Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Neat Title, Yes?

First, let me say that I only read this book because Nate, who works at Recycle Bookstore in Campbell, harassed me.  He's recommended a few books, but this is the 1st one that he sorta insisted that I read.  So, I did.  And I'm glad.  This is very entertaining.  Robin Sloan, who lives in the East Bay, has written a book about a very old used bookstore in San Francisco.  It's open (obviously) 24 hours a day and has a very unusual clientele.  More about that in a minute.

Clay Jannon, who is in his mid-'20's, gets a job working graveyard at Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore.  There are a couple of shelves in the front with novels, biographies, and classics.  And in the back, on shelves up to the ceiling, is something called the Waybacklist.  These are very fancy tomes with bunches of letters inside in no recognizable order.  Sometimes days go by with no clients.  And then somebody will come in, give Clay their ID, a combination of a number and 5 letters (e.g. 6WNJHY), and Clay has to climb a sliding ladder to get a specific book from the Waybacklist.  There is a handful of people who come in periodically to get one of these books.

What the heck are these books supposed to accomplish?  Well, you'll have to read it to see.  But I can tell you that there is a secret society (with black robes), called the Unbroken Spine, that is tied into typesetters from the 15th and 16th centuries.  I can also tell you that Google's Mt. View headquarters and a number of its employees have a large part in this.  And let's not forget the fantasy trilogy, The Dragon-Song Chronicles, that Clay is addicted to.  Who knew that a fantasy series could possibly have historical significance?  Throw in some very unique characters, and I can say with some degree of certitude that you will enjoy Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

Besides being a good story with good characters, Robin is extremely funny and clever.  I enjoy books with humor.  2 of my favorites are Brian Haig, with his JAG lawyer, Sean Drummond, and David Rosenfelt, with his lawyer, Andy Carpenter (is it a coincidence that attorneys make for good humor?  you decide).  What makes them funny is that the humorous moments are interwoven into the story.  They don't feel forced.  Robin goes a step further.  He makes a bunch of comparisons that are laugh-out-loud funny.  Here are a couple of them:

"Why do organizations need to mark everything with their insignia?  It's like a dog peeing on every tree."

"It's right there - I found it - but suddenly it feels too intimate, like I'm about to look through Penumbra's tax returns or his underwear drawer."

He also has some lines that are not funny but that are very clever:

"His gray hair rises up around his head like a cloud of stray thoughts."

"Our friendship is a nebula."

I love the scenes that take place in the bookstore.  I really like the scenes that take place in other parts of the Bay Area.  And I like the scenes that take place out of the area.  Overall, though - a solid 3 out of 4.  I will look forward to anything that Robin Sloan writes.

AUTHOR SHOUT-OUT:  I have emailed with Robin several times over the last few days.  He is always quick to respond.  I really appreciate that in an author (or anybody else, for that matter).

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