Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan)

Clay, fresh out of design school and recently laid off from his job at the bagel shop, desperately needs employment.  Walking through the city one day, he sees a "Help Wanted" sign on a bookstore owned by an old man named Mr. Penumbra.  In a flash, he’s hired, only to find out that this is no ordinary indie bookstore.  For one, customers are few and far between, and the day’s grosses rarely go above the single digits.  Most importantly, however, there seems to be some sort of “secret society” related to the store, whose goal it is to break a code.  Will Clay, with the help of two friends and a girlfriend have something to do with this codebreaking?  Scooby Doo!  Where are you?

If the first paragraph sounded a little tongue-in-cheek and juvenile, that’s what I felt reading Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  The only way the reader would ever be able to tell this is an adult book and not a science fiction/fantasy teen novel is that it features adult characters.  Sloan received pretty good reviews for this debut novel, possibly because readers can identify with the numerous technology references used in the book.  Google, e-readers, the iPad and a book about Steve Jobs all make appearances, so bibliophiles in 2013 can rejoice!

While this would probably make a great short story, it just didn’t work for me as a novel.  I found myself just wanting to "get through it" rather than getting "lost in it", which to me is the hallmark of a wonderful book.  Sloan gets props for book-jacket creativity, however.  At first glance, it looks like a very plain cover, but then…