you should be reading. If I owned a book store this book would probably be on the Young Adult shelf.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it!, September 11, 2012
By 
Y. Scott (Lexington, MA, United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Hardcover)
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There are old-fashion-booklovers who hate eBooks passionately. And, there are people who dismiss them as "dying creatures" and declare, "Paper books are already dead!" My work involves with both groups, and I have been quite sick of their bickering. I read paper books, eBooks, and audiobooks. If they make books directly transferring to my brain, I'll try it immediately. In my opinion, there are books I love and books I don't.

As soon as I started reading "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore", I knew I'd enjoy it very much. Sloan's Mr. Penumbra and Clay don't care about above nonsense. They see the world with wide-eyed excitement and that made me excited to follow them.

This novel is in a way very simple. There aren't any mind-blowing revelations or surprising twists, but this book still gives you fun adventures. There are many references you enjoy catching, such as Google books, the first generation Kindle (I have one, too), and fantasy novels you love but embarrassed to tell serious booklovers. If you use Google everyday and read books a lot, you'll definitely love this book.

I also loved the optimistic nature of this novel. Dystopian fantasies with black and white characters are very popular. Future is bleak, grown-up are corrupt, and friends betray friends. I do enjoy these books, but I sometimes want to have a fun adventure with my strange, but good friends. And be optimistic about our future. "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" is just like that.

I totally recommend it to everyone who likes that kind of book.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's the Crying of Lot 49 as YA Fiction, January 2, 2013
By 
Jeff the Zombie (Washington, D.C.) - See all my reviews
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A young man, having recently lost his job designing a bagel web site, finds himself unemployed in San Francisco. Ultimately, he takes a job as the late shift clerk of Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, but one assumes that his parents are covering his rent. While at the book store, he stumbles onto a centuries-old conspiracy, which he unravels with the help of smarter and better-connected friends.

I picked up Penumbra because of numerous mentions in best of the year lists, but to my disappointment, I found it to be far from what was advertised. In many ways, it reminds me of a juvenile version of a Thomas Pynchon novel -- quirky characters, numerous pop culture references, a vast and mysterious conspiracy. However, to go for that kind of surreal commentary on contemporary culture, you need to have the literary skills to make up for paper-thin characters, and your references have to be deeper and more obscure than Google and Industrial Light and Magic.

There's attempted cleverness on the part of the author -- demonstrating a Kindle, attending a party via Skype, the politics of the Google cafeteria -- but in the fast-forward state of contemporary culture, these references seem stale.

As someone who has worked for many years in web design, I found myself rolling my eyes not just at the tech references, but at the author's unrestrained awe for Google's employees and his genius ILM-employed roommate. This book's short shelf-life ended back in 2010 (and possibly even during the dot-com bust). Perhaps someone in their early 20's will appreciate it, or some teenager out in rural America dreaming of one day moving to San Francisco, but I can't think of a wider audience.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A flawed YA novel for Californians, May 15, 2014
By 
So, I have just finished reading this, and I have read a number of the reviews here on Amazon. Considering there are so many, I doubt that anyone will read this, but I still feel that I wanted to write, if only to get these thoughts out of my own head.

Basically, I agree with almost all of the thoughtful 2-star reviews here. I feel the biggest flaw of the book is the characters. Everyone is quirky, beautiful, brilliant, and totally boring. The narrator, one Clay Jannon, is particularly flat, which is a problem because the entire book is from his perspective. I know better than to conflate the narrator with the author, but I can't help but feel like Clay is a pretty close representation of Sloan himself, and if so, Sloan is one of those people I tend to make polite small talk with and then find some excuse to get away. Full of cynacism and self-righteousness, he is tough to spend 300 pages with...
Kat and Neel may as well have been the same character. His roommates, meaningless shadows. Only Penumbra and some of the members of the "cult" are interesting, but they are "the lost bookies" to whom our valiant young techies must show the digital light.

Overall, the plot is ok, as most people have noted, but there are certain moments that made me cringe - Clay attending Kat's party via videochat? Also, in terms of a mystery, it offers a pretty bland and innocuous version of intrigue - A modern version of Eco's "The Name of the Rose" this IS NOT!

Newsweek says this novel is "a bit Murakami, a bit Dan Brown." I have not read Brown, but I would imagine this is an insult to his name as it certainly is to Murakami's. Then again, Newsweek....

I wonder how much Google paid for this book to be pushed so heavily in the media. I can't really understand how this billboard for their company garnered such positive press without a significant amount of google-bucks landing in numerous pockets.

As I am writing this, I find that I am getting more and more bothered by the book, so let me focus on the positive. As noted by other reviewers, the cover glows in the dark. Pretty cool. The cover itself is terribly ugly, and I wondered about the design choice from the moment I got the book. Last night, I turned off the reading light before bed and I got it. The way this connects to the themes of "judging a book by its cover" and "the intersection of books and technology" is the better than anything in the actual novel. Again, pretty cool.

Finally, I love California. One of my favorite places. I have been to a goat farm in Pescadaro that very well may have been the inspiration for Marie (DELICIOUS Goat Cheese...) However, this book is just too "Californian" for my east coast sensibilities. Sloan makes a point to show his characters eating lentil salad, kale salad, couscous salad, kale slurpees, vegan cookies, gluten-free waffles, that I was wondering if anyone in his world had any taste at all. In one seen, the characters go to a pizza pop-up (how hip!) but they don't get any food... in fact, one character talks about his inability to eat pizza ("don't let me... even if I ask... I will ask.") Sounds like a fun bunch to party with! (The same character made millions on developing software to realistically render boobs. How kooky!) Of course, the one car mentioned in the novel is a hybrid, and the narrator mentions watching its fuel economy change when carrying a heavy load. Not a single mention of religion that I can remember, but all of the characters certainly worship at the alter of the almighty Google. Kat even has a religious-type fervor for the possibilities of the all-mighty Google can offer - eternal life! Meh...

Overall, this book is YA fluff, and in terms of YA fluff, its not that good. I recommend spending your time doing something else, unless you think that authors who use "google" as a verb are on the cutting edge. 1 star for the book, 1 star for the cover.
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44 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars fun read, not the mystery I was expecting, September 4, 2012
By 
Anonymous (Seattle, WA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (Hardcover)
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I think this novel's description is trying very hard to sell this as a quirky mystery but the book doesn't really fit that genre. I honestly have no idea what genre this would fit into besides fiction. There is a little mystery to the book but the places where a little suspense could have been drummed up fell really flat for me. Maybe I was hoping for something a little more adventurous than what boils down to computer techies doing computer techie things. Don't get me wrong, this book was fun and there are interesting characters; I guess I was expecting more along the Dan Brown line of things with puzzles and a little action that this book didn't deliver for me. This was an easy, light, fun read, though, and I would recommend it for anyone who is a little bit of a techie maybe looking for something to read on the bus to work or for a long flight.
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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan (Hardcover - October 2, 2012)
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