Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore


Title and Author: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (narrated by Ari Fliakos)

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy

Publication Date: October 9, 2012

Pages: Hardcover is 288 pages, Audio is 7 hours 41 minutes

Source: Purchased at Audible

Kid-rating: Clean. I think my boys would like the geeky parts of this, the book stuff would probably go over their heads right now.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


(from GoodReads)

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.

My review

I don’t know if I remember where I heard about this one, but when I did, I remember the source recommending the audio version, so…that’s what I got. And I was glad I did. I read really fast, and there are some books that I get more out of when I listen to them (for reference: all of Terry Pratchett, I didn’t care for his work until I listened to a book, and then I was hooked).

Books, bookstores, fonts, Google, history, mystery, secret societies, geeks, programmers…oh my.

I know some of the reviews I’ve read didn’t care for the style and tense of the narration, but it worked for me, especially, I think, because I was listening to it. I don’t know how some of it looked on the page, where it wasn’t clear if Clay was actually saying, or just thinking something, but in audio, especially with the style of the reader, I loved it, it added to the tone of the book, which was I felt was sort of fairy-tale-ish.

Some of the characters were a little one-dimensional, but sometimes fairy tale characters are that way. I was rooting for Clay and his friends all the way, and look forward to reading more from this author!