What I Read: “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A few years ago I went into the Human Resources office where I worked and asked for assistance in helping me decide what I want to be when I grow up. They made me take some fancy tests with multiple choice answers and then invited me back a few days later. I was presented with a report that told me I should become a librarian. I laughed and walked out of the room (and yes, I did eventually become a librarian). The reason those tests indicated I should become a librarian is not because I like to read (I do) but because I like to figure things out, I like to solve puzzles and mysteries, I like to learn new things, I like to make technology work for me, I like to make people’s day. I also like word play, numbers, algorithms, and I like to laugh.
Yeah, that’s nice, but what does any of that have to do with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore? Everything actually. This book has all that and more as it weaves the old (dusty old books in an eccentric bookstore) with the new (can you say Apple and Google product placement?) into a story of intrigue, mystery, and even a little romance.
The story revolves around Clay, a web designer struggling through the recession by taking the graveyard shift in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. The bookstore does very little business during his shift, but there are a few very regular customers, although they are not truly customers in the traditional sense. These customers seem to belong to some super secret, very mysterious book club that is trying to solve some life mystery by deciphering codes contained in books.
Clay soon realizes he cannot solve this huge mystery on his own, so he must pull in friends and his love interest and even all the computing power of Google to figure out what could be going on. The more he learns the deeper the mystery goes. Naturally, though, with Google helping out, an answer will be found soon.
Robin Sloan gives us a story that is warm and engaging and does not bog us down with techno-babble or other jargon. I totally engaged in this story on many levels, but for me, personally, it hit me at my love for both books and technology. Sloan shows us that we still very much need books even with all this wonderful technology we have today. Books and technology and the power they contain and the unlimited potential they bring out in all of us, if we let them.