Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

imagesLet me tell you something about this book. This book is the fantasy novel for people who hate fantasy. It’s fantasy, but it’s not. It isn’t fantasy, but it could be. It is at once a work of fiction and a world of it’s own. If you can’t tell already, I have some strong feelings for this book. If you don’t feel like dealing with that today, you should probably stop reading. Also, I’m not going to keep spoilers out of the way, so if you see some BIG ALL CAPS TYPING, that means spoilers are coming and if you haven’t read the book you should look away.

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“Bloggers don’t write spoilers.” “Look away!” “Oh look, spoilers!”

Now that we’re through the warnings, let’s get on with the ranting.

To start with, Mr. Penumbra (the book, not the character) is full of techie gadgets and information, of which I knew very little, and I l earned a lot. Especially about the history of printing and fonts. Did you know you have to pay for fonts that aren’t already on your computer? Hundreds of dollars! One font could be almost 3 textbooks for school. That’s nutty.

Anyway, I also learned a lot about what them geeks are up to at Google. Driverless cars I knew about, but man there is some cool tech ideas out there. Now, obviously some of the ideas in the book could be made up but man I was enlightened.

Where does the Google info come in? The main character, Clay, meets a girl named Kat who works at Google. And obviously that has a huge impact in the story line. That’s where Google comes in.

Okay so Clay is a web designer who finds himself unemployed during the recession in San Francisco. He scours the help wanted ads to no avail, and eventually finds himself wandering the streets of San Fran. He stumbles upon Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and gets hired as the night clerk. Every night he goes in to work, selling a book or two but mostly his job is to cater to the customers who don’t buy books. These customers exchange books that come from the “way back” part of the store, the books that Mr. Penumbra himself has instructed Clay not to open. When one of these customers comes in, Clay must replace the book they are returning to it’s place and they are given the new book. Once the customer leaves Clay must document every detail of their visit, how they were dressed, their mannerisms, what was said, and so on. He ends up discovering a secret society, and I’m not going to tell you how or what or where or why or anything else but Google becomes pretty important in figuring it all out.

Kat and Clay and Clay’s best friend Neel embark on a quest (seriously, they pick who is going to be the wizard, warrior, and rogue just like in video games) to discover everything they can about this society. The end results are pretty interesting. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER The society is called the Unbroken Spine, and they are dedicated to discovering the secrets of the written world. The members believe their founder discovered a way to achieve immortality through the written word, so when members are inducted into the society they write their life stories in giant tomes, hoping the society will discover their founder’s secret and they will be immortal. It’s pretty interesting, and I love the idea of achieving immortality through writing, even if it’s just leaving a piece of yourself in everything you write. There is a quote from Diane Setterfield, that pretty much sums up my feelings… “Do they feel it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so.”  I hope so too.

The actual character of Mr. Penumbra is so lovable, at first he’s your classic old man and then turns into such a bad ass. I really have no better way to describe it, he’s a bad ass.

This whole book just engrossed me completely. It was enthralling. The descriptions of the books, the bookstore, the library, all of it just sucked me in and I just wanted to keep rereading those paragraphs over and over again. The library of the Unbroken Spine, oh dear it was like book porn, if that’s a thing. I just freaking loved it.


This was definitely one of the best books I’ve read lately, it’s for sure in the top ten. To all book lovers, go read it! And if not this book, read a book. Your bookcase misses you.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Mostly because I’m so tired I tried to make a smoothie, put all the stuff in, didn’t turn on the blender, and then walked away with my empty cup. Yikes. Goodnight!


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