Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

6 Apr

I don’t usually listen to audiobooks, especially after my horrible experience trying to listen to “The Hunger Games.” However, I just began my first professional job as a Librarian and my first job was to purchase new and older audiobook titles (I am now buying new fiction but that’s a different post). Because I want to be a good Librarian, I decided that I should actually become a little familiar with my collection so that I could better talk about it and make more useful recommendations to read. So, I decided to listen to “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan. Ari Fliakos narrates this book masterfully!

I know that it was mostly Sloan’s writing so I”ll talk about this: AWESOME. The book is about books, bookstores, technology, the meeting of physical books and ebooks, and, of course, a cult. Every bit of this book was exciting, even when Sloan’s characters were discussing technical things like information technology, databases, typography, and graphic design. Which is something else the book does: it walks the line between being only interesting to a type of a person and being appealing to everyone.

Clay Jannon is a great narrator and a useful character in this book to follow. Clay is the main character but he is more than that, he’s us. As Clay learns so we learn. As Clay sees, we see. I have every confidence that Clay is reliable and honest with me and I appreciated that. Clay is out of a job and so desperate that he stumbles into a job as a clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s used bookstore.

This used bookstore, of course, is not like any other bookstore you would usually encounter. This bookstore is open 24 hours a day, has a secret back room full of old books written in some kind of code while the front of the store sells unusually pristine newer books to customers. Clay is expected to write details about the members of the bookclub that come in to check out books from the back room.

Clay is curious and so are we and what happens when Clay starts to look around and discover as much as he can about Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is where the story takes off and we are taken to places like Google’s campus, a storage facility full of historical artifacts no one wants, and an underground cave in New York. There is a medieval cult and intrigue and, of course, a cute girl who knows her way around a computer.

I can’t tell you more because it will eek out the fun of reading this delightful book. Pair this book with “Ready Player One” and “Shades of Grey” for the adventure and total immersion in a world and “The Magicians” for a story that will make you wish it were real. And of course read “The Manual of Detection” for the same world of twists, turns, codes, and mystery.

Related reads: “The Manual of Detection” by Jedediah Berry, “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline, “Shades of Grey” by Jasper Fforde, “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman,


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