Monday, January 27, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

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

This is a book that I picked up over my winter break. It came home with me after I grabbed it randomly off the school shelves (it did make me a little sad to know I was the only one to check it out). It was a good choice and offered me a fun little excursion away from reality.

Clay Jannon has been laid off from his recent media job and goes in search of employment on the streets of San Francisco. He stumbles across Mr. Penumbra's bookstore and sees a sign looking for a clerk to work the nightshift. After going in and applying, he becomes the new night-clerk.

Mr. Penumbra's store offers Clay with enough to divert him from his unhappiness over a lack of career. Mysterious customers come in to check out books from the "Waybacklist," a series of books that take over the tall shelves lining the back of the store. They return and check out books without paying anything, and Clay is required to jot down everything about their appearance and state of mind in the store ledger.

As Clay's curiosity is spiked, the mystery begins. Who are these odd book readers? What is Mr. Penumbra hiding? What is in the books in the Waybacklist? Who started all of this?

Clay begins to uncover the secrets, pulling in friends from set designers to a Google genius to crack the mystery and code of the books.

This was a fun book. Not a book that challenged me, but something fun and fast and adventurous. It is a book that contains a lot of bookish love, with beautiful descriptions of tall, dusty shelves, the scent of paper, and the feeling of a good book in your hands.

 “Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.” 

It's a book that is very much about the enduring power and meaningfulness of words and stories-how they capture us and become a part of us. It made me want to work in a bookstore and touch the spines of books that have been there for years and wonder at their stories.

This was very much a book for readers and about readers, which we need more of today. So, this is definitely a read for a good diversion from the usual-from the heavy and dark and droll.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”


  1. I listened to the audio version of this for book club and enjoyed it. I agree that it's very much a book for readers and Google fans too, because I really wanted to work there after reading this. ;)

  2. I listened to this one last year and very much enjoyed it. The narrator did a great job, and the book was fun. I didn't quite expect it to end the way it did.

  3. Thank you for writing a review of this! I have been eyeing this book for a while, but just had not found a very satisfactory explanation of what the book is about. I will definitely have to acquire a copy now.

  4. @Amanda! I've been wanting to read this one, but listening to it on audio while I do my library work sounds brilliant!

  5. I just reviewed this one too! I agree, fun but not challenging.

  6. I absolutely love books about books and bookstores -- I just picked up a copy of this one last week :)

  7. And the cover glows in the dark!