Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

MrPenumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 305 pages (October 2, 2012)
Kindle Edition $8.99, Amazon Hardcover $17.64, Amazon Paperback $9.97

Images from times I look back upon with nostalgia are a sure way to get me hooked on a new novel. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore had two of those at the outset. There was the image of ladders on rails along the walls of a bookstore. And there was the description of an ancient Mac used to manage customer accounts in the store. The first took me back to my days at B. Dalton Bookseller in the mid and late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The second reminded me of our local used book store in Mountain View in the late 1990’s.

Those images sucked me in, but the plot and the writing kept me engaged.

The narrator is a graphic designer in San Francisco who found himself unemployed when his startup went bust. He finds a job in a strange used bookstore which turns out to be a front for a secret society. That society, we learn later, is engaged in trying to untangle a code left by one of the pioneers from the early days of the printing press and typeface design. We also get a picture of the culture inside Google, down the peninsula in that same Mountain View where my used bookstore was. Google culture, as the author sees it, is every bit as much a cult as is the secret society at the bookstore.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore says a lot about our values and priorities. It was entertaining and thought-provoking. What more can one ask of a novel?

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