Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

A Novel

eBook - 2012
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A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstoreThe Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead "checking out" impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he's embarked on a complex analysis of the customers' behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what's going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that's rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.
Publisher: 2012
ISBN: 9780374708832
Branch Call Number: OverDrive ebook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc

Opinion

From Library Staff

Something's going on in the peculiar bookstore where Clay finds a job as the night clerk. There are strange not-for-sale books stretching up into the very high ceiling, and ultimately, there is a secret society as well as a secret code. This is lots of fun.

Clay Jannon, a failed graphic designer finds himself working the night shift at a mysterious San Francisco bookstore. Clay soon discovers a secret society and learns that there are ancient codes hidden within the old bookstore. With the help of his friends, his own knowledge, and digital informat... Read More »

A delightful story about a mysterious San Francisco bookstore.

Book nerd falls for computer coder; computer geek finds true love in text. Sloan makes both worlds sound sexy while telling the story of a mysterious bookstore that can't be judged by its cover.

Clay Jannon, who recently graduated college with a Web design degree, finds himself out of a job during the recent recession. He ends up working at an independent bookstore in San Francisco during the night shift. The store is your usual indie store except for the very tall shelves in the back. T... Read More »


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SCL_Justin Jul 25, 2017

There are a great many things to love about Robin Sloan’s novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. A great many things. What I love best about it is how perfectly of its time it feels. It’s a book I can use to say “this was 2012.”

The narrator of the tale is a designer who can’t get work because of the economy, and takes a job as the night clerk in a 24-hour bookstore. It’s a weird bookstore though, with three storeys of tomes (and to the delight of library-nerds rolling ladders for access) in the back which are arranged in no clear order and have eccentric people coming to trade for them. And these eccentric folk must be kept track of and observed, written about in the log for each shift. So yes, there is the old and odd to this story.

And then a woman who works at Google walks in (the bookstore is in San Francisco) and the story becomes this beautiful melding of all that old weird stuff with data-visualization schemes and parallel processing power to break codes and dreams of the Singularity. Plus of course the digitization of books.

Put it together with a fantasy novel overlay, that has our narrator using the D&D character name of his best friend since they were 12 when he needs him to really do something and I’m in heaven.

It’s about the intersection of these worlds of tradition and innovation, design and shortcuts that make it amazing. If you liked Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, there are echoes here, but it’s mostly in the shared nerd culture aspects. It’s a much less heavy tale. The narrator doesn’t take all the robes and mumbo-jumbo or the Googlarchy so seriously as anyone in The Magicians would. It’s more like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

It was a quick read. It didn’t change the way I thought about the deep mysteries of life. But it was so enjoyable.

g
GLNovak
Jun 23, 2017

This was a fun read for me. I just loved the narrator who seemed to be just going along through the story for the ride as much as anything (even though he did carry out some key missions). The concept of books full of code that members of a secret group must decode one by one and in sequence to finally get to the ultimate volume in which lies the secret of immortality appeals to those who like the fantasy puzzle. I usually don't but because the narrator was so engaging for me, and the concept of books versus computers has always intrigued, I carried on reading. Quick and easy to read, with an ending that you might be able to guess before the finale.

romance_nerd Jun 23, 2017

Such a great book with tons of literary references. This book was a bit of an oddball, but in all the best ways. Recommended for anyone who loves books about books and doesn't mind going along for the ride.

MelifluousView May 02, 2017

I enjoyed the voice of the narrator, but I felt like the pace was too slow in the beginning. Once the story picked up, I was engaged and had fun.

AL_LESLEY Nov 22, 2016

What an adventure-y and silly-y fun read!

v
veetron
Nov 20, 2016

A book about a secret society whose membership is encoded within more secret books? And it all starts with an innocent little bookstore with a mysterious shop owner? Sign me up! I’m a sucker for books about books, hidden quests, adventures and mysteriousness. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore finds Clay, a young, jobless, graphic designer, desperate enough to take a job at a tiny little bookstore in San Francisco. Mysterious patrons come at odd hours to request strange books, and Clay begins to suspect his boss (Mr. Penumbra) is part of a bookish secret society. Not only that, but this society believes they have, encoded within their secret library, the secret to immortality! It’s all very secretive.

The book is enjoyable, and what a premise for bookish, magical-realism lovers like me. However, despite these promising elements, Mr. Penumbra’s fell a bit short for me. One reason is that none of the characters really resonated with me. Clay is a bit too average (maybe the point? Everyday hero?) and whenever he comes across an obstacle in his journey, there are too many miraculous, far-fetched connections he makes to move it forward. Another (main) reason is Clay’s love interest and partner in adventure: Kat Potente. She’s pretty much the literary equivalent of a nerd’s fantasy girl: incredibly pretty, speaks in witty, short sentences, and wears a wardrobe made entirely of “Bam!” comic-style t-shirts. (Excuse me as I roll my eyes.)

My main problem with Kat, though, is the fact that Clay (and other characters) believe entirely in her genius-level Google skills, which are apparently essential. Yet, all Kat seems to be able to do is, well, “Google” things. Which is pretty much what ANYBODY can do, right? Clay seems to be constantly in awe of how amazing she is...because she can type sets of words into a search engine? Because she has access to cool technology on the Google campus - but that's not her skills, that's her security clearance. And don't get me started on how at the first big "failure" the group encounters, Kat disappears from sight - she either gives up too easily, or has been using Clay as a boredom cure, or both.

Anyways! Kat's character almost ruined the book for me. Despite her, though, it was still a fun read. The ending felt a bit anti-climactic, given how it started, but I understand this is the first in a trilogy. I liked this one enough to continue on with the next one to see how it turns out.

t
therhiannamater
Oct 19, 2016

Okay, I really can't say enough how much I really freaking enjoyed this book. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narrator was insanely good at adding personality to all the characters. Knowing nothing about this book before reading, except for a very enticing cover, and even after reading, I really don't know how I'd classify this book genre-wise, which I have to say I love.

e
elizabetsyr
Sep 25, 2016

I completely enjoyed the story. Clay's curiosity is irrepressible. The Google community so delightfully fairy tale and not as omnipotent as they'd like to think. I wanted to know what was going to happen.

s
StarGladiator
Aug 29, 2016

Oh wow! Really wanted to like this book, as the writing style flows smoothly, but around the middle of the book, the plot/premise is revealed and it is simply too lame!
Possibly should have been titled: Google Magics! [Maybe it was really written as an advert for Google? And weren't they financed originally by the CIA?]

Cynthia_N Aug 20, 2016

Book stores, secret societies, Google, and fonts. Enjoyable read!!

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Quotes

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k
kn1226
Mar 16, 2015

But hey, nothing lasts long. We all come to life and gather allies and build empires and die, all in a single moment—maybe a single pulse.

JCLChrisK Aug 01, 2014

You know, I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.

JCLChrisK Aug 01, 2014

Maybe his big build isn't a linebacker's after all; maybe it's a librarian's.

s
SlotFather
Jun 30, 2014

Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.

s
SlotFather
Jun 30, 2014

Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines -- it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.

s
sdcarter
Mar 01, 2014

"...so many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula."

s
sammier
Jan 23, 2014

Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

s
sammier
Jan 23, 2014

"We need James Bond with a library science degree."

s
sammier
Jan 23, 2014

"What do you seek in these shelves?"

b
beckylunatic
May 29, 2013

There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight.

Age

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lbi316 Apr 26, 2013

lbi316 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

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Sounddrive
Apr 19, 2013

Sounddrive thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

Summary

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LibraryUser53
May 01, 2013

The protagonist, Clay Jannon, is hired by San Francisco independent bookstore owner -- Mr Penumbra -- to retrieve books from 10 pm to 6 am, at the request of long time bookstore customers holding an unusual interest in highly obscure volumes. Clay has never heard of any of these book titles, which are never purchased, only loaned.

When Clay examines one of these books, he sees page after page of unreadable encrypted characters, no spaces, no punctuation. Yet the customers return night after night, returning one book, and taking another.

The question is: Why?

DanniOcean Dec 13, 2012

Clay Jannon is a graphic and web designer who finds himself unemployed in the new economy. While wandering the streets of San Francisco he accidentally finds Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and after a very brief interview based on his favourite book, finds himself the store’s new night 10pm-to-6am clerk. There are three rules to working there – he must be on time and cannot leave early, he may not look inside any of the ancient-looking books that are reserved for members, and third, he must keep precise notes about all transactions (including how they smell, what they wear, what they say and how they appear mentally). Mr. Penumbra’s unique approach to store-keeping is matched by his odd clientele who appear in the oddest hours of the night, but they are few and far between so to occupy his time Clay starts developing a web-presence for the store. He creates a 3-D map of the transactions and… a face appears in the results. What follows is a literary adventure of the highest order – a cult of readers bent on discovering but keeping secret the immortality locked in ancient texts of an early typographer, versus Clay and his band of quest seekers, albeit their modern-day equivalents of rogue, wizard and hero. And although the modern-day wizard uses all the power of Google to help them, the printed texts do not give up their secrets easily. It is not until Clay uses all the tools in his magic bag – from the ultimate hacker site to his ultimate favourite novel to the ancient texts themselves - that the code is broken, and the answers are not at all what everyone involved thought they would be. Digital vs. print, Google vs. books, technology vs. old knowledge, piracy vs. privacy, these are the battles of our times and all themes in the book, but the overall story is an adventure, a quest simply reimagined in the techno-age. Given that the author was once an employee at Twitter and has released the book in both print and e-formats, Sloan may be hedging his bets - but his first novel has all the feel of a love-letter to books.

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