Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

mr. penumbra's 24 hour bookstore by robin sloan

Published: September 24, 2012

Number of pages: 288

Format: hardcover

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Genre: mystery, cryptic, cult

Rating: older adults

Verdict: 4 hoots out of 5

My Summary:

Clay Jannon once a graphic designer is unemployed after the recession in San Francisco. He finds a Help Wanted sign at Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore and begins working as the clerk for the night shift. What Clay doesn’t know is that there is more to the bookstore as he discovers an odd group of customers who come in regularly during the middle of the night for a particular book way back in the store. In each book, there is a hidden secret that Clay solves and together with his friends and Mr. Penumbra, he finds an even greater secret.

My Review:

A story of cryptic, codes, computers, books, and secret cults (oh and Google is in here too). There’s so much going on in this thin book that I don’t know where to start, so I’ll begin with the story’s concept.

It all begins with Clay Jannon working in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour bookstore. By the time he begins taking over the late hour shifts he wonders about some of the regular customers and the books they carry out. Every customer that walks into the store carries a secret and so does every book in the Waybacklist. As I was slowly drawn into the story I was reminded of The Da Vinci Code as Clay Jannon travels to New York following a trail of clues and using modern technology and of course, Google to encrypt a secret code hidden for centuries since the invention of the printing press.

I adore the “I love the smell of books” crowd and “the paper is dead” group makes a true statement between books vs. ebooks but both are not wrong: the book is an important object and so is the text. The plot is very interesting as we learn that not every customer in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore thought to consider that they are part of a larger secret society whose assignment is to unravel the hidden mystery left behind from the greatest typographic designer in history.

What I didn’t like was the romance as Clay makes it his mission to impress the girl from Google by asking her to help him on his quest. I thought the romance wasn’t necessary as it didn’t add much to the story and kind of put me in a bad mood because of her character, since she didn’t have the right intentions of joining Clay and his friends in New York. I also thought the story ended too perfectly and when they finally solve the mystery I was a little disappointed as to what the hidden message was, but impressed as to how Clay encrypted the code.

But what really put me off was the computer programming terminology included in the plot. Yes there are terms like ‘time series visualization’ and although the author explains the meaning after Clay googles for the term, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. So yes, there were times when the story gave me brain freeze but at least I can recommend this book to all tech geeks, computer greeks, programmers and coders and of course, Googlers.

I enjoyed Mr. Penumbra. It’s an attractive establishment that reminds us of how bookstores can pull us in as we pick up a book and read every word to understand the meaning of the story. And the meaning behind this story is so rich that you have to pick up this book, as it will leave you feeling nostalgic.

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