A perfect place to start!

PenumbraBook # 1- Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store, by Robin Sloan

Before I start my review, I want to establish a rating system. Each book will get a rating 1-5 to give a more objective understanding of my opinion. So let me define: 5, I’d read it again! 4, Will recommend to a friend. 3, It was a good book. 2, Not my fav! 1, Put it down before I was done.

Now for this book, a solid 5!

Synopsis: Clay Jannon is twenty-something, recently unemployed, living in San Fransisco with room-mates who are gainfully employed and far more motivated. Clay used to work in marketing for a company that made bagels more visually appealing; until they went under. Now he is wandering around town looking for a new job when he stumbles upon a curious book shop where he is met by a more curious proprietor, Mr. Penumbra. Clay earns the job by answer two interview questions: 1. “Tell me about a book you love ” for which his answer is met with a wide smile and 2. “Can you climb a ladder?”

Clay will work from 10pm to 6am, selling very few books, but lending several a night to a strange set of clientele, and he will log the specifics of these encounters into a large tome. As Clay becomes curious about the books on the shelves, the people borrowing them and his unusual employer, he stumbles upon a strange mystery. He employs the help of his Googler girlfriend, artist room-mate and entrepreneur best-bud to crack the code hidden within the shelves.

My Impressions: I was hooked by this book after the first few pages. Clay is a character you can really relate to on many levels; there is an appreciation for his circumstances, a general sympathy for his combination of  skills that don’t translate to a specific career and desire to see him succeed no matter how bizarre his quest.  The story is a great balance of fiction with a touch of fantasy. There is also a lot of direct narration in which Clay explains things to the reader for better understanding, like the uses for programming languages or the origin of  a typeface. Some might find these explanations a little tedious, but I found them interesting and always in keeping with the story. And occasionally the narration breaks the barrier of book and reader for a little humour. Clay is a bit of a nerd and it’s part of what makes him endearing. He is also loyal to his friends and his new boss and shows a great respect for their talents, even while slightly exploiting them on his quest. He is committed to this cause throughout the story and can’t be dissuaded. If I had any criticism for the story, I would say that things come almost too easy for Clay as he moves through his challenge. But that’s really okay, because you are rooting for him to succeed from the start. You want him to get the job, get the girl, solve the puzzle, find the… No spoilers I promise!

I liked the authors’ style of writing. As I said, it was really captivating from the beginning and the story moved along a good pace. Clay’s dialogue isn’t always in quotes so it was difficult at first to differentiate between inner monologue and actual replies. (For a minute I thought everyone at Google was a mind reader). I also appreciated the title character’s unusual name, most befitting his mysterious persona- a space of partial illumination surrounded by shadow.

Nostalgia as a prominent theme in story.  There is a lot of discussion of old technology setting the stage for new technology and old traditions reappearing in modern life in ways that most people would be unaware. There is a push-pull between past and present; books versus e-readers. Those on the side of books may actually convince you to revert to turning pages! In fact the love of books is so prominent throughout this story that I think it can be considered fan fiction for fans of reading!

Why you should read it: It’s just a fun book. About books! It’s a quick and light read, and hard to put down once you get into the heart of the story. And really all I ask is to be entertained!

So head to the book store (real or virtual) and ask yourself “what do you seek in these shelves?” Festina Lente!

1st book in the bag!

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” -Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid

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One thought on “A perfect place to start!

  1. Lauren says:

    Thanks for the great review Cari! I can’t wait to read this book – I already downloaded it on my kindle 🙂

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