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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Read This: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore By Robin Sloan (2012)
Review by Elaine Rooker Jack

What it’s about, from the book jacket:  “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 a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests.”

“With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure for the 21st century.”

Why I liked it:  It’s a Quest Novel — or maybe beach trash — for bibliophiles. And techies and special effects geeks. And gizmo queens. And anybody who just itched to get into that warehouse at the end of Raiders. If you liked Da Vinci Code but could have done without the meanness, try this book. (Of course there is one guy who’s domineering and grumpy. But he doesn’t kill anybody.) It’s “at the intersection of books and technology.” You can tell me it’s possible to make a digital book scanner out of a pizza box and I’ll believe you. Because I want to.

Quote(s) from the book:
“I’m not sure if I want to be completely honest about the deep strangeness of this place. ‘Hello. Nice to meet you. I sell unreadable books to weird old people. Wanna get dinner?’” 

“A messiah, a first disciple, and a rapture. Check, check, double-check. Penumbra is, right now, teetering right on the boundary between charmingly weird old guy and disturbingly weird old guy.” 

“Why does the typical adventuring group consist of a wizard, a warrior, and a rogue, anyway? It should really be a wizard, a warrior and a rich guy. Otherwise, who’s going to pay for the swords and spells and hotel rooms?” 

“I don’t believe the immortality part but I do know the feeling that Penumbra is talking about.  Walking in the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines, it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits. That’s just a feeling, not a fact. But remember: I repeat. People believe weirder things than this.” 

“Kat gushes about Google’s projects, all revealed to her now. They are making a 3D web browser.  They are making a car that drives itself . . . They are building a time machine. They are developing a renewable energy that runs on hubris.” 

“I’ve never listened to an audio book before and I have to say it’s a totally different experience.  When you read a book, the story definitely happens in 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.” 

“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.” 

Other books I recommend:
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl – Reading Reichl on food is almost as good as eating. Also try her “Garlic and Sapphires.”

Books I admired but did not finish:
Musicophilia by Sacks – Very readable scholarly work for a popular audience. Lots about music and the way it works in and on the brain.

The Pattern in the Carpet by Drabble — A cross between a memoir and the history of jigsaw puzzles.

Books I flung in the first chapter:
Galore by Crummey — A review promised me that the author would take me on a “convoluted journey over the course of more than 100 years as he introduces a cast of quirky characters in a small fishing village in Newfoundland.” Alas, I didn’t find the characters interesting, let alone quirky.


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