With the arrival of the Great Recession there are many citizens who find themselves out of work with few prospects. Clay Jannon, a former web-designer is one such unfortunate individual. But his long period of unemployment finally comes to a close when he is hired as the night clerk for a small bookstore: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store. But Clay quickly realizes that this isn’t your ordinary bookstore. With the majority of the store dominated by towering shelves filled with encoded books and strange customers who borrow these mysterious volumes even Clay begins to get curious. It isn’t until he cracks the bookstores that code he realizes that he has only opened the first of many secrets connected to the bookstore that stretch around the world and through hundreds of years of history.
When I first read this book I was both intrigued and indifferent. You may ask how that’s possible, so let me explain:
I was intrigued by the characters; each has strange quirks that make them both hard to connect with and yet easy to imagine. I first read this book two years ago and I was still reading predominantly fantasy and young-adult novels at the time. This new style of character brought home the reality to me that people are quirky and flawed. Though any good author can make characters relatable I found those in this book to be different. Here, like in Steelheart, the author has embellished the imperfections instead of their strengths to establish individual uniqueness.
I was indifferent because it lacked the excitement and adventure that I enjoyed in fantasy and young-adult fiction. Looking back on it now that I’ve read it a second time I see that, though I had believed myself to be well read and a bibliophile, I was greatly lacking in the literary scope. Now I can say that I am an amateur book enthusiast who is much closer to being a bibliophile, but I digress.
On the back of the book the New York Times Book Review said: “Part love-letter to books, part technological meditation, part thrilling adventure, part requiem… Eminently enjoyable, full of warmth and intelligence.” And to all of this I must agree. Often the debate exists whether books or technology is better, but here Robin Sloan provides a middle ground where he delicately takes apart the argument to show how neither is superior to the other, but that they work together to provide the world with a means for each person to find their niche and rediscover the art of learning.
I myself have finally found a happy medium between the comfort of a book and a cup of tea or hot chocolate in an armchair, and the convenience of technology. For instance, I love to listen to audio books while I drive and exercise as well as when I travel. Currently I have a kindle, which I am deeply fond of, that makes travelling less of a hassle because I don’t have to lug big books around. Previously I would have at least two books crammed into my carry on, now I have a slim tablet with more than enough books for any trip.
Yet for those who love a good character novel this is a book (both traditional and electronic) to be added to your reading list. It may be a bit slow for some who enjoy fast plots and adventure, but I think there are many out there who would be surprised by what this book has to offer.