Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

by Robin Sloan
ages: adult
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

After graduation from college, Clay Jannon is ready to take on the world. Except it’s a recession, and there aren’t many jobs out there for him. After a stint as a marketing/advertising designer for NewBagels in San Francisco, Clay finds himself unemployed, wandering around looking through Craigslist for a new job. On one of his daily wanderings, he stumbles upon Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which has an opening for a night clerk. He goes in on a whim, and finds himself not only employed, but immersed in an increasingly strange world.

There are two kinds of customers that frequent Penumbra’s — who is, by all accounts, an odd sort of man — store, especially at 2 a.m.: late-night wanderers who buy some of the normal stock, and those wandering in, bleary-eyed, asking for something off what Clay comes to call the Waybacklist. It’s those customers who pique Clay’s imagination, and get his creative juices flowing: just what is the Waybacklist, and what are these customers doing?

It’s that question that sends Clay into a world of codes and cults, of computers and books (Google plays a huge role and is almost a character in itself), of adventures and immortality. It sounds more magical than it is; there isn’t a drop of magical realism, just good programming and smart people figuring puzzles out. Even so, there’s a whiff of fantasy here: as part of everything, Sloan involves sweeping fantasy trilogies and a Dungeons & Dragons-like game but only as a slight framework in which to lean his story about the relationship between books and technology. (The conclusion? We still need both.)

It was a delightful, charming book (I hesitate to call it that, even though it was. It seems that books like this should be Deep and Edgy), one in which I thoroughly enjoyed.

One thought on “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

  1. I enjoyed this book, and I would call it charming, too. It definitely charmed me! So many good things thrown into the mix, plus a mystery, and that constant skirting on the edge of fantasy. So many things to love about it!


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