“There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.” (288).
It’s hard to know what to make of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It’s a quest, it’s a mystery, it’s one man finding himself, and it’s the coalescing of a group of friends. It’s all this and more. Clocking in at fewer than 300 pages, Robin Sloan manages to craft an epic adventure for his protagonist and his merry band of players.
And it’s simply delightful.
The story is based on Clay Jannon a San Francisco based web-design lackey who finds himself out of work when the small company he works for goes under and in turn starts working at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It only takes a few days working at the store for Clay to discover that the store is more curious than either its name or his slightly odd boss. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they borrow large, obscure volumes from the way back shelves. Bored and looking to practice his programming skills for his eventual escape from clerkdom, Clay maps the behavior of the customers which only uncovers more questions.
At this point Clay starts on a quest to understand the data. While set, at least in part, in a bookstore, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is more the story of the digital future, the art of printed books, and data visualization. To say much more would give the plot away, but it’s worth the read so I won’t spoil it.
Quibbles about this book are limited to the following: that the supporting cast is not well developed. Everyone has the ‘thing’ they are useful for, but we don’t really learn more about them. Clay tends to say he cares about Mr. Penumbra without truly demonstrating it, and there is a reference to an all-museum database which took me out of the narrative because I know no such thing exists and the ease of it made me jealous of the fictional reality in which it does exist. But that’s a museum professional specific complaint.
My only real regret about this book is not reading it in one sitting.
“…I prefer bookstores…” (270).