Book 70: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: a novel by Robin Sloan is a funny, clever, fast-paced story about a Gen-Xer, his employer Mr. Penumbra, and a whole cast of characters that you deeply wish had starring roles in your own life story. Clay Jannon is unemployed and passively looking for a job when he stumbles into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Whenever I walked the streets of San Francisco, I’d watch for HELP WANTED signs in windows – which is not something you really do, right? I should probably be more suspicious of those. Legitimate employers use Craigslist.

Clay staffs the bookstore from 10pm-6am, meeting an odd set of customers whose visits to the store are seemingly random and their requests are always for titles from an obscure shelf in the back of the store.

Lately, even the Waybacklist borrowers seem to be missing. Have they been seduced by some other book club on the other side of town? Have they all bought Kindles?

Clay uses his unending free time to create an advertising campaign for the bookstore, which is how he meets Kat, a data visualization programmer for Google.

My limbic system has grown accustomed to a certain (very low) level of human (female) contact….When I was a kid reading fantasy novels, I daydreamed about hot girl wizards. I never thought I’d actually meet one, but that’s only because I didn’t realize wizards were going to walk among us and we’d just call them Googlers.

Clay creates a data visualization for the store, and shocks his employer with his findings, causing Mr. Penumbra to go missing. Clay, with the help of wizard Kat and his patron (and best friend since 6th grade) Neel, find him, but that quest is only the spark that ignites a fire in Clay and his companions to find the secret to immortality, which they believe is hidden in code in a book in an underground library.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a highly quoteable/highlight-able book, and it makes me sad that I read a library copy and not my own. I cannot wait to re-read this book in 5 years, because the modern technology the author gives the warrior to complete his quest may very well be upgraded, finally invented, or obsolete. This book is an excellent read for anyone who loves the juxtaposition of ancient texts, the Latin language, and secret societies to modern technology, eReaders, and Google. Computer scientists, librarians, and technophiles with an appreciation for the past will absolutely adore this book.

I will leave you with one last quote:

So we need something or someone else. We need a scanned custom-built for stealth. We need James Bond with a library science degree.
Oh…one more thing: Sloan gave an interview and I love what he said here.

Q. The print version of your book glows in the dark. Why?
A. I think in the year 2012, if you want people to forgo this super-convenient Kindle or Nook or iBooks edition, and get a big, heavy print book, you have to give them a really good reason.

Q. Do use your book as a flashlight?
A. Unfortunately it’s not that bright. But we’re waiting for version 2.0 of the longer-lasting glow-in-the-dark book. It might also run apps.


I must have something for yellow-covered books, because this is the second I’ve read this year, and the second that I absolutely littered with PostIt Note tabs. The first was The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in business and life by Charles Duhigg.

3 Thoughts

  1. Shockingly, I have not. I know it is one of the most popular books of 2012, but I have had so many other books to read. But I will try to get my hands on it soon. What did you think about it?

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