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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel Paperback – September 24, 2013
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“A real tour de force [and] a beautiful fable...The reader is swept along by Sloan's enthusiasm.” ―George Saunders, BLIP Magazine
“Part love letter to books, part technological meditation, part thrilling adventure, part requiem... Eminently enjoyable, full of warmth and intelligence.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“A book about passion--for books, for history, for the future...There is nothing about Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore that I didn't love.” ―Cory Doctorow
“Delightful.” ―Graham Joyce, The Washington Post
“An irresistible page-turning novel.” ―Newsweek
“One of the most thoughtful and fun reading experiences you're likely to have this year...There's so much largehearted magic in this book.” ―NPR
“A jaunty, surprisingly old-fashioned fantasy about the places where old and new ways of accessing knowledge meet...[Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore] cleverly uses the technological age in the service of its fantasy...Sloan's ultimate answer to the mystery of what keeps people solving Penumbra's puzzle is worth turning pages to find out.” ―Tess Taylor, San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] winning literary adventure...Sloan grounds his jigsawlike plot with Big Ideas about the quest for permanence in the digital age.” ―Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Fantastic...I loved diving into the world that Sloan created, both the high-tech fantasyland of Google and the ancient analog society. It's packed full of geeky allusions and wonderful characters, and is a celebration of books, whether they're made of dead trees or digits.” ―Jonathan H. Liu, Wired, GeekDad
“Sloan makes bits and bytes appear beautiful. ...The rebels' journey to crack the code--grappling with an ancient cult, using secret passwords and hidden doorways--will excite anyone's inner child.” ―The Economist
“Man, is this book fun--especially for any book nerd who isn't in denial about living in the modern age. If you love physical books (the smell! The feel!) but wouldn't give up your iPhone for any reason, if you like puzzles and geeky allusions and bookish cults and quests, then this book is for you. It also glows in the dark.” ―Emily Temple, Flavorpill
“What makes Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore so impressive is Sloan's great gift for storytelling and his cast of brilliant, eccentric characters. Think of this novel as part Haruki Murakami, part Dan Brown and part Joseph Cornell: a surreal adventure, an existential detective story and a cabinet of wonders at which to marvel.” ―Carmela Ciuraru, Newsday
“Beguiling...The plot is as tight as nesting boxes, or whatever their digital equivalent...Sly and infectious.” ―Karen R. Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Sloan isn't just exploring new ideas, but laying the groundwork for a new genre of literature. While the influence of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson is present, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is something all its own: a technocratic adventure where every riddle and puzzle is solved with very real gadgets, a humanizing reflection on technology that evokes the tone of a fairy tale, a brisk and brainy story imbued with such confidence that it will leave you with nothing but excitement about the things to come.” ―Kevin Nguyen, Grantland
“In a time when actual books are filling up tag-sale dollar boxes, along with VHS tapes and old beepers, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore reminds us that there is an intimate, adventurous joy in the palpable papery things called novels, and in the warm little secret societies we used to call ‘bookstores.' Robin Sloan's novel is delightfully funny, provocative, deft, and even thrilling. And for reasons more than just nostalgia, I could not stop turning these actual pages.” ―John Hodgman
“The love child of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus and Neal Stephenson's Reamde, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a hugely enjoyable story of friendship, living, and the lure of the mysterious. It's a good-hearted, optimistic book about the meeting of modern technology and medieval mystery, a tonal road map to a positive relationship between the old world and the new. It's a book that gets it. Plus, you know: cryptographic cults, vertical bookshops, hot geeks, theft, and the pursuit of immortality. I loved it. And yes, I too would freeze my head.” ―Nick Harkaway
“Robin Sloan is a skilled architect, and Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is an ingeniously designed space, full of mysteries and codes. A clever, entertaining story that also manages to be a thought-provoking meditation on progress, information and technology. Full of intelligence and humor.” ―Charles Yu
About the Author
Robin Sloan grew up in Michigan and now splits his time between San Francisco and the Internet. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is his first novel.
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“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” is a delightful trip into an unexpected world you may think could only exist in film. Robin Sloan has crafted it with a lively wry imagination and thoughtful way with words – a feast for readers.
The story unfolds in a city made for adventures, San Francisco. Even as the downtown area is dwarfed by high-rises and the surrounds are consumed by voracious tech office parks, the author reveals a more twisty neighborhood with mysterious figures scurrying about.
An out-of-work programmer, desperately in need of income, Clay Jannon, answers a “Help Wanted” ad looking for a late shift clerk at a 24-hour bookstore. He discovers the long, narrow building squeezed next to another store, Booty’s, with neon legs that cross and uncross.
Once he enters, he finds shelves stretching up almost three stories like “an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach.” If anything could describe library “stacks”, this bookstore embodies it. The store symbol – “ two-hands perfectly flat, rising out of an open book” – embellish the front window.
Clay meets the unassuming older gentleman, Mr. Penumbra, who introduces himself: “I am Penumbra, and I am the custodian of this place.” And as he hints after a brief exchange: “Prior experience in the book trade is of little use to you here.”
Despite the store and its owner curious appearance, Clay is predisposed to this world since he and his earliest friends have long been avid followers of “The Dragon-Song Chronicles”, a sort of Tolkien fantasy. It is one Penumbra is familiar with as well.
Clay takes the job, essentially the graveyard shift, and quickly finds out the bookstore has a clientele that are slightly odd and apparently on some kind of mission to make sense of books seemingly written in an unfathomable code.
At the heart of the riddle is an actual historical figure, Aldus Manutius, a fifteenth century printer who created the Aldine press, and his timeless typeface, Gerritszoon, fashioned by his assistant and partner, Francesco Griffo. Although the typeface is fictional, it may be a teasing reference to Garamond.
Working with a coterie of roommates, friends and other odd acquaintances, Clay joins the mysterious chase for whatever it is that is driving the bookstore patrons. He enlists the help of a Google princess, Kat, young, attractive and totally obsessed with her Google career path.
And the tale moves from San Francisco to New York City and back. There are some dark encounters with a black-robed cult reminiscent of Umberto Eco’s 1994 classic, “The Name of the Rose” and a wonderful send up of Google devotees and their campuses.
One very funny scenario takes place toward the end at the Consolidated Universal Long-Term Storage facility in Nevada where the answer to the mystery may be held. And without as much as a blink of an eye or spelling it out, Sloan leaves the reader to work out the acronym.
“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” is a combination of fantasy and humor that reminds me of a whimsical 1932 film, “Love Me Tonight,” with Maurice Chevalier – a place where fantasy and reality mix and get along together just fine.
Will look for his next book.
Only a few die-hard customers frequent the store, and usually in the middle of the night. Clay learns to masterfully work the ladder, 'like a monkey', pulling out selective titles from their vertical shelves, but is not allowed to look inside them, a condition of his employment.
It doesn't take long before the unconventional Clay lets the timeless mystery of the store get the better of him. He can't resist working on a software model to track the books being taken out, and later returned. There's a pattern, it seems, and with the help of his new (Google employed) girlfriend, they create a data visualization that only makes them more curious, yearning for more.
And thus, a journey begins to solve a long-standing mystery that dates back to the year 1515.
'Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore' is an easy, light-hearted, humorous read. It's mixed with some ancient history, theft, book cults, tech-speak, geekness, love and friendships. A juxtaposition of new technology and olde. And there's that never-ending search for immortality.
This is a fine addition to your vertical, or not-so-vertical, bookshelf.