Book Reviews

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

***This post was originally published on November 1, 2016 on Erynn Loves Books’ first home, without the featured image***

“What do you seek in these shelves?” – Mr. Penumbra, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

I already explained how I came to buy Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan in my last blog post. I also already explained some of my excitement about the book and my overall impression of it. Today, however, I would like to actually get into detail and discuss the novel in depth.

Before I do that though, I’d like to quickly apologize for taking a few days longer than intended to post this book review. Some things came up on Friday and then over the weekend I ended up rereading the book!

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was first published in 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The edition which I bought was published by Picador, although Picador is a U.S. Trademark owned by Pan Books Limited, a publishing conglomerate  which includes both Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Picador. So, essentially they belong to the same company. The first Picador edition was published in October 2013.

I was unfamiliar with both the author and the publisher of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore when I found the novel on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble. I had not heard any recommendations for the book nor did I see it reviewed in the newspaper or online. Rather, my decision to buy the book was based almost entirely on my immediate reaction to and love of the title and cover, as I discussed in my last post. The cover is simple: groups of yellow rectangles as books, stacked and piled against the negative space of the white background that functions as a bookshelf. The cover design wraps from the front of the book, around the spine and onto the book’s back cover, creating a simple, seamless and eye-catching design.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is broken into three main sections, along with an epilogue.  These three sections – The Bookstore, The Library and The Tower, correspond with the three main settings of the novel.

The book begins in San Francisco where we meet our protagonist, Clay Jannon, who has been left unemployed by the Great Recession of the early 21-century. During his job hunt he wanders into a 24-Hour bookstore that has a “Help Wanted” sign in the window. This bookstore, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, serves as the primary setting for much of the novel.

Overall, I loved this book. In fact, I loved it so much I reread it upon starting this post so that I could really do it justice in my review. There are many things that I loved about this book. One aspect that I most enjoyed was the juxtaposition of old and new, modern tech plus  literature and medieval history. This juxtaposition is a theme that is explored repeatedly throughout the novel, and it is not until the Old Knowledge or “OK” (the knowledge generated before computers) and new come together that Clay and his friends are able to solve the puzzles and problems they encounter.

It is quite difficult for me to get into detail about many of the aspects of the book that I liked without spoiling it for any of you who may still want to read it for yourselves, and this book is one I certainly think is worth experiencing on your own. For me a large part of the appeal was the whimsical, magical feel of the novel (although no actual magic was involved). For me, this novel held the kind of magic found in the first snow fall or finding precisely the right thing at just the right time. It was well-paced, accessible and fed into my nerdy, book-loving fantasies.

There are, however, aspects I didn’t connect with quite as fully. For example, I truly disliked the addition of the epilogue. The epilogue is not so much a fourth section of the novel but rather a five and 1/2 page final chapter that shoots out into the future and tells the reader where all of the characters are headed. Partly I disliked the epilogue as I loved the book and would have happily read a sequel, which the addition of this epilogue essentially precludes. I also think I dislike the epilogue because it covers such a large stretch of time in so few pages, wrapping up not only the story line but the futures of the characters as well. In my opinion it would have been better to leave the future up to the imagination of the reader rather than to so tritely sum it all up in an epilogue.

Honestly though, disliking five pages of a three hundred page book isn’t too bad at all. I would certainly recommend Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. In particular, I feel that anyone who loves reading or spending a day in the bookstore would connect with Clay and his friends’ adventures. If you like books, bookstores, Google, medieval print-making or little old men who remind you of Dumbledore, go pick up a copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and be prepared for an adventure.

Are there any books out there that are really magical for you? How do you feel about epilogues? Are they ever really even a good idea? Also, did anyone see any really great Halloween costumes this past weekend? I didn’t end up getting out at all so the only costumes I saw were at work. If you’ve read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, please feel free to share what you think or geek out in the comments with me. Any advice on what I should read next?

Happy Reading!


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