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Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore (2012)

by Robin Sloan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Mr. Penumbra (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,643667962 (3.81)3 / 652
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.
  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. 121
    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Yells, bookworm12)
  3. 61
    The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (SqueakyChu)
  4. 50
    The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (Anonymous user)
  5. 20
    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.
  6. 20
    Lexicon by Max Barry (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Both books are non-traditional geeky mystery/thrillers.
  7. 20
    The Circle by Dave Eggers (conceptDawg)
    conceptDawg: Similar content and themes
  8. 20
    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (sturlington)
  9. 20
    A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé (lycomayflower)
  10. 20
    The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard (Anonymous user)
  11. 20
    Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop (nsblumenfeld)
  12. 10
    The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (generalkala)
  13. 21
    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  14. 10
    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.
  15. 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.
  16. 10
    Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (Othemts)
  17. 10
    The Writer & The Witch by Robin Sloan (MitraLibrary)
  18. 10
    An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Othemts)
  19. 11
    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.
  20. 00
    The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Othemts)

(see all 23 recommendations)


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» See also 652 mentions

English (651)  German (6)  Dutch (4)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Piratical (1)  All languages (666)
Showing 1-5 of 651 (next | show all)
A quick whimsical read, well suited for a week when the news from the real world is becoming hard to take. Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is definitely not the real world. It is part of a fantasy world constructed around the mysteries contained within books.

Our protagonist Clay wanders into the bookstore and into a series of adventures. Aided by his friends he undertakes a quest worthy (in a bibliographic kind of way) of an online video game, one where the 16th century is confronted by the 21st century with unexpected results.

Other than Tolkien and Harry Potter I haven’t read much fantasy so I don’t have much basis to assign a rating compared with other books in the same genre. But going solely on the bright, brisk, fun qualities of the book, I’m giving it 4 stars. ( )
  BarbKBooks | Aug 15, 2022 |
If I were ever to write a book, this is the kind of book I would want my name attached to. Starting with the cover, which must be looked at in the dark if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a hardback copy, right through to the conclusion it pushed all the right buttons with me. Having said this however, the end was a bit of a disappointment for me, and this is the reason the book on received a 4 thumbs rating; I felt it just left me hanging there. There was no dramatic ending and far too many loose ends which I am hoping means there may be another book set in this bookstore.

The story is told from the viewpoint of, I suppose you could call him this, the main character, but there are so many characters in this book, each as equally as engaging as this man that I really hesitate to cast him in the role of the protagonist. Each of the characters provides the reader with enough back story to make them come to life on the page. They are all quirky, a little eccentric in some cases or downright arrogant but they all play a crucial part in the story line; as does the store of the title and them books themselves.

This book is a combination of mystery, adventure, philosophy and unrequited love, whilst containing lots of points and issues that would make discussion points for either a book club or dinner table conversation. We see how old and modern technology can come together and, at times cross the boundaries into each realm without the world blowing up; are given an indication at just where we might be heading in the way of technology, and why we need to preserve in their original form the old knowledge that is still around. Secret societies are always a good read, but I thought the Author did a great job at hinting that maybe the ‘great Google, which is also featured in the book, may be a modern day secret society. To find out what I mean by this, you will just have to read the book.

I powered through this book in a few hours and would highly recommend it to someone who is looking for an adult adventure novel, with more than a liberal dash of mystery and humour thrown in.

Edited on Tuesday, 12th August: Esther Bochner of Macmillan contacted me and asked if I would like to include an exerpt of the audio book. So, for all you audio book lovers here it is:

Originally reviewed on: http://catesbooknuthut.com/2014/08/11/review-mr-penumbras-24-hour-bookstore-robi...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
( )
  Melline | Aug 13, 2022 |
It was a good enough story but not really my thing. I did speed through it so it’s engaging enough but I didn’t love it. ( )
  thewestwing | Aug 12, 2022 |
Going against the trend here but I found this just okay. I didn't mind reading it but I wouldn't particularly recommend it to anyone. There were some bits that didn't make sense even in the slightly mystical world the author created. There were some scenes that seemed to go nowhere. Many of the characters were one dimensional stereotypes. The end result of the whole thing was pretty anticlimatic, although I did expect it. It reminded me of the secret decoder scene from the Christmas Story movie. Speaking of slightly mystical, that was one of the things that just went nowhere. The face in the bookshelves was pretty silly especially since they were all reading different books and the coded books were all written after the founder died so how could they have revealed the founder's face? Especially since the books were arranged on the shelves in accordance with the layout of the physical store? I'm assuming that the other stores throughout the world were not the same height and breadth etc. And then that had nothing to do with the final solution. So too many problems for it to get a higher rating from me. ( )
  Luziadovalongo | Jul 14, 2022 |
Stopped after listening to ... 50 pages? ok- but a little precious for me. ( )
  apende | Jul 12, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 651 (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 (8 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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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.

No library descriptions found.

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.

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