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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by…

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Robin Sloan

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4,6284531,030 (3.86)3 / 498
Title:Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
Authors:Robin Sloan
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2012), Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Have read, Favorites, Your library
Tags:2012, audiobook, San Francisco, California, Google, books, bookstore, codes, secret society, technology

Work details

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

  1. 215
    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (derelicious, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    derelicious: Both are books about books, with secret societies and mysteries to untangle. The Shadow of the Wind is more gothic and takes place during the Spanish Civil War, and Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is lighter and takes place in modern times.
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Although they have very different settings (1950s Spain in Shadow of the Wind and modern San Francisco in Mr. Penumbra's), these adventure stories, with underpinnings of romance, offer unique perspectives on the role of books and reading in our lives.… (more)
  2. 100
    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Yells, bookworm12)
  3. 51
    The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (SqueakyChu)
  4. 40
    The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (Anonymous user)
  5. 20
    The Circle by Dave Eggers (conceptDawg)
    conceptDawg: Similar content and themes
  6. 10
    Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Othemts)
  7. 10
    Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn (Runa)
  8. 10
    The Magicians by Lev Grossman (aethercowboy)
    aethercowboy: Both books deal with a fictional fantasy series that holds a lot of significance to the story.
  9. 10
    The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (generalkala)
  10. 21
    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  11. 10
    A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé (lycomayflower)
  12. 10
    The Writer & The Witch by Robin Sloan (MitraLibrary)
  13. 10
    The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard (Anonymous user)
  14. 10
    Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop (nsblumenfeld)
  15. 10
    Lexicon by Max Barry (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Both books are non-traditional geeky mystery/thrillers.
  16. 10
    The Martian by Andy Weir (sturlington)
    sturlington: Mr. Penumbra's reminded me in tone and its reverence for tech, geeks, and pop culture of both The Martian and Ready Player One.
  17. 00
    Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (Othemts)
  18. 00
    An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Othemts)
  19. 00
    The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree (librorumamans)
    librorumamans: This is the real deal: a thoroughly researched, non-fiction treatment, with particular emphasis on the influence of printing on European culture.
  20. 01
    The Seance Society by Michael Nethercott (4leschats)
    4leschats: The older/younger man relationship is similar along with the quirky cast of characters, light tone, and humor throughout.

(see all 21 recommendations)


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English (443)  Dutch (3)  German (3)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  Piratical (1)  All (1)  All (453)
Showing 1-5 of 443 (next | show all)
It’s “Cryptonomicon” (by Neal Stephenson) for dummies…

This book became one of my favourite nerdish SF novels of the last couple of years: Ruby programming language, unimaginable computer power (aka Google…), secrets behind bookshelves, geekery, role playing games, data visualization techniques, mobile ads, algorithmy and typography. There was almost nothing (sort of…) in this book that I didn't love.

The part of the quest to NY that the protagonist tackles seemed somewhat rushed, aided along by multiple deus ex machinas. Unfortunately there were a few other problems as well, ie, the book was a little too heavy on cryptograms and a little too light on being a fiction novel. I badly wanted for this book to be great, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

Nevertheless it was a bit of a romp. It’s spoken to my geeky heart…

One of my favourite one-liners: Books used to be pretty high-tech, back in the day."
" ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
I really enjoyed this book! It was charming and fun and makes me want to work in a book store! (Preferably one that has secrets intrigue, a quirky cast of characters and is part of something much larger.) Our hero, Clay, has to find a new job after the bagel company he created websites for goes under. He applies at Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore and works the night shift. They don't get many customers, but the customers they do get are unusual and instead of buying books, check them out from the "waybacklist" which makes up most of the store. When Clay tries to uncover the secrets of the "waybacklist" and of the store he begins an incredible journey through a secret society that is trying to uncover a centuries-old mystery.

I loved meeting Clay's friends in the book. They are not your usual blend of characters, but they work together. I found myself chuckling as I read and wishing that these characters existed in real life and were my friends as well. ( )
  dingesa27 | Dec 6, 2016 |
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is narrated by its main protagonist, Clay Jannon; a young web designer in San Francisco who lost his job during the economic downturn. One day he stumbles upon Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore with a ‘HELP WANTED’ sign hanging out in front, and despite his reservations that “24-hour bookstore” is euphemism for something else, can not help it but go in. Once in, Clay is mesmerized by the bookstore’s tall bookshelves full of books (minus erotica, so perhaps this is a legitimate business after all!) and before he knows it, his mouth has taken matters to hand and is asking for a job from Mr. Penumbra! But at first it seems like everything turns out alright, as Clay gets hired on the spot to do the graveyard shift after he tells Mr. Penumbra about the book he loves most. Although his pay is nothing to brag about, it pays enough to cover his rent and buy pizza, and what more can he ask for in a tough economy where his friends are dropping like flies out of jobs. However, after a while he realizes Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is not your ordinary bookshop. For starters, it rarely gets any customers, and its regulars (if you can call them that), come there to borrow books from what Clay calls the ‘waybacklist’; books that have never been published anywhere in the world. And here is the catch: terms of Clay’s employment prohibits him from inspecting these distinctive volumes.

This adventure book full of fantasy and mystery elements, has many things book lovers would appreciate. For example, can you imagine how cool a 24-hour bookstore would be? I will probably want my house next to it! Quite possibly the entire bookstore inventory will end up at my home, and I might also have to rob a bank, but it still feels good to daydream.

And then there are bookish bits. Did you know Aldus Manutius is one of the early printers/ publishers in history of books? He is credited for introducing books in small formats; what we know as modern pocket books nowadays. Alongside Manutius, there is Griffo Gerritszoon (Francesco Griffo in actual history, who designed the italic type), who are at the core of the mystery of this book.

I really liked Clay Jannon’s narration in the book. He is funny and witty! But the secondary characters Robin Sloan has created are as much as interesting as the main ones. Among them, my favorite is Daphne, a stripper from the bookstore’s next door establishment; ‘Booty’s’ that has “a sign with neon legs that cross and uncross”. She is one of the rare but ordinary visitors of the bookstore who is a fan of biographies. And she comes looking for Walter Isaacson’s books; whose biography of Steve Jobs I loved! That book did not make me like Steve Jobs, but I had always deemed biographies to be boring up until I read Walter Isaacson.

Robin Sloan’s book has a considerable amount of technology in it. I have a computing background, so I am somewhat familiar with C, Ruby, Hadoop and the rest of it. But for readers who are unfamiliar with the jargon, Robin Sloan does a pretty good job in explaining them in simple ways, with a flair of mastery. Below is one such instance…

… But Ruby, my language of choice since NewBagel, was invented by a cheerful Japanese programmer, and it reads like friendly, accessible poetry. Billy Collins by way of Bill Gates.

But, of course, the point of a programming language is that you don’t just read it; you write it, too. You make it do things for you. And this, I think, is where Ruby shines:

"Imagine that you’re cooking. But instead of following the recipe step-by-step and hoping for the best, you can actually take ingredients in and out of the pot whenever you want. You can add salt, taste it, shake your head, and pull the salt back out. You can take a perfectly crisp crust, isolate it, and then add whatever you want to the inside. It’s no longer just a linear process ending in success or (mostly, for me) frustrating failure. Instead, it’s a loop or a curlicue or a little scribble. It’s play."

All in all, I had a good time reading Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Is it my favorite read of the year? Definitely not. However, in my opinion, for a debut, Robin Sloan has fared far better than Paula Hawkins did with The Girl on the Train. And I wish someday soon someone will make Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in to a movie. ( )
  Nirmala.Chandrasiri | Nov 30, 2016 |
About three-fourths Ready Player One, one-eighth Jo Walton’s Among Others, and one-eighth The Circle: Clay is a startup refugee who gets a job at a very strange bookstore with very strange clients. His interest in digitization leads him to intervene in the clients’ odd quest, with consequences for everyone around him. It’s feelgood in that Clay deploys his connections, including with his childhood D&D buddy Neel and his new Googler girlfriend Kat Potente (symbolism not very hidden here), to solve problems; there are no true evils in this book, only challenges and quests. It’s about loving books and computers both, but loving them best in the company of friends. Slight, but it didn’t leave me with the bro aftertaste of Ready Player One. ( )
1 vote rivkat | Nov 28, 2016 |
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
3 Stars

Unemployed web-designer, Clay Jannon, stumbles across a help-wanted sign at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and soon finds himself immersed in a curious mystery involving peculiar patrons who borrow rather than buy obscure books from the back of the store, a secret society dedicated to decoding an age old cipher, and a slew of computer nerds intent on solving the problem themselves.

A very thought provoking read, but a little too heavy on the techno-babble.

The underlying premise is the conflict between tradition and progress in the digital age in general, and the book world in particular. The characters cover a broad spectrum ranging from old school traditionalists who fear change to overeager technology buffs who are too quick to embrace new advances without appreciating the journey toward attaining them.

The book is not all about philosophy and technology though as the characters are quirky, the mystery is intriguing and humor abounds throughout. Ari Fliakos's narration is lovely and he mangages to capture the eccentric personality traits of each and every character.

All in all, an interesting read and lovers of libraries, codes and secret societies with have a blast with it. ( )
  Lauren2013 | Nov 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 443 (next | show all)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore flourishes in the nebulous terrain between super-powered digital information and the text warriors of yore. It rocks in terms of crazy imaginative leaps and is so optimistic about the longevity of books in print that it makes bibliophiles like me positively clap with glee. It does have its share of shortcomings though, but more on that later.
added by SimoneA | editThe Express Tribune, Anam Haq (Nov 10, 2013)
And if, in the end, the plot doesn’t entirely satisfy – the love story is a little weak, the 500-year old mystery rather too neatly solved – this novel’s ideas will linger long in the mind.
“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” is eminently enjoyable, full of warmth and intelligence. Sloan balances a strong plot with philosophical questions about technology and books and the power both contain. The prose maintains an engaging pace as Clay, Mr. Penumbra and the quirky constellation of people around them try to determine what matters more — the solution to a problem or how that solution is achieved.
added by SimoneA | editNew York Times, Roxane Gay (Dec 14, 2012)
"In the end, though, the book works fine as an engrossing mystery — and as an intelligent meditation on technology’s trajectory and limits."https://www.librarything.com/work/12661675/book/132262683#
I loved diving into the world that Sloan created, both the high-tech fantasyland of Google and the ancient analog society. It’s packed full of geeky allusions and wonderful characters, and is a celebration of books, whether they’re made of dead trees or digits.
added by ablachly | editWired, Jonathan Liu (Oct 6, 2012)

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robin Sloanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Corral, RodrigoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fliakos, AriNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kagan, AbbyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Solow, NannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder.
Now I've resigned myself to sitting at the front desk, but I can't stop squirming. If fidgets were Wikipedia edits, I would have completely revamped the entry on guilt by now, and translated it into five new languages.
You know, I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.
He has the strangest expression on his face -- the emotive equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.
Now, for the first time in my life, I empathize 100 percent with Fluff McFly. My heart is beating at hamster-speed and I am throwing my eyes around the room, looking for some way out.
There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
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 have 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, they "check 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. Soon Clay has embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping him figure out just what is going on. And when 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 the young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that is 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.


CLAY JANNON, twenty-six and unemployed, reads books about vampire policemen and teenage wizards. Familiar, predictable books that fit neatly into a section at the bookstore. But he is about to encounter a new species of book entirely: secret, strange and frantically sought after.

These books will introduce him to the strangest, smartest girl he's ever met. They will lead him across the country, through the shadowed spaces where old words hide. They will set him on a quest to unlock a secret held tight since the time of Gutenberg - a secret that touches us all.
But before that, these books will get him a job.
Haiku summary
Mystery Bookstore
needed better ending but
still amusing read.
Every time Google
pauses, I shall think fondly
of men in black cowls.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374214913, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2012 (Debut Spotlight): Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is an old school mystery set firmly in tech-loving, modern day San Francisco. Clay Jannon (former web designer) lands a job at a bookstore with very few patrons and even fewer purchases. His curiosity leads him to the discovery of a larger conspiracy at play, one exciting enough to rope in his best friend (CEO at a startup) and love interest (works at Google). As Clay and company unravel the puzzles of Mr. Penumbra's book shop, the story turns into a sort of nerdy heist, with real-life gadgets, secret societies, and a lot of things to say about the past, present, and future of reading. Sloan originally self-published Mr. Penumbra as a short story through Kindle Direct Publishing, before expanding it to its current form with a traditional print publisher--a fitting trajectory for a fast, fun story that has so wholly and enthusiastically embraced the tension between the digital and analog books. --Kevin Nguyen

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:47 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

After a layoff during the Great Recession sidelines his tech career, Clay Jannon takes a job at the titular bookstore in San Francisco, and soon realizes that the establishment is a facade for a strange secret.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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