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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel Paperback – September 24, 2013
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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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“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
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Top Customer Reviews
Sloan's story is tight, well-paced, and interesting. He uses language beautifully. There's humor and its more dignified cousin, wit. There are solid, vivid characters. Even minor characters are painted with enough detail to be interesting.
One thing: something about the title made me think of a YA (or even younger) novel, but while the... romantic aspects of this book are very understated (and thus appropriate, I think, for a younger audience) I don't the plot or characters would be that appealing to the under eighteen set. Maybe I'm wrong about that, and in any case it's not a criticism, merely an observation. Anyway, it's a book adults will enjoy.
Another thing: something about the title also implied a fantasy novel, but, while quirky, nothing in the book actually violates Reality As We Know It. Fantasy novels figure in the story to a modest degree, but this isn't a fantasy novel. You certainly don't have to be "into" fantasy to enjoy the book.
One final thing: I thought I guessed the ending. Then I thought I guessed another, equally plausible ending. I was delightfully wrong both times.
Set in San Francisco, Sloan does a pretty good caricature of the Bay Area startup scene, and even throws big tech players like Google into the mix—the latter actually plays a surprisingly key role here! I’ve only been living in the Bay Area for about three months now (at the time of this review), but even I had to appreciate the nods to the neighborhoods I’ve visited.
Clay Jannon is a semi-fresh college grad hoping to find some footing in a post-Recession jobscape. He’s likeable and relatable—the roommate we’ve all met or had in our early twenties. He’s self-depracting and also not particularly talented. This isn’t a harsh critique of his character, by the way. In fact, he makes this admission several times throughout the novel.
But what Clays is really good at is making friends with extremely gifted specialists—all of whom play a part in the larger story....and that leads me to my biggest critique.
Because for every obstacle Clay faces, he also “just so happens” to have a major resource at his disposal that can solve the problem. So even though I thought the story was adorably quirky, insightful, and tender, there were a lot of plot points that wrapped up a little too neatly for me.
Also, if you happen to be a professional codebreaker, this book will either pique your interest or frustrate you to no end. I am not a professional codebreaker, so I found this aspect of the book both entertaining and suspenseful.
My final verdict is that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a whimsical read that’s sure to please book lovers of all backgrounds—but especially if they live in California.
Protagonist Clay Jannon is making ends meet at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, where he quickly finds things are not what they seem and he dares to explore the volumes he's been told to avoid. Secrets unfold slowly and oddly, pulling Clay and his techno-savvy friends into a mystery far beyond the bookstore itself. Is there a code that confounds even the most powerful Google programs and servers?
Over-educated and short on experience, when Clay is laid off from his first job after college, he gets a job working in a weird bookstore. Despite being warned not to ask questions nor to look at any of the books in the “wayback” section, he is drawn into the puzzle that all the customers have spent decades trying to solve. But no one has tried to write code to solve it...until now!
Clay is self deprecating and funny, a cool/nerd with heart. All of the characters were well-written, Mr. Penumbra especially made me wish I could visit his bookstore! There were parts where I laughed out loud, and parts that touched me almost to tears. Very much enjoyed this book, really hope the author has more coming!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First, the narrative voice was compelling and made for a fast, breezy read.Read more