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Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Sloan, Robin, 1979-

(Book - 2012)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore
Print
Baker & Taylor
After a layoff during the Great Recession sidelines his tech career, Clay Jannon takes a job at the titular bookstore in San Francisco, and soon realizes that the establishment is a facade for a strange secret.

McMillan Palgrave

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 bookstore

The 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.



Baker
& Taylor

After a layoff during the Great Recession sidelines his tech career, Clay Jannon takes a job at the titular bookstore in San Francisco, and soon realizes that the establishment is a facade for a strange secret. 75,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374214913
0374214913
Branch Call Number: FIC S
Characteristics: 288 p. ; 22 cm.

Opinion

From Library Staff

Comment by: BCD2013 Jun 13, 2014

NYPL Staff Pick
When a website designer on the night shift at a San Francisco bookstore begins to notice mysterious patterns, he uses technological wizardry to decode a secret message.
- Selection Team

When a website designer on the night shift at a San Francisco bookstore begins to notice mysterious patterns, he uses technological wizardry to decode a secret message.

When 21st century tech know-how meets an ancient secret society.


From the critics


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Aug 07, 2014
  • telger rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 hour Book store- Robin Sloan
I was hooked because I love and kinda sorta addicted to books and the work of reading, as decribed by Mr. Penumbra. I was captivated and mystified by this bookstore- the secret society, what they do, why and who they are. But I have to admit after the long, winding journey of books, and libraries, New York and San Francisco- I feel I was dissapointed in the end. But this is just me though. I thought there is a bigger, more profound explanation but oh no.

Aug 01, 2014
  • JCLChrisK rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Information and stories. That's the commonality. Convention prefers to set things in opposition to each other: books vs. computers; analog vs. digital; old vs. new; dusty vs. sleek. They may function differently, but at their cores books and computers are about the same things: storing and sharing information and stories.

Clay Jannon sits at the juncture of those two opposing worlds, that of books and that of computers. He is a computer designer in Silicon Valley, but desperation has him accepting a job at a dusty old bookstore that caters to very old-fashioned readers. That job gets him a new girlfriend who works for and--is all things--Google. It also gets him caught up in a centuries-old mystery involving a secret book society. Those are just the simplest of his connections to the two worlds, which grow deeply both ways. And Clay is special because he has a unique talent: he doesn't see the worlds as opposites or in conflict with each other; he is able to join them harmoniously in his perception, his life, his work. And so Clay sits at the juncture of an exciting mystery consisting of unexpected intrigue and adventure that takes him from the latest secret projects at the heart of Google to hidden underground libraries where the chained, leather-bound books are studied by black-robed scholars, breaking codes, uncovering mysteries, and so much more.

This is--to copy a description already used by others I know--a delightfully fun story. It came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Very nearly five stars.

Jul 26, 2014
  • BrigidWilson rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Truly enjoyed this novel. In fact, I had to make myself put it down several times just so I wouldn't hurry through it:) I didn't want to be done because it was done so well. Literature lovers and computer geeks will like this story in similar degrees:)

Summary: Clay Jannon, an unemployed web designer takes a clerk position at a strange bookstore run by an old man. Not only does the store keep strange hours but few customers ever visit, and those who do are quite bizarre and “check-out” rather than buy books. Clay soon discovers that there is much more to the bookstore and its customers than meets the eye, and becomes caught up in a centuries-old puzzle that has yet to be solved.

This book presents an interesting exploration of the relationship between modern technology, such as computer programming and e-readers, and the place that physical books hold in our society. This is definitely a book for both book-lovers and computer enthusiasts! While not written in the most remarkable style, it is an entertaining read!

Jun 26, 2014
  • Drake_Fresh rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This book is such an exiting mystery! With a clever, multilayered theme and a series of very interesting characters, this is a personal favorite.

NYPL Staff Pick
When a website designer on the night shift at a San Francisco bookstore begins to notice mysterious patterns, he uses technological wizardry to decode a secret message.
- Selection Team

Recommended by Karl @lynden library.

Apr 05, 2014
  • Indigo_Cobra_8 rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Things I liked about the book: fast-paced adventure, the main character's dry humor and witty narration, the character interactions, the incorporation of Google and technology. Things I didn't like: undeveloped villain character, blatant themes (that is to say, this book didn't make you THINK; it just stated things outright). Still, a fairly enjoyable book.

Nov 23, 2013
  • Michael Colford rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This delightful homage to the physical book is intriguing as it also celebrates the Google-age, digitization, typography, and code breaking. But nothing is more celebrated, and also a little mourned, than the independent bookstore. Mr. Penumbra's bookstore in San Francisco is, of course, not your average bookstore. There is the front part of the store, which is typically eclectic, where booksellers favorite books are featured randomly, and the occasional sale is made. But it is the rear part of the store, taller than it is wide, with ladders skyrocketing to great heights, and mysterious books filled with a bizarre, unreadable code lining the shelves. Young Clay Jannon finds himself working the night shift at this curious bookstore after losing his job to a poor economy. He also finds himself tossed into a fascinating mystery about history, books, and even immortality. He is surrounded by an assortment of colorful characters, from his girlfriend, Kat, who works at Google, his best friend Neel, with whom he once played Dungeons & Dragons, and of course, his quirky employer, Mr. Penumbra himself.

A delightful read for book lovers, but also for computer geeks who think the age of print is over. Robin Sloan's prose skips along merrily making for a fast read. There are a lot of ideas in here, and if there is any flaw, perhaps it is that all are celebrated, and none shown to be more relevant than any other. It's rather even-handed in that way, which is nice, but perhaps a trifle less exciting.

This book has a certain charm but mostly because the narrator has an utopian worldview. When he and Kat are projecting the future, they seem to only mention positive future possibilities, culminating with Star Trek. Hence, Google becomes the gateway to the utopian future. But this could also be seen as a war of the cults with Penumbra's obvious cult versus the Google cult. Kat becomes unavailable due to her new power position with all it's possibilities and it's never really the same afterwards. Of course, she's an idealist who is looking for immortality (nope) in a perfect world that doesn't exist and never will. This book had some nice zenly charm but it was like Facebook with no place to express your "dislikes". I personally love San Francisco so that was a big element for me. Even Gene Rodenberry admitted that Star Trek was idealized military fantasy. The future is... brrrr....!

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Aug 01, 2014
  • JCLChrisK rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

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.

Aug 01, 2014
  • JCLChrisK rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

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

Jun 30, 2014
  • SlotFather rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

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.

Jun 30, 2014
  • SlotFather rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

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

"...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."

Jan 23, 2014
  • sammier rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

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

Jan 23, 2014
  • sammier rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

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

Jan 23, 2014
  • sammier rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

"What do you seek in these shelves?"

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Sloan, Robin, 1979-
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