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Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore [Paperback]

Robin Sloan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
Price: 9.09 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Kindle Edition 4.19  
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Paperback, 1 Aug 2013 9.09  
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Book Description

1 Aug 2013
Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a 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. And it doesn't take long for Clay to realize that the quiet, dusty book emporium is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few fanatically committed customers, but they never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes perched on dangerously high shelves, all according to some elaborate arrangement with the eccentric proprietor. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has plugged in his laptop, roped in his friends (and a cute girl who works for Google) and embarked on a high-tech analysis of the customers' behaviour. What they discover is an ancient secret that can only be solved by modern means, and a global-conspiracy guarded by Mr. Penumbra himself... who has mysteriously disappeared.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782391193
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782391197
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Fun and funny and just plain enjoyable. It has mysterious books and thievery and Google (the place!)... It celebrates both the old and the new in delightful ways... And it has the honour of being the first novel of 2013 to make me cry, completely unexpectedly. Happy tears of that good-book-sucker-punch-to-the-place-in-the-heart-where-the-booklove-lives sort. --Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus

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

Think of this novel as part Haruki Murakami, part Dan Brown and part Joseph Cornell: a surreal adventure, an existential detective story and a cabinet of wonders at which to marvel. --Newsday

A clever and whimsical tale with a big heart. --The Economist

Delightful --Washington Post

Rollicking --New York Times

Irresistible, page-turning --Newsweek

A real tour de force, a beautiful fable... It's a lot of fun but it's also a powerful reading experience. --George Saunders

Cryptographic cults, vertical bookshops, hot geeks, theft, and the pursuit of immortality. I loved it. --Nick Harkaway

An utterly charming modern love-letter to reading, and Robin Sloan has affectionately mashed up tradition and technology in this delightful novel that reads like The Social Network meets The Da Vinci Code. --Stylist

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 --Newsweek

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

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

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Within the first few pages I knew that this book was going to be wedged firmly on my list of favourite books ever. This is the kind of book that makes you act completely irrationally if you ever meet the author. Rest assured I will become a bumbling idiot if Robin Sloan ever crosses my path!

Sloan clearly knows exactly how to entice and entrap his readers. Whether you are an established bibliophile, a tech-savvie genius or simply a struggling soul lost in the job market, this book will enchant you. Sloan strikes a perfect balance between teaching you all about the history of books and publishing, Google, the future of technology and those life lessons we always crave from a good book, and creating a down-to-earth and relatable narrator. Similarly, he creates a balance between beautifully sculpted sentences and funny chat. On the one hand it is easy to read and on the other hand, you want to slowly absorb every word and sentence.

This is the story of Old Knowledge and new possibilities and teaches us that while today’s job market is vastly different from traditional job paths and the road to success is rarely easy, the modern career path leads to dreams in a way that they rarely did before. Buy it, Read it, Love it!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Wright on behalf of
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 day 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 6 days 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 8 days 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 8 days 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 17 days 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 19 days 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 1 month ago by C. B. Inns
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,
refreshing, interesting, superb! Very clever plot, not boring, and a must for book lovers! Very unusual plot and interesting characters.
Published 1 month ago by Laura
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
What a truly original book, a must read. I was gripped from start to finish. Best book I have read in a long time
Published 1 month ago by Natasha A
4.0 out of 5 stars A really good book that draws you in from the start
This was a really delightful book to read. The author sucks you in immediately and constantly has you asking questions and wondering what is the bookshop all about. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Steven Aitchison
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