I’m certainly not the first, nor will I probably be the last, CBRer to review Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. That being said, I won’t go on too much about the plot. The book’s been out for quite a few years and garnered some attention on those lists everyone has of MUST READ THIS books. Basically, this young graphic designer in San Francisco, Clay Jannon (I think? His last name is rarely mentioned) finds himself unemployed and desperate. Wandering around the city one afternoon he happens upon a curious bookshop and easily gains a job as the overnight clerk. Naturally this book would be super boring if that were all there was too it. The book shop isn’t quite what it seems at first. Most of the regular customers don’t actually buy anything; they come and check out mysterious books from the back section of the store that are written in code. Clay’s boredom and curiosity get the best of him and he is determined to find out what Mr. Penumbra is really about.
I might not be the target audience for this book but I feel like it’s not my fault. You title something with Bookstore in it and I’m going to be curious. I love books! I smell each book I have several times while I’m reading it. I had to be forced to donate half my collection when merging households last year, and despite rarely returning for rereads, I just NEED to have my books okay? I refuse to use the Kindle my fiancé so thoughtfully gave me. Actually, I don’t refuse I just neglect it most of the time. It’s basically awesome for getting the romances our library doesn’t carry. Let’s just all agree here that for a book’s title to be about a bookstore, this one is not that appealing for a book lover. Most of the time the book talks about coding or code-breaking or using Google and Amazon to crowd-source work and not about what’s actually going on in the store. My disappointment with this book probably lies somewhere in my reticence about technology in general. I love it and I hate it. Google is fantastic and yet I fear them. Amazon is wonderful but at the same time they’re a giant soul-crushing corporation. This story is a love affair with technology and an attempt to show how advancements don’t have to leave things like books behind but I honestly just didn’t care by the end of the book.
Things that could have improved this book:
- Leave out the Kat Potente character. She’s super irritating, self-centered (Clay of course is oblivious because she is attractive), and that ‘manic pixie dreamgirl’ type that I find grating.
- Make a better central mystery that sounds like it could actually be possible. What Mr. Penumbra’s customers are doing doesn’t seem at all realistic for the types of people described. They seem too intelligent to fall for that hooey.
- More roommate Mat. The artist roommate would have been a better companion for Clay than his super rich best friend and super irritating girlfriend.
- Make it harder for Clay. He lucks out at every turn. There are no real stakes here for this mystery.
What I did like about this book? The cover glows in the dark. Also, it was a pretty quick read. These days that’s not something I find in my choices a lot so it was welcome. This book wasn’t that bad really; I may sound really harsh on it. It was not bad, I think I’m just really surprised at how highly it’s rated on Goodreads and I feel duped. Then again I think “50 Shades of Grey” is highly rated so as they say “Fool me once…”