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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by…
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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Robin Sloan (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,0585681,063 (3.84)3 / 581
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.
Member:BobonBooks
Title:Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
Authors:Robin Sloan (Author)
Info:Picador (2013), 288 pages
Collections:Read, Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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. 120
    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Yells, bookworm12)
  3. 50
    The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (Anonymous user)
  4. 61
    The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (SqueakyChu)
  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
    A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé (lycomayflower)
  7. 20
    The Circle by Dave Eggers (conceptDawg)
    conceptDawg: Similar content and themes
  8. 20
    Lexicon by Max Barry (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Both books are non-traditional geeky mystery/thrillers.
  9. 20
    The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard (Anonymous user)
  10. 20
    Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop (nsblumenfeld)
  11. 10
    Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (Othemts)
  12. 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.
  13. 21
    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  14. 10
    An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Othemts)
  15. 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.
  16. 10
    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (sturlington)
  17. 10
    The Writer & The Witch by Robin Sloan (MitraLibrary)
  18. 10
    The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (generalkala)
  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. 11
    Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Othemts)

(see all 22 recommendations)

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English (553)  German (6)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  Piratical (1)  All languages (567)
Showing 1-5 of 553 (next | show all)
Summary: When Clay Jannon starts clerking in Mr. Penumbra's bookstore, he discovers a most unusual bookstore with unusual customers and figures out that the store is part of a far-flung scheme pursuing one of the oldest quests.

Clay Jannon is an out-of-work web developer who happens on a help wanted sign for the late shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. He takes the job. He discovers there are two kinds of customers. There are the ordinary customers who buy books in the front of the store in its eclectic and relatively limited selection. As it turns out, there are relatively few of these. Then there is a much more interesting group of members of a secret society, which we later learn is called The Unbroken Spine. They have a card with a number. They return a book and ask for another. A description of the transaction, including the person's appearance and the book returned and requested are to be logged. No questions asked. No looking in the books. These books are in the back of the store on shelves that tower up several stories and must be reached by ladders. They are the Waybacklist.

Jannon's curiosity gets the best of him, so he uses programming skills and the advice of geeky friends to create a 3-D visualization of the store, then programs the current log into the visualization. He discovers there is a pattern. About this time a cute girl who works at Google, Kat Potente, happens into the store as a result of a Google ad Clay wrote. She spots his visualization and they start working together to add more to the visualization by "borrowing" another log book. Penumbra happens on him in the store just as the visualization is complete. It is a face, that of Aldus Manutius, a pioneer in type-setting. Jannon has completed a task in hours that it would take other members years or even decades.

This discovery sets an unexpected turn of events into motion. Mr. Penumbra's store is shut down and he is called to New York to meet "Corvina" who it turns out is head of the secret society of the Unbroken Spine, which has stores (really libraries) all over the world for novices to solve the first part of the quest. It turns out that the ultimate quest is to decode the codex left by Manutius, and those who have significantly progressed are all engaged in this, yet for centuries, no one has done so. It is believed that to decode Manutius will result in immortality for all the members of this secret society.

The plot turns on the conflict between old fashioned scholarly study, and the marvels of Google's algorithms. Should such new ways even be employed? Will either yield the solution to Manutius? And what will happen to Mr. Penumbra and his store?

For lovers of bookstores, this is a great mystery, with the smell of old books and a quest for knowledge. It explores the time we are in, between the world of texts engaged by readers, and the different path of knowledge the web and its algorithms offer. The plot is a page-turner, first as Jannon and his friends (and Kat, with whom Clay falls in and out of love), try to unravel the mystery of the Waybacklist, and then the quest to decode Manutius.

If I would have one beef, it is the characters. They are quirky, but flat. They seem to be caricatures that provide the needed personnel to move a story of old and new ways of knowing forward. It almost feels to me that they are in a video game. The plot saves this book as one is drawn in by the mystery and sense of adventure. I find it interesting that the book was named a best book by NPR and several newspapers and won several other awards. It was a good and diverting read but fell short of great for me. I did like the cool, glow-in-the-dark cover, however. ( )
  BobonBooks | Oct 9, 2019 |
Category:
A book you chose for the cover (mmdchallenge)

Quote: Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines -- it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.

The cover of this book caught my eye with it's simple design and colors, the word, "bookstore", and...Bonus! It glows in the dark! I had high hopes for this one, but it was kind of a letdown. It has all the right ingredients for a great story, but I found the writing to be sub par, and the characters weren't engaging me. The plot was entertaining, and it did have a few humourous and witty moments.

C- 2
A- 3
W- 3
P- 5
I- 6
L- 4
E- 4
Avg= 3.9= ⭐⭐ ( )
  DominiqueMarie | Sep 27, 2019 |
This is an excellent book. The characters are a bit stereotyped, but the story is engrossing and very well crafted. ( )
  grandpahobo | Sep 26, 2019 |
What a bore. Read this on the heels of Ready Player One. While both were sort of a puzzle to be solved, RPO held my interest and this one just begged to be over. It was a decent story line, just got bogged down in details and lack of action. ( )
  LizBurkhart | Sep 5, 2019 |
Clay is an out of work, twenty-something, web designer living in San Fransisco. While job hunting he wanders into Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. The ceilings, and therefore the bookshelves, are extremely high. They remind Clay of a forest. Mr. Penumbra is a very old man. Clay is hired for the late shift, 10pm - 6am. After awhile Clay notices that something is strange with the store. Most of the people that come in have membership cards with a special number and ask to borrow books that have no words, just symbols. Clay keeps track of all transactions in a log book. Clay eventually discovers that the strange customers are members of the fellowship of The Unbroken Spine. They borrow the books in an attempt to decipher a secret message left by their founder, Aldus Manutius. Of course Clay decides that he needs to crack the code and decipher the message. Clay and his network of techies, creatives and book lovers will use all the technology at their disposal - both ancient and contemporary- to make this happen. Unless the leader of The Unbroken Spine can stop them.
A fairly quick read, the action is kept at a steady pace and never drags. The mystery was interesting. I found most of the characters one- dimensional. While the story was good overall it's not a book that I would re-read. ( )
2 vote VioletBramble | Sep 2, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 553 (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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Epigraph
Dedication
FOR BETTY ANN AND JIM
First words
Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder.
Quotations
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.

TEXT EDITION:

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.
(legallypuzzled)
Every time Google
pauses, I shall think fondly
of men in black cowls.
(legallypuzzled)

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