Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-374-21491-3
Clay Jannon is desperate for work. Unable to find a web design gig in any of San Francisco’s disappearing internet start ups, he takes the only job he can find at a strange bookstore located next to a strip club on Broadway. Mr. Penumbra’s tall and narrow store immediately strikes him as a strange place. “The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest – not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach.”
The bookstore also has a mysterious clientele – an odd assortment of people who check out books written in a strange code. Clay starts to wonder if he’s stumbled into the secret lair of some underground cult. In order to discover the group’s secrets, he enlists his friends, all of whom have a unique skill set of their own, to discover what exactly is happening in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. What they discover proves to be more mysterious than anything any of them could have imagined.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore had a few things going for it that made it a must read for me. First off, it had a blurb from George Saunders, one of my favorite authors, on the back cover. The story takes place in the two places where I spend the most time: San Francisco and Mountain View. It’s about a man working in a bookstore / library and its cover glows in the dark. Pretty much, I knew I was going to like this before I got to page one.
Mark Sloan’s book did not disappoint either. There’s so much to like in this book about a hapless 20-something who stumbles across something of lasting value in our digital culture. Mr. Penumbra’s has some big ideas about old and new technology, but these ideas are embedded in a fable-like story involving a young man on a quest for truth.
Clay’s quest is like many heroes’ journeys. At the start, he is unprepared for the challenges of his quest, but through the assistance of friends (including a girlfriend who works at Google), and a spiritual guide (Mr. Penumbra), he is able to overcome the shadowy forces working against him. After persevering through countless challenges, he learns an essential truth about himself and our world and emerges as a stronger, more capable, human being.
Information about the authors
From the author’s Amazon.com author page, we learn that “Robin Sloan grew up near Detroit and now splits his time between San Francisco and the internet. He graduated from Michigan State with a degree in economics and, from 2002 to 2012, worked at Poynter, Current TV, and Twitter.”
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 10 and up