Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
by Robin Sloan
2012/ 304 pages
read by Ari Fliakos / 7h 41m
Rating 4

This book started out on such a great premise – a premise worthy of Umberto Eco or Neal Stephenson or even William Gibson or some other good conspiracy authors.  But Sloan is no Eco or even a Gibson so he couldn’t quite carry it off.    Fliakos, using his sweet young male voice, is a great narrator for it – I think he gave it all it deserved,  possibly a bit more.  ?

As the story starts out our first person narrator, Clay Jannon,  is an unemployed computer specialist and  website designer who is also a booklover.   He “accidentally” finds a job in a bookstore which is … well …  rather different.   First off,  it’s open 24-hours a day.   The boss, Penumbra,  is a bit weird and then in a very likely one-thing-leads-to-another sequence,  Clay notices the odd customers and their strange requests.  He invites a friend to check it out and they start to track the customers in the store – the “plot thickens.”   (heh),

Jennifer Schuessler of NY Times called it   “… a rollicking neo-Borgesian tale about an unemployed San Francisco Web designer who takes a job in a mysterious bookshop only to find himself initiated into the Unbroken Spine, a 500-year-old secret society of bibliophiles on an unexpected collision course with Google.”   She must have been in a good mood.

Also see the Newsday review.

And our sweet young man meets a great young woman – they have much in common but Cat is beautiful and a bit geeky, but the kicker is –  she works at … where else? … Google! –  So it’s fun.

The customers belong to something called the “way back club.”   They borrow books from the “way back list”  at the bookstore –  archaic books.   The books have very strange titles.  They’re stored on the top-most shelves which Clay accesses via ropes.

Clay visits to Google and meets people,  they talk about books and technology – and coding. Books are codes,  right?  We decode to read.  The history of fonts goes way, way back.  I won’t go into the plot more than that but I think this effort is rather for juveniles –  perhaps boys age 14 or so.  An intro to the conspiracy genre?  Maybe.

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