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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan


Highlights: Bridging the gap between analog and digital generations.
Synopsis: Clay Jannon is an average web designer in San Francisco, but when the bagel company he works for goes under he is desperate for a job. The "Help Wanted" sign in Mr. Penumbra's bookstore is a beacon of hope. And so Clay finds himself employed as the night shift clerk at the weirdest bookstore in the world. A centuries-old code meets 21st-century technology.



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A fantastical adventure for tech-geeks.


You can only read this book once for the first time.

Posted June 2, 2014 by

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I picked this book when my name was selected in my book club; it sounded fun and seemed like it would spark some interesting discussion. It did that, and so much more. Every person in the group was consumed by the adventure immediately, which reflects how effortlessly Robin Sloan introduces the audience to Geekstream ideas and develops his starring cast of characters.

Clay Jannon is your average web designer; he is fairly decent at it, and really enjoys it. Unfortunately (or perhaps, in the end, fortunately) the bagel company he works for goes under and he becomes desperate for a job, any job. When hours of aimlessly walking the streets of San Francisco land Clay in front of Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, the “Help Wanted” sign is a beacon of hope. And so Clay finds himself employed as the night shift clerk at the weirdest bookstore in the world with incredibly odd patrons. It doesn’t take long before Clay becomes curious about the unusual customers and discovers a mysterious, secret society. 

With nothing better to do, Clay’s interest in the goings-on becomes obsessive. To uncover the truth, Clay forms a fellowship of geeks. Mathew Mittelbrand is Clay’s roommate, a special effects artist making various props and sets for movies. Kat Potente, a data visualization genius at Google, comes into Clays life rather serendipitously one night while waiting for the bus. Rounding out the group is Neel Shah, Clay’s super-rich, super-nerdy BFF. Together, they try to decipher a centuries-old code using state-of-the-art technology and a bit of imagination.

With what started out as a short story posted here, Robin Sloan has created a whole new sub-category with Mr. Penumbra’s  24-Hour Bookstore … Tech-Geek Fiction. Tech-Geeks (and I use that term with total love and adoration as I count myself among them) have long been drawn to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy aisle, living in imagined places and dreaming of improbable gadgets. Here is a fantastic adventure not just for us, but about us. This geek-venture is “Fanboys” for technophiles: secret societies, patterns and codes, and the magical mothership of Google. 

This intelligent and witty novel is also warm and charming, with characters readers will easily relate to and even miss when the final page is read. Sloan has balanced nostalgia for dusty old books with the excitement of the digital world so perfectly that you will be left unsure which is more important to the twenty-first century and beyond.

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.

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Rachel Storey



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