Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Book - 2012
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The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco web-design drone, and serendipity, sheer curiosity and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey have landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead "checking out" impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has embarked on a complex analysis of the customers'behaviour and roped his friends into helping him figure out just what's going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the secrets extend far beyond the walls of the bookstore.

With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the 21st century. Evoking both the fairy tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that's rare to the world of literary fiction, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter what the time of day.

Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins Canada, 2012.
Edition: 1st Canadian ed.
ISBN: 9781443415781
Characteristics: 288 p. ;,23 cm.


From Library Staff

May 2015

diesellibrarian Jun 17, 2014

A fun if slightly uneven romp that melds the old-world mystery of a used bookstore with the gleaming polish of the Google campus. Robin Sloan might be the Umberto Eco of the facebook generation, and though the subtlety of Eco's work is lacking in this effort, it is nevertheless engaging and life-... Read More »

thepsalter Feb 24, 2014

Wonderful summer read! Loved every bit of it.

From the critics

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Feb 10, 2018

Checked this out once but couldn't get into it so returned it. At least a year later I checked it out again and managed to keep reading until I got intrigued. About half way through I became eager to find out what happens next. Overall, a fascinating read, especially if you like exploring books combined with quests and character development.

Oct 03, 2017

I found the beginning very promising but lost interest when they entered the secret part of the book store. I wasn't expecting a fantasy book. Oh well...

Oct 02, 2017

I was going to write a review, but I agree with Issachar 100%. Ending was a bit ...ATALHEA (and they all lived happily etc) but came away from it with a genuinely good feeling. I enjoyed the characters and the premise and I look forward to reading more from this authour.

Sep 11, 2017

Mr. Penumbra's 24 hour book store was a fun little story about a guy named Jannon. He's an out of work techie who gets a graveyard shift job in a mysterious San Francisco book store during the onset of the great recession. A strange place with hardly any new books for sale but with group of patrons who borrow older books kept in the 'wayback' area. With help from his more successful techie and artist friends, Jannon slowly realizes he has fallen in with a book cult. Not the 'creepy sacrificial' -type, but more of an 'eccentric and introverted' kind of cult. Even stranger, they're trying to solve a centuries old mystery which his modern eyes may be able to piece together. This is probably the most 'fun' book I've recently read that didn't have any sort of serious drama or violence or impending doom. The big reveal at the end was a bit disappointing, but the overall ending was really enjoyable. I could easily see this getting made into a family-friendly PG movie.

Sep 06, 2017

I wanted to like this book and did at first. It's clever and a little flashy and original. The main drawback for me, however, was that I never came to care about any of the characters. They marched capably through the plot's ins and outs as undeveloped beings which, after 130 pages or so, no longer interested me. Interesting to see the other very positive reviews.

Aug 25, 2017

I absolutely loved this book! The experience also definitely made me smarter and expanded my vocabulary. But, more importantly, the book was incredibly engaging and interesting. I found it hard to put down. I originally picked it up as a book off a suggested reading list. The book exceeded my expectations by a mile. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good laugh, as well as those looking for an extraordinary adventure.

TSCPL_LissaS Aug 17, 2017

THIS: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

“So I guess you could say Neel owes me a few favors, except that so many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula.”
― Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.”
― Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

“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.”
― Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

SCL_Justin Jul 25, 2017

There are a great many things to love about Robin Sloan’s novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. A great many things. What I love best about it is how perfectly of its time it feels. It’s a book I can use to say “this was 2012.”

The narrator of the tale is a designer who can’t get work because of the economy, and takes a job as the night clerk in a 24-hour bookstore. It’s a weird bookstore though, with three storeys of tomes (and to the delight of library-nerds rolling ladders for access) in the back which are arranged in no clear order and have eccentric people coming to trade for them. And these eccentric folk must be kept track of and observed, written about in the log for each shift. So yes, there is the old and odd to this story.

And then a woman who works at Google walks in (the bookstore is in San Francisco) and the story becomes this beautiful melding of all that old weird stuff with data-visualization schemes and parallel processing power to break codes and dreams of the Singularity. Plus of course the digitization of books.

Put it together with a fantasy novel overlay, that has our narrator using the D&D character name of his best friend since they were 12 when he needs him to really do something and I’m in heaven.

It’s about the intersection of these worlds of tradition and innovation, design and shortcuts that make it amazing. If you liked Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, there are echoes here, but it’s mostly in the shared nerd culture aspects. It’s a much less heavy tale. The narrator doesn’t take all the robes and mumbo-jumbo or the Googlarchy so seriously as anyone in The Magicians would. It’s more like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

It was a quick read. It didn’t change the way I thought about the deep mysteries of life. But it was so enjoyable.

Jun 23, 2017

This was a fun read for me. I just loved the narrator who seemed to be just going along through the story for the ride as much as anything (even though he did carry out some key missions). The concept of books full of code that members of a secret group must decode one by one and in sequence to finally get to the ultimate volume in which lies the secret of immortality appeals to those who like the fantasy puzzle. I usually don't but because the narrator was so engaging for me, and the concept of books versus computers has always intrigued, I carried on reading. Quick and easy to read, with an ending that you might be able to guess before the finale.

romance_nerd Jun 23, 2017

Such a great book with tons of literary references. This book was a bit of an oddball, but in all the best ways. Recommended for anyone who loves books about books and doesn't mind going along for the ride.

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Add a Quote

Aug 25, 2017

" Let me give you some friendly advice: make friends with a millionaire when he's a friendless sixth-grader."
pg. 115

Aug 25, 2017

“So I guess you could say Neel owes me a few favors, except that so many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula."
pg. 34

Aug 25, 2017

"I intend to carry out a clandestine scan ASAP, and the target is one of the most important books in the history of printing, In other words: this might by bigger than Potter."
pg. 162

Mar 16, 2015

But hey, nothing lasts long. We all come to life and gather allies and build empires and die, all in a single moment—maybe a single pulse.

JCLChrisK Aug 01, 2014

You know, I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.

JCLChrisK Aug 01, 2014

Maybe his big build isn't a linebacker's after all; maybe it's a librarian's.

Jun 30, 2014

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.

Jun 30, 2014

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

Mar 01, 2014

" many favors have passed between us now that they are no longer distinguishable as individual acts, just a bright haze of loyalty. Our friendship is a nebula."

Jan 23, 2014

Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

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Age Suitability

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Aug 25, 2017

Sierrachick07 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

lbi316 Apr 26, 2013

lbi316 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

Apr 19, 2013

BlueBee1560 thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


Add a Summary

May 01, 2013

The protagonist, Clay Jannon, is hired by San Francisco independent bookstore owner -- Mr Penumbra -- to retrieve books from 10 pm to 6 am, at the request of long time bookstore customers holding an unusual interest in highly obscure volumes. Clay has never heard of any of these book titles, which are never purchased, only loaned.

When Clay examines one of these books, he sees page after page of unreadable encrypted characters, no spaces, no punctuation. Yet the customers return night after night, returning one book, and taking another.

The question is: Why?

DanniOcean Dec 13, 2012

Clay Jannon is a graphic and web designer who finds himself unemployed in the new economy. While wandering the streets of San Francisco he accidentally finds Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and after a very brief interview based on his favourite book, finds himself the store’s new night 10pm-to-6am clerk. There are three rules to working there – he must be on time and cannot leave early, he may not look inside any of the ancient-looking books that are reserved for members, and third, he must keep precise notes about all transactions (including how they smell, what they wear, what they say and how they appear mentally). Mr. Penumbra’s unique approach to store-keeping is matched by his odd clientele who appear in the oddest hours of the night, but they are few and far between so to occupy his time Clay starts developing a web-presence for the store. He creates a 3-D map of the transactions and… a face appears in the results. What follows is a literary adventure of the highest order – a cult of readers bent on discovering but keeping secret the immortality locked in ancient texts of an early typographer, versus Clay and his band of quest seekers, albeit their modern-day equivalents of rogue, wizard and hero. And although the modern-day wizard uses all the power of Google to help them, the printed texts do not give up their secrets easily. It is not until Clay uses all the tools in his magic bag – from the ultimate hacker site to his ultimate favourite novel to the ancient texts themselves - that the code is broken, and the answers are not at all what everyone involved thought they would be. Digital vs. print, Google vs. books, technology vs. old knowledge, piracy vs. privacy, these are the battles of our times and all themes in the book, but the overall story is an adventure, a quest simply reimagined in the techno-age. Given that the author was once an employee at Twitter and has released the book in both print and e-formats, Sloan may be hedging his bets - but his first novel has all the feel of a love-letter to books.


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