Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan was one of those books that I kept seeing but didn’t pay any attention to. It was a book that had the word bookstore in the title which is probably why I even noticed it in the first place. Published in 2012, I was reading plenty of books, just not this one. Which made me wonder…what was I reading in 2012? I was reading books like The Descendants, The Art of Racing in the Rain, East of Eden, and Gone Girl. I was reading lots of great books, just not this one.
It only took me six years, but I’m so glad I finally picked this one up. I don’t give out many five stars on Goodreads. I’m very particular when it comes to handing out stars. I save them for only the most special, for those books that stood high -for me- above the rest. Mr. Penumbra was one of those lucky books.
Clay has been let go from his web design job in San Francisco. He’s not in a financial position to be picky, so he takes a nightshift job at an obscure little 24-hour bookstore. But after a few days on the job, with an odd cast of characters who stop by the store not to buy books but to check them out from something called the Waybacklist, Clay starts to wonder if this store is more than it seems.
Clay has his own odd cast of characters: his friends. Bringing these friends together, which includes a new girlfriend who is working her way up the ladder at Google, Clay uses their talents to help him decode the puzzle that is the Waybacklist, Mr. Penumbra, and a cultish group called the Unbroken Spine.
I decided to read this book right before leaving on a trip to San Francisco. I do that sometimes, purposefully start a book that’s set in the same location I’m traveling. I love being in the same place as the characters. It’s one of my little quirks when choosing my next read.
That aside, quirky would be a great word to describe this book, except it’s not enough. It’s too limiting. Yes, this book is full of great quirky characters but it is their quirkiness that makes the book so good. Clay, his childhood friend Neel, and his girlfriend Kat are like an adult version of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. And just like the three best friends from the famous series, these friends are stronger together, and together they will come to answer one of Mr. Penumbra’s favorite questions: What do you seek in these shelves?
Along with the subtle humor, this book is filled with puzzles and romance and friendship and secret societies. Some of the technical moments of the book went a little over my head (okay, maybe a lot over my head) but it didn’t take away from the charm of this book. This book was unique and wasn’t at all what I expected which might be one of the things I liked most about it. The plot was different from anything else that I have ever read, yet another reason for the 5/5 star review. I’m grateful to the author for giving it a somewhat ambiguous title that led to my picking it up. Some other title and I would have missed out on this delightful read. This book might be for everybody, but it certainly was for me.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Paperback published by Picador, 2013
Genre: Literary Fiction
Where I read: While on a getaway to San Francisco
Stephenie’s Goodreads rating: 5 out of 5 stars