Book Review! Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Yesterday I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel

I saw this title while browsing for new e-books on Barnes and Noble’s website. I was looking specifically for new e-books so I would have something to read a) because I’ve been at home all day due to the federal government shutdown and b) because I was traveling back to the midwest to be in a wedding for one of my best friends, and I didn’t want to haul a bunch of books with me.

This book in particular stood out simply because of the title. I love the word penumbra. Does anyone else get excited about certain words, or is it just me? I have a whole list of words that I love because to me they perfectly embody what they mean or because they’re fun to say. Frond is my favorite word, it’s just fun to say. I also love penumbra, penultimate, plethora (if I think of others I’ll add them later… I seem to be stuck on p words at the moment.) I dislike the word “nonplussed” because to me it sounds like the opposite of what it means.

Anyway, the title of this book caught my eye, and the description was interesting. Here’s what the listing on Barnes and Noble’s website has to say:

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

The best way I can describe this book is that it’s intriguing. There’s a subtle sense of mystery and impending knowledge that keeps you reading (in fact, it reminded me a little of The Night Circus that way, although this plot line was more predictable, in my opinion.) I also really enjoyed how the main character of the book isn’t some “I have no obvious talent and I’m not very good-looking, but now suddenly everyone wants me/my powers” type that is so prevalent in fiction lately. Instead he knows his own strengths and reaches out to others who have different areas of expertise and works out the mystery with their help. One of the themes that runs through the book is technology versus traditional books, and I like what the author did with that topic. I like to follow the latest and greatest in technology, but there are books that I will go out of my way to buy in hardcopy, for various reasons.

Based on the book’s description above, I have to admit that I was expecting something a bit different from the mystery that actually was presented in the book -the reference to a “gnomic” bookseller had me imagining something more faery-related, especially since I’ve recently watched a lot of Lost Girl of Netflix (which I highly recommend, btw, but fair warning there are lots of sex scenes and they’re not all hetero). Even though it wasn’t quite what I expected, I enjoyed the style of writing, I like what the author did with the plot and I particularly appreciated the ending, which was realistic without being harsh. 

What’s your favorite word (or least favorite word) and why? Any thoughts on Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore?

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