Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

There is this wonderful, rare feeling you can get when you open up certain books. That utterly happy, floating, lost-in-the-world-of-the-book feeling. When a favorite author publishes something new, or when the long-awaited final installment of a series is finally out... It's all the comfort of an old re-read, even though you are reading it for the first time.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore ( BN | GR ) by Robin Sloan did that for me. It's a book for book lovers. But it's funny. And heartwarming. In my whirlwind life right now, this was just the book I needed. When everything gets crazy I start reading a chapter and ditching the book, reading a chapter and ditching the book, over and over again. (The last book I finished was back in October. Terrible!) I have a bad habit of sticking to a reading list for way longer than I should, so that by the time I get around to reading a book my interest in it has already waned and died, and that is no way to read a book. The good thing is, I'm getting better at recognizing this, and am making an effort to finish a book, and then pick up the book I am most interested in right now. I knew I needed something great, and I'm glad this is what I picked up.

You can follow Robin Sloan at his website (sparse), twitter, and goodreads page, which has a live interview they did the other day. My Mom-sub-2 listened to the audiobook and loved it (great narrator). She's the one who recommended it to me. And after buying the hardcover and taking the slipcover off to read it, I realized the cover glows in the dark!! The meh-yellow-boring cover suddenly became awesome!

A synopsis, from BN:
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.

It's all about the clash between new technology and old. E-books and print books. Secret societies. Quirky bookstore owners that remind me of Dumbledore. High-level computing and parallel processing and rudimentary books scanners made out of cardboard. Role-playing games and old friendships. Immortality, and that book about dragons you read so many times as a kid the cover fell apart (you know which one I'm talking about). And funny! It's the next installment to the fandom of books. If you liked Among Others by Jo Walton and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, you'll like this one too.

You can't break this book down into character, setting, and plot to analyze it. It won't hold up. Everyone aside from the main character is one-dimensional, the romance is wooden and convenient, the quest is traditional and herky-jerky. But, my friends, "the magic is in the creation." Focus on what this book is about. It's an homage to everything you loved as a child: the books, the video games, the boobs, the quirky old man who owned a bookstore. In no other book could "ERROR 404 PAGE NOT FOUND" make you laugh, or invoking your old Dragonlance character name make you nod in understanding.

It's so hard to describe this to you. I'm trying to break it down into something tangible and snarky when really all I have to say is READ THIS BOOK. Then you will understand. The magic of this book is not in any single part, but it's how it makes you feel and how it warms your heart while you read it. As a matter of fact, if I had to tie one word to this book it would be "heartwarming." Buy it for the book-lover in your life. Buy it for yourself and pass it around to all your friends, but make sure you get it back because you'll want to re-read it again and again.

I also want to mention: read this book with a pencil in hand. It is littered with underline-worthy gems you'll want to remember. They are a mix of contemporary and pop culture and just lyrical, beautiful writing. One of my favorites not included in the Goodreads Quote page (it doesn't stand alone as well as it is a zinger at the end of the chapter):

This is Mat's secret weapon, his passport, his get-out-of-jail free-card: Mat makes things that are beautiful.

Reading Next: The Time Traveler's Wife

1 comment:

  1. This book sounds AWESOME. I can't wait to read it!!! XD Thanks for sharing this gem!