October 3, 2013
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
by Robin Sloan
The Great Recession has effected no one as much as Clay Jannon. He’s sure of it. He has gone from being a first class web-designer for an offbeat bagel company to the night clerk at a 24-hour bookstore. His qualifications for this job are two:
- He’s never before worked in a bookstore.
- He met his best friend because of a favorite book.
- He can climb a ladder like a monkey.
And in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, the latter is essential. Wedged in beside a San Francisco strip club, the bookstore occupies a tiny hunk of real estate, stretching upward story after story. The problem is that the bookshelves may be several stories tall but the store itself is only one story (Mr. Penumbra has a tiny office on the second floor). This means that clerks must use an arcane computer system to locate obscure titles and then climb the ladders to locate one strange book among many.
While there are normal, but aged, books near the front of the store, Clay refers to the bulk of the books as the Wayback list because they are obviously old and read by only a handful of oddball customers who never pay for the books but check them out one at a time.
Clay makes it his mission to figure out what is in these unreadable books. They aren’t Kindle compatible but he did finally crack one open only to discover an obscure code. Clay may be stymied but his friends are sure that between them they can figure out what is up with these crazy old books. Fortunately, Clay’s friends are as varied and interesting as the bookstore itself. There is his girlfriend, an up-and-coming Googler; his roommate, a special effects genius; and his best friend, who may not have touched a book in years but has animated all the best breasts in gaming. There is some off screen sex.
No, this isn’t a children’s book, but it is a book that young adults and new adults will love both for its irreverent humor but also for the questions that it poses regarding change, new technology replacing old and our responsibilities in preserving what has served us in the past.
This book will strike some readers as strange, and it is definitely unusual, but it does make you think about how computers have changed society, how we look at the world and how we process, even if we really do continue to process, the information available to us. Or if, perhaps, access is significantly more important than actually doing something with it.