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Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore [Kindle Edition]

Robin Sloan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £8.99
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Book Description

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...

'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

Shortlisted for the LA Times Book Award for First Fiction.

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Product Description


The story is gripping, the characters are terrific and the writing is clever and funny. As intelligent as it is enjoyable - Daily Mail

It's a proper novel. By which I mean, not that it has pages you actually turn - that is optional with novels nowadays - but pages that you actually want to turn, which is getting rarer and rarer.... Charming, gently comedic, sweetly nerdy and enthusiastic about media both old and new - Irish Times

ollicking... an ode to the beauty of dead-tree books - New York Times

Delightful... Smart, hip and witty - Washington Post

The pages swell with Mr Sloan's nerdy affection and youthful enthusiasm for both tangible books and new media... A clever and whimsical tale with a big heart - The Economist

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. / @robinsloan

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1172 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (20 Dec. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A25NLOU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,563 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For the Love of Words and Mysteries 28 Nov. 2013
By J. Ang
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A quirky little tome about books and the secrets they hide, the onslaught of technology and information fatigue, featuring a (codified) typeface, Gerritszoon, that potentially holds the key to immortality, Google code-breakers with big white boxes, and a quaint little vertical 24-hour bookstore with shelves that disappear into the darkness above, tucked inconspicuously next to a shady nightspot down a small street.

Our hero, Clay Jannon, is a recently disenfranchised web designer for an upmarket bagel company, who stumbles into Penumbra's store by providence/accident, and finds himself embroiled in increasingly weird situations as a nightshift store clerk, encountering a motley crew of afterhours customers who come not to buy but borrow some ancient tome or other from the "Wayback List", in the recesses of the already minuscule shop, "with algorithmic regularity".

As the story unfolds, Jannon, and his Silicon Valley friends, find themselves on a quest to decipher a text, or the codex vitae of the founder of a 500-year-old bibliophile cult, called the "Unbroken Spine". This codex vitae is a document in code that contains what he learned in his life, which is held in a subterranean library in New York. And that's where the story goes the way of a Harry-Potterish YA novel, complete with black-robed cult members, led by Penumbra's old friend-turned-nemesis, the First Reader, Corvina, whose wrath descends on Penumbra when he finds out he's violated one old cult rule too many (no spoilers here).

For the most part, this is an absorbing novel, with enough twists and hit-you-square-in-the-face contemporary references to keep the reader's interest.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Macey89 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When unemployed graphic designer Clay takes a job working nights at Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, all he wants is a job. But it soon becomes clear that the bookstore, and its enigmatic owner, are more than they seem.

As well as the traditional books you’d expect to find in a bookshop, there’s also a second set of books – written in code and hidden away from the eyes of prying customers. Throughout the quiet night shift, an assortment of people occasionally hurry in to borrow one of these books, whilst returning another. Clay’s role is to note down what book is borrowed with a description of the borrower, but not to ask questions.

Inevitably, Clay starts to wonder about what this strange collection of people are up to. Finding the codes unintelligible, he and his friends instead draw on their technological skills to help track the pattern of borrowing in a way that they can understand. Unwittingly, he soon uncovers a clandestine literary society working to decode the mysteries around a centuries’ old secret.

It’s hard to say more without revealing too much of the plot, but this is actually one of my favourite recent reads. There’s not much not to like – hidden quests, secret societies and books, books and more books, all brought together through the power of Google and modern technology. It’s basically like a more literary version of a Dan Brown novel that’s been written just for book enthusiasts.

It perfectly contrasts the old and the new. There are people who believe that by bypassing years of work in a few computer strokes, Clay has ‘cheated’ and shouldn’t be allowed to share his knowledge – that this knowledge is only valuable if you’ve really worked for it and that Clay and his friends are devaluing the books themselves.
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58 of 66 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars lots of details about apparently dull things (such as computers) that...
Think Scarlett Thomas but with a male protagonist and set in San Francisco - present tense narrative, lots of details about apparently dull things (such as computers) that turn out... Read more
Published 1 hour ago by Ms Louise Wilford
5.0 out of 5 stars Climb the ladder towards literary
This tale is for all those who live in the digital world but are actually most comfortable with the written word on the printed page. Read more
Published 8 hours ago by Bibliophile
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing read
Nice read, starts off great and I found it really drew me in. Well written and really makes you think from the main characters perspective. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Graz
1.0 out of 5 stars Not about a bookstore
I thought that, given the title, this was about a bookstore. Silly me. It's true that it starts out there, and is a most interesting set-up. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Archy
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 7 days ago by Tub
5.0 out of 5 stars More than just a mystery...
I found this book to be reminisent of Scarlett Thomas and Genevieve Cogman's novels. For me that was perfect - heartfelt characters, well developed and twisting plot lines, vivid... Read more
Published 11 days ago by ImiD
1.0 out of 5 stars Really not that great
Published 11 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book for computer nerds
Brilliant book for computer nerds. Loads of in-jokes and references. A bit unbelievable in places, but the story fairly cracks along, so I can forgive the occasional shortcoming. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Zog
2.0 out of 5 stars shoulda been better.
more an ideas story than anything else. I kept falling asleep. characters did not engage me. disappointing, coulda, shoulda been better.
Published 11 days ago by Patrick L Dey
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected
I'm so glad this was recommended to me. Well written, good pace - and not at all what I expected! A fascinating read and one I will definitely read again.
Published 17 days ago by Dawn Thane
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