Review | Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan | 5 Stars

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

Is this book perfect? No. Is it my favorite book I've read this year? Yes.


Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is one part fantasy, one part sci-fi, one part blistering satire, all parts awesome. 24-Hour Bookstore follows the peculiar adventures of Clay Jannon, a graphic designer who finds himself out of a job and desperate for work in a slightly futuristic San Francisco. I don't think the actual year is ever indicated, but unlike so many dystopias dreamt up by the literati, Sloan's future is easy to imagine. Jobs are scarce and Google essentially runs the country (and kind of the world).


Clay takes the night shift at the titular bookstore - a peculiar place that caters to a handful of eccentric old people and a few errant working girls from the strip club next door - and gradually learns that Mr. Penumbra's establishment is a front for something much weirder. His curiosity gets the better of him, and after a few weeks' amateur sleuthing, Clay finds himself mixed up with a secret society which is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.


The story is a romp, to be sure, but that's honestly not what made me love this book. Robin Sloan captures - almost flawlessly, I think - the curious in-betweenness of my generation: namely, disenchanted twenty-somethings who are graduating into a job market that has no room for them. The number of times I laughed out loud and said to myself, "I do that literally all the time," turned out to be more than I could really keep track of. But beyond that, Sloan raises a question which is important to me both as someone hoping to get into the publishing field and just as a book nerd in general. Can the old-fashioned book world and the e-reader economy make peace?


In 24-Hour Bookstore, Sloan lights up the ideological war between the old-fashioneds and the progressives in technicolor prose. What's most remarkable is the his ability to maintain neutrality - he's not making an argument for one side or the other. He's simply illuminates it and leaves the decision-making to the reader. Now, as many of you probably know, I am no fan of the e-reader. I like tangible, paper-and-ink bona fide books. But Sloan had me re-thinking all my arguments against the Nooks and Kindles and what have you. It is not often I find a book that can make me question my own stalwart opinions.


Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore occupies a strange, liminal place between fantasy and reality, the Old World and the New. And whatever you decide once you've finished it, you will have laughed a lot and loved every word along the way.


Except for the annoying overuse of the word 'stalk' as an intransitive verb, I can't think of anything bad to say about this book. It's a book for book nerds and technophiles alike, which is not something you find every day. Don't miss out.


Find it on Goodreads here, and then go buy it from your local 24-hour bookstore.

PS. If you buy the copy pictured above right you'll be in for a treat once you turn the lights out. Picador is a clever clever publisher.