Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
By: Robin Sloane
Global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, young love, and the secret to eternal life — mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore. The Great Recession shuffles Clay Jannon from his web-design drone job to night shift at Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Curiously, few customers come in repeatedly and never buy. Analysis reveals astonishing secrets ...
How to describe this book, that is the question. Basically, it's a giant heap of pure, unadulterated awesome. This book is smart and interesting and utterly unique. It finds a way to discuss so many different concepts and ideas having to do with creativity, human progress, the space between new ideas and old ideas. You come out of this book knowing so much more than you did going in, and you feel different after reading it.
Clay: I loved, loved, loved being inside of his head. He's the perfect combination of nerdy, funny, and insightful to make this book soar to his highest potential. I particularly love how he's smart, but not a prodigy in any way. He's almost normal, but he knows a lot of extraordinary people, does a lot of extraordinary things, goes on extraordinary adventures. It's easy to identify with him and with his outlook on life (or, at least, it was for me). He made me laugh so many times throughout the book, too.
"Hadoop! I love the sound of it. Kat Potente, you and I will have a son, and we will name him Hadoop, and he will be a great warrior, a king."
"That's almost cute: Don't forget your ruler on your first day of cult."
Kat: Such an interesting character. I loved that her determination sometimes bordered on a manic sort of behavior. She loved her work so much and so deeply. She changed the way Clay looked at things often, introduced him to new ideas (like the singularity) whether or not he adopted them. She added so much to the overall arc of the story.
Neel and Mat: I personally thought it was brilliant how even Clay's best friends split down the middle between the old and the new. Mat insisting on doing all of his creation work by hand and Neel owning an innovative programming company. This was an excellent tool to once again showcase how the old and the new in our world can relate to each other, interact with each other, learn from one another.
All the Members of The Unbroken Spine: I really like how they displayed a varied and interesting collection of all different kinds of people. They were weird and wonderful in turn and slowly getting to know them was one of the best parts of the book.
This book scores major points in the originality category. This book takes its ideas, its themes and hits them so hard. One of my favorite concepts in this book was about the places where old things and new technology meet. The juxtaposition between old and new was evident in nearly every aspect of this book, it was there between The Unbroken Spine and Google, between Corvina and Penumbra, even between Mat and Neel. It was in a lead character who is interested in old typography and ancient tomes as well as in designing websites and computer programming. This is the first book I've ever heard of to tackle this issue in the context of fiction, but I can't imagine any book doing a better job.
The writing style is also perfect for the story's meaning and purpose. It's a bit quirky, full of depth, and engrossing. There was so much symbolism, and it was done masterfully. I love when even the language of a book is helping to make its statements for it. This book does just that.
And the epilogue is one of the most gorgeous epilogues I've ever read. This book leaves you both satisfied and edified.
The mystery was so intriguing. Instantly you want to know and understand what exactly is going on inside that odd little book store, but Sloane makes you wait for, makes you want it even more. When the realization finally strikes it meets the standard set by all the anticipation the beginning builds up. There is no disappointment in the plot either. It's a relatively short book, but it takes you on a journey that seems much longer (in the best way).
"...nothing lasts long. We all come to life and gather allies and build empires and die, all in a single movement--maybe a single pulse of some giant processor somewhere."
"I realize that the books I love most are like open cities, with all sorts of ways to wander in. This thing is a fortress with no front gate. You're meant to scale the walls, stone by stone."
"When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes."
"You will hold this book in your hands, and learn all the things I learned, right along with me: There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight. It takes forty-one seconds to climb a ladder three stories tall. It's not easy to imagine the year 3012, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. We have new capabilities now--strange powers we're still getting used to. The mountains are a message from Aldrag the Wyrm-Father. Your life must be an open city, will all sorts of ways to wander in. After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you remember this: A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time."