Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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

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.


Let me tell you something: writing your Twitter profile in 140 characters or less. I don't know about you, but I am a lot of things but here is what I've concluded:

Traveller of book realms and fangirl of too many things: tennis, comics and cartoons to name a few. I plan to grow up one day.

This is the best I can do and it doesn't begin to tell people that I:
- love to watch cooking shows (perhaps because I, myself, cannot cook.
- love to listen to jazz and classical music because the bookstore I use to visit often played those type of music.
- have an obsession with the GONE, Chaos Walking series, Graceling and the Seven Realms series because their words string together to encase me in feels.
- like to occasionally watch football (soccer) and can often be seen cheering for teams with good looking guys on them.

And most importantly, I love too many things to figure out what I want to do with my life. I am a science student. But I also enjoy art, history, computers and books. Shoot me right?

This book was a lot of things. An artsy-farty book at times and other times, it's completely icky-geeky (I'm lying. It's not icky at all. I'm just trying to make it rhyme). The book covers topics from typography to a secret cult, from a herd of Googlers to book pirates, and from hackers to boob simulators. Just to name a few.

I really enjoyed that fact. For a girl who likes a lot of things, reading a book about a lot of things was great. It intrigued me and I related to the characters. I liked how the characters were all multi-dimensional, all so resourceful and all great problem solvers. Characters like The Rogue, The Magician and The Warrior who turned out to be more than their own class designation. The book showed that the rogue can be the magician and the warrior when needed and vice versa for the other two. It showed they were dynamic and the all fitted into the story perfectly.

I also really enjoyed how humourous this book was. Robin Sloan littered the book with witty one-liners and references to real published books. And he even made some books up all by himself. The Dragon-Song Chronicles by Steven I can't help it! Clark Moffat sounds like a series I would love to read. It was classic epic fantasy and oooh how I wished I could join the Half-Blood and the scholarly dwarf on their adventure.

This book's main purpose, as I see it, is to merge Old Knowledge with New Knowledge, what is written on classic paper vs. what is printed in e-ink. (I won't get into which I like better because that would break the 20,000 characters per review limit on Goodreads). I like how there was a cast of younger, more hip characters and a more ancient, old-school group. Props to Mr. Penumbra and some of the rest of these oldies for being secretly-hip. They are like a group of Betty Whites, kicking all of the look-at-me-I-am-so-hipster people's butts.

What made me feel like this book deserved one less star from perfection was how convenient everything was.

- Needed money? No problem; I know a guy.
- Need a way to access Google? I know a girl.
- I can say no more or the Spoiler Assassins will be on to me.

The convenience of everything made it almost a middle-grade kind of read. Ever hopped on a bus and magically, you get to where you are going without hassles? Yeah, this book was like that. I understand how things got from Point A to Point B is not the point (heh heh) of the story. But I like adventure novels, I like epic fantasy novels with an even more epic quest. The length of this book could have easily became 600 pages + but obviously, this is not that type of book. I wish the book could have been 100 pages longer; I wish things were written in more detail and things weren't always that easy.

But none the less, I enjoyed this book. Set in San Francisco (one of the places I really want to visit. That is another thing I want to write in my Twitter bio.), about a mysterious bookstore with artsy-fartsy and icky-geeky (still not really icky) people is a book you would want to pick up.

Festina Lente.

Book club (February, 2013)


1 comment:

  1. It was an interesting literary science fiction romp. The stuff about
    Google was fabulous. The characters were really fun. I enjoyed it.

    Maycee (Skagway AK)


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