Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2012
288 pages
$25.00

What: a book about books
And: their simultaneous demise and triumph
And, obviously: immortality

Who: Clay Jannon, night shift clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
And: his quest to understand Mr. Penumbra’s bizarre and cultish dealings
And: his desire to impress his love interest Kat, an ambitious data visualization specialist at Google

When: Now
Where: a dusty, bat-ridden bookstore in San Francisco; a cavernous, underground library in New York; and an undisclosed location in Nevada

How: whimsically
With: glee for geekery

Why: The book is dead. Long live the book.

Shout outs to: Borges, Tolkien, Shteyngart
Also: Apple, Twitter, and the nearly omnipotent Google

Best descriptive moments: machinery working magic without actually being magical
For example: the Google Book Scanner’s “spidery arms […] at once so fast and so delicate […] stroke the pages, caress them down. This thing loves books.”

Best line of internal monologue: “I’ll take death and a kebab.”

Important plot device: three novels within the novel, Clay’s favorite fantasy trilogy,  The Dragon-Song Chronicles

Overused plot devices: Hadoop and Mechanical Turk, programs that outsource unwieldy tasks to thousands of computers and underpaid Estonians, respectively
Best name for anything, ever: Hadoop

Minor setback: careful plotting and tension-building don’t exactly lead to mind-blowing, though they seem to want your mind blown
Setback overcome by: frequently funny narration, warmly rendered characters, and vivid settings that teeter on the fantastic

Further reading, if you like sci-fi/fantasy embedded in your literary fiction: The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

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