Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Cover of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin SloanMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

After Clay Jannon loses his web design job, he finds himself drawn to work as the night clerk at a most unusual book shop. But the book shop seems to be more of a front for an odd lending library, and Clay’s job is more about observing customers’ behavior than salesmanship. When Clay brings his computer skills to bear on the puzzle of customers’ actions, he finds himself drawn into a bizarre secret society and their search for the secret of immortality. Making the most of his network of friends, including a love interest who works for Google, Clay uses all of the resources of modern computer technology in his efforts to solve the mystery.

This story is a book-geek’s and librarian’s dream, from the glow-in-the-dark books on the cover to the secret hidden in the organization of the books on the shelf in the store. But it is more than just a straightforward mystery story starring Google. Sloan has created a tongue-in-cheek satire of those who believe technology is the answer to everything and the genre of secret society mystery novels like Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code.

On the surface it seems like Google is the star of the story, the answer to all questions. But Sloan pokes fun at the information giant. This version of Google controls even the nutrients in their employees’ food and has a division called Google Forever dedicated to discovering the secret of immortality. While harnessing the vast computing power of Google allows Clay and his friends to solve many intermediate mysteries, in the end Google fails to find the answer.

This book made me smile so many times. Who could take seriously a secret society called “The Unbroken Spine” that punishes errant members by burning their books? That believes the secret to immortality is tied to a book written in code and a unique typeface? I loved the portable book scanner in the cardboard box! In some ways, this novel reminded me of some of my favorite Terry Pratchett books. And to think, I would never have read it if it hadn’t won an Alex Award and been part of the Hub’s Best of the Best Reading Challenge.

If you’re looking for a serious thriller with a sinister secret society and truly arcane puzzles, this is not a book for you. But if you love books and appreciate a bit of satire, you’ve got to read this. And if you’re a librarian, you really should not miss this book, if only to discover the secret hidden in the classification system used to organize the books on the shelves.



About booksnquilts

I'm the Children's Services Coordinator for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Central Virginia.
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One Response to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

  1. Pingback: Books and Nails

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