Mr. Penumbrass 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel

This book lover's novel (304 pages) was published in October of 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book takes you to San Francisco and NYC. Melissa read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

A Novel

Robin Sloan

This is an exuberant story of a secret society, code-breaking, friendship, young love, new technology, and, perhaps, the secret to eternal life — all told through the people that circulate through an unconventional bookshop in San Francisco.

First, let’s address the obvious: Can someone please create a 24-hour bookstore? An enchanted bookshop that never closes would be the best thing ever.

Less enamored of this 24/7 idea, but in dire financial straits, is our hero Clay, a victim of San Francisco’s tech implosion. He somewhat reluctantly takes a job in the bookstore of the title to lick his career wounds and begin to rebuild his life.

But it’s not long before he realizes there’s something unusual going on in the stacks of the shop. Kindly Mr. Penumbra has been keeping troubling and potentially lethal secrets. When he disappears, it’s up to Clay to figure out just what the devil is going on.

He’s joined in his quest by snappy sidekicks: Neel, a nerdily-endearing best-friend-turned-tech-millioniare and Kat, an irresistibly intelligent girl, as appealing to Clay as she is prickly. They’re aided in their mission by new scanning technology at Google that feels like real-world magic.

Author Robin Sloan’s prose captures the energy of both San Francisco and New York City, as well as the sinister allure of the offbeat bookshop. Delivering plenty of big ideas to chew on while it takes us for a thrilling ride, this novel is an ode to books and bookishness, friends and loyalty, and the legacy we leave behind when we write our own stories.

Heads-up! The audiobook is awesome. With his flexible, energetic performance, narrator Ari Fliakos — Audible’s narrator of the year for 2017 — imbues Clay with just the right tone of optimism and anxiety. His dynamic voice acting brings all of the characters to vivid life — Mr. Penumbra, in particular, is equal parts charm and mystery.

Let me be candid. If I had to rank book-acquisition experiences in order of comfort, ease, and satisfaction, the list would go like this: 1. The perfect independent bookstore, like Pygmalion in Berkeley. 2. A big, bright Barnes & Noble. I know they’re corporate, but let’s face it — those stores are nice. Especially the ones with big couches. 3. The book aisle at Walmart. (It’s next to the potting soil.) 4. The lending library aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia, a nuclear submarine deep beneath the surface of the Pacific. 5. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. — Robin Sloan

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