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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore [Hardcover]

Robin Sloan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Oct 2012
A New York Times bestseller, Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore is an entirely charming and lovable first novel of mysterious books and dusty bookshops; it is a witty and delightful love-letter to both the old book world and the new. Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone - and serendipity, coupled with sheer curiosity, has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he's embarked on a complex analysis of the customers' behaviour and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what's going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore...It is suitable for readers of Scarlett Thomas' The End of Mr Y, Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road and Jasper Fforde's First Among Sequels.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; First Printing edition (2 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374214913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374214913
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 15.9 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 476,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"* 'A rollicking neo-Borgesian tale... an ode to the beauty of dead-tree books' - New York Times * 'Delightful... The protagonist is a tech nerd, but he's also a book nerd, so both those who crave shiny new technologies and those who relish the scent of paper will find room in these pages... Smart, hip and witty' - Washington Post * 'Irresistible' - Newsweek * 'The pages swell with Mr Sloan's nerdy affection and youthful enthusiasm for both tangible books and new media... [but] the ties that bind the story are friendship and vitality for life. This is a clever and whimsical tale with a big heart' - The Economist" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Robin Sloan grew up near Detroit and has worked at Poynter, Current TV and Twitter in jobs that have generally had 'something to do with figuring out the future of media'. He has previously published short fiction in Kindle-only editions (Mr Penumbra started out as a 6000-word ebook). He lives in San Francisco. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book but it proved to be a very serendipitous discovery. Finding myself in Waterstone's at Trafalgar Square with an unexpected book token burning a hole in my pocket (another serendipitous acquisition) I found myself being talked into buying this novel by Rachel, my favourite book barista par excellence.

She clearly knows her stuff, or at least knows her customers, as I found this book utterly engaging. Think of a melding of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "The Shadow of the Wind" and Douglas Coupland's "Microserfs" with a hint of the more tolerable end of Dan Brown and a soupcon of "Bored of the Rings" thrown in.

Clay Jannon, occasional website designer, finds himself out of work and desperate to find a job, any job, that will enable him to carry on living in San Francisco. He finds himself working the night shift in Mr Penumbra's small, 24 hour bookstore situated next to a dubious strip joint. Despite being open twenty-four hours each day, the bookstore seems to sell very few books, though Clay becomes aware of a parallel service with strange customers coming in peruse a room at the back of the store. It transpires that these customers are borrowing from a mysterious set of books, which Mr Penumbra warns Clay not to read. Predictably enough, he does soon sneak a look at one of these books but finds himself none the wiser - they appear to have been written in a strange code. Meanwhile Clay has been trying to drum up more trade for the store by niche advertising through Google. This turns up trumps when Kat, an aspiring programmer and data visualiser who happens to work for Google is passing by the store and receives a coupon on her phone.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
From the first pages to the last, this refreshing, original, imaginative, thoughtful - and often humorous - debut novel kept me glued to the chair, completely charmed by the novel's style, an unusual mix of ephemera and cutting edge computer science. I was totally captivated - not just for the excitement of the story itself, but for the ideas it presents and the hints it gives of the future of writing itself. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore may be every serious reader's fantasy, a novel in which an innocent and unsuspecting person takes a night job at a bookstore where he inhabits the world of ancient manuscripts and ancient typefaces.

When Clay Jannon gets hired to work nights in a tiny, but very tall bookstore, he discovers that it is packed with what he calls "the Waybacklist" of ancient, esoteric books, most of them hand-made. He quickly learns that his few customers always arrive carrying one old book which they want to exchange for a different book from the Waybacklist. When they make the exchange, Clay must record each transaction into an old ledger, including the time, the customer's appearance, his state of mind, how he asks for the book, how he receives it, and whether he is injured. On slow nights, Clay amuses himself by creating a computerized model of the bookstore in 3D, using a program of "data visualization." Identifying each of his customers by a different color in this 3D model, he creates a line for each, and when he begins to see a pattern of overlapping colors, he is stunned, convinced that the customers and Penumbra himself are members of a secret cult.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Geek quest - 4- 23 Nov 2012
By Blue in Washington TOP 500 REVIEWER TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I'm going out on a small limb here and guessing that reviews for "Mr. Penumbra's..." might divide along generational lines. I'm an AARP type and got some enjoyment out of the technical procedural that is central to the book's theme, but the very emphasis on the great god Google and lesser IT instruments that are the secondary characters here was lost on me. When the story veered occasionally back toward a traditional mystery, my attention span snapped back into place; when it lurched back in the other direction, I was skipping paragraphs.

"Mr. Penumbra's..." does manage to convince the reader that there is another world out there that is populated by a different kind of mind and person and probably several years ahead of the general population in perspective and imagination. This is probably not a news flash for those readers who locked into the storyline and gave the book high marks.

In any event, it was an interesting experience for me and author Robin Sloan certainly earned my respect for articulating an original plot with credible characters.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Needs to reduce his opening hours 18 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I should have known really, when I saw that Erin Morgenstein had given this a rave review that I wasn’t going to like it. But, I needed to read it for book group and the premise seemed interesting, so I packed it with my holiday reads and looked forward to an entertaining read. The blurb put me slightly in mind of The Raw Shark Texts, so I expected a challenging, mind-bending, page-turning novel with lots of stuff about cyber space and other ideas I can vaguely get a handle on.
I was very wrong.

This is basically the plot: some achingly hip guy whose lexicon veers wildly between American and British English has lost his job. He’s not that hip though, he appears to have been a LARP at some point. He lives with two other young, hip people in San Francisco and manages to get himself a job in a bookshop which contains mysterious books, is run by a mysterious person and mysterious people come in.

One day, an achingly hip girl who works for Google comes in and he falls in love with her, mainly because she is dressed like a fourteen year old. She is very impressed with his code writing skills (not a euphemism), and this leads them to try and decipher some codes in the mysterious books. Eventually, this leads them all to a mysterious place in New York where one expects some kind of dramatic stand off with the book shop owner’s mysterious counter-part. It all ends happily ever after though,when the protagonist solves the code, discovers that hey, what do you know – books were once cutting edge technology too – and realises that all you really need is your friends; especially if they are artists, high powered google operatives and CEOs of companies.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful book
I could not get into this book and didn't finish it - it took too long to get the exciting part and the waiting was extremely dull.
Published 15 days ago by J. Pearson
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, quirky fun.
Delightful, quirky fun that makes it easy to suspend disbelief and go with the flow.
Published 28 days ago by biblia
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this
Quirky book - clever mix of old vs new.
Published 28 days ago by NP
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing!
This was such a good book! I really loved how it captivated the reader and it was just a really great read. Would recommend for anyone. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Anjana
1.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea!
I didn't enjoy this book !I struggled to finish it and only did so as it had been chosen by our book club! Read more
Published 1 month ago by J.L.
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow starter.. and then it's a masterpiece!
This book should not have taken me as long to read as it did.

I read it mainly in little parts to begin with, and think this was because I was busy and it was a little... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Miss S. Gorton
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This is an awesome little book. It was recommended to me by a client because our company codes in Ruby and that computer language features in the story. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Russell Newton
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky and originall...
I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky, interesting and witty tale. Who doesn't love a book about books?

The characters were all well written and added a great sense of time... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Miss L J Moyse
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirky fun
Quirky, funny and a little mysterious. Completely hooked me right from the start.
Published 1 month ago by Jacksprat
2.0 out of 5 stars Bookstore closed
Very interesting start. Promise of dark secrets, mysterious characters and cutting edge observations about technology and cryptography. Read more
Published 2 months ago by C. B. Inns
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