Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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

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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About Anca Szilagyi

Anca Szilagyi is a Brooklynite living in Seattle. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Fairy Tale Review, Gastronomica, Propeller, and The Massachusetts Review, among others. She teaches creative writing at Richard Hugo House and was awarded a Made at Hugo House fellowship to complete her short story collection More Like Home Than Home. Her website is
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