Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Old Books and the Power of the Web (also, Ladders)
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)
Format: hardback via library
From Goodreads: "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."
Silliness of the finest kind - a bookstore that is a front for some sort of obscure intellectual organization, or perhaps for a cult, or a giant hoax. It's all a mystery to Clay, and one which draws him deeper and deeper into the dusty shelves of the under-utilized bookstore where he spends his nights. Between his artistic roommate, his Google-guru girlfriend, and his childhood D&D pal / programming genius, Clay pieces together the secrets of Mr. Penumbra's eccentric clientele. They're a quirky group and a lot of fun to follow on their intellectual quest.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of dusty, archaic tomes with the bright, buzzy on-line world. I loved the description of the store, all tall narrow corridors and ladders into the darkness - it was immediately, viscerally appealing. And the journey Clay and his pals undertake, complete with code names and disguises and strange contraptions made out of cardboard, is both frothy and thought-provoking.
Plus, the cover? All those yellow books? Glow in the dark!