Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2012
Clay Johnson is a white 20-something web designer who gets laid off from a tech marketing job and unexpectedly finds a position working the graveyard shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in San Francisco. Clay quickly discovers that Mr. Penumbra’s is no regular bookstore. Although the shop features used books in the front, these books obscure a larger collection in the back that are “borrowed” by a select group of readers. Mr. Penumbra explicitly tells Clay not to read from the special collection, which, of course, he eventually does and leads him on a quest to discover where the books come from and what they mean.
As Clay searches for the meaning behind the bookstore he is joined by Kat Potente, a sharp and attractive woman who works at Google and has impressive coding skills, and his best friend from sixth grade, Neel Shah, a successful dot com entrepreneur. The story unfolds quickly as Kat and Clay use computers to dig behind the façade of Mr. Penumbra’s book collection. Clay is a funny self-aware narrator. Set in 21st Century San Francisco, with many references and visits to Google Headquarters, the book explores our current relationship to books and technology and the extent to which one will replace, or outpace, the other. If you have a low tolerance for Google references, this book is not for you, otherwise is it a well-paced and entertaining read. It’s an adult quest novel written for techies