I first learned about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan from Goodreads. My friend, Brittany, had marked it as to-read and the title sparked my interest. I love books about bookstores and the people who love them. There is just something so cozy about reading a book about books and book lovers. Call me crazy, but it’s just nice. It’s like having a conversation with an old friend who has the same interests as you – because, well, it is.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, however, took me by surprise. While it is about a bookstore, it is not a bookworm kind of book. As in, it is not a book about a bookworm. Rather, it is more Mysterious Benedict Society meets computer programming, but for grownups. If you have read Mysterious Benedict Society as well as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, you know what I’m talking about. They’re both all about puzzles and solving them and fighting against bad guys while doing it.
But let me backtrack a minute: what is Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore about? Clay Jannon is a computer programmer and web designer who is fresh out of a job, thanks to the Great Recession. While on the hunt for a new job, he comes up with a system for keeping himself from being distracted from the search itself. Printing piles of “help wanted” ads, he takes walks around his city, San Francisco. He throws away the ads that do not interest him, and keeps the ones that do. When he returns home, he applies for the jobs he chooses.
One day, during one of his job-hunting walks, he stumbles across a store he has never seen before: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The look of the bookstore intrigues him, as does the help wanted ad in the window:
Naturally, Clay finds himself walking into the store and applying. A job is a job, right? He gets the job, and is soon working as the night clerk for this mysterious bookstore from 10 pm until 6 am. He doesn’t get many customers during the shift, but the ones who do come are…interesting, to say the least. They do not purchase any of the modern books set up in the front, but rather frantically ask to “check out” the ancient, mysterious books in the back half of the store. The people who check out these books have special cards, and Clay is required to record down to the minutia his interaction with them and their appearance. When Clay starts investigating who these people are and what the books are for, things get interesting…
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a fascinating, fun tale equipped with twists and turns at every step. I came to this book expecting a cozy bookworm novel, and found an intelligent, computer nerd story. The unexpectedness of the story took me by surprise, but once I got past the surprise, I wound up loving it! I especially love the way it is, intentionally or otherwise, reminiscent of the beloved Mysterious Benedict Society stories.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan gets 4/5 stars.
I’ve included links to purchase the first Mysterious Benedict Society book in every mention of the title, for the curious. 😉