Readux, Airport Bookstore Edition: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

Published: 2012

Date Started: October 21, 2013 Date Finished: November 5, 2013

Rating (out of 5): ★★★

Every book has a story: When her flight is delayed, what is a girl to do but peruse the airport bookstore for a full 65 minutes? Naturally, none of the books immediately on my must-buy radar was available, but as I searched and stared at and flipped through, I remembered once hearing something about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I bought it, and what good luck I did too. I had the cheapest seat on the plane: no entertainment screen.

Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder.

Now that I think about it, I’m quite sure I read about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore on a list of “Books for People Who Love Books” or some such thing. This is an utterly true summation of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It is a book most enjoyed by people who love books. By people who wax poetic about paper and font, people who are soothed by the written word, people who took classes like “Print Culture History” in university. Okay, that got really specific and autobiographical – but I’m definitely right about the “people who love books” thing!

At a risk of making this book appear like there are only about 100 people in the world in its ideal demographic, it is also probably most enjoyed by we of the Millenial tribe. People who grew up in the rise of the Internet and Google, people who had to write papers on the “print vs. ebook” debate, and people who appreciate correct anatomical jiggle of busty ninjas in video games (that makes more sense once you’ve read the book…)

“There are plenty of people who, you know – people who like the smell of books.”

“The smell!” Penumbra repeats. “You know you are finished when people start talking about the smell.”

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a remarkable marriage of the very old – the ancient, even – and the technological cutting edge. Our intrepid hero and narrator is Clay Jannon, a soul in the very thick of the old/new knowledge conundrum. He finds himself working at the mysterious Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, for the even more mysterious Mr. Penumbra. Books and Mr. Penumbra on one side, programmer and Google-employee friends on the other side. What seems like a great divide in Clay’s life is closed by a mystery that cannot be solved by old knowledge or new technology alone.

This is a geeky, bookish book, heartily endorsed by this paper-and-font-loving, written-word-loving, “Print Culture History”-attending word nerd.

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