45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sometimes I feel more like a night watchman than a clerk."
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...
Published on 4 Oct. 2012 by Mary Whipple
3.0 out of 5 stars Have a Nice day
The young techno-inspired inhabitants of California are about as distant from me as some lost tribe. They have different ways of seeing the world and reach for the internet as a solution to life's every problem. The internet has everything at your fingrtips but technology has a way of bleaching out life's more immediate experiences, making it flatter. So, brilliantly we...
Published 8 months ago by Merlin's Owl
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sometimes I feel more like a night watchman than a clerk.",
This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Hardcover)
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.
With two computer geek friends, Clay sets out on a quest to learn the carefully kept secrets of the bookstore, using some of Google's cutting edge computer programs and many different kinds of computer languages. Knowledge of the past, as seen in the "Waybacklist" in Penumbra's store, in libraries, and in archives around the world may be interpreted in completely new ways, with new insights for the future, when the awe-inspiring magic of computer programming is applied to them, an interesting take on an old theme.
The mysteries of the bookstore come to life and keep on coming for the next three hundred engrossing pages, carrying the reader along for a wild ride. Do not think, however, that this is a "wizardy" kind of novel with magic and spells - unless you believe that the computer is magic - for this novel is also a kind of homage to the wonders of the computer and the new knowledge it can unlock for those who seek it. Despite all the seemingly arcane languages, computer or otherwise, however, the true emphasis of the novel is on people, and that is where the book's overwhelming charm lies. The characters are young and enthusiastic, and readers will identify with their search for knowledge and connection, even to the point at which they question the very nature of life and death. Even more importantly for readers, the author's own ability to see humor as a very real part of existence is refreshing and life-affirming. Captivating and fun to read, this novel, with all its stimulating detail and its unique twists and turns of plot, left me breathless - and smiling.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Title of the novel tells the much more unusual story than it actually is,
There is something irresistible in that word. The thought of literary, bookstore or library brings a known feeling of comfort. It is no wonder that each new literary piece dedicated to books is priceless adventure for all bookworms. However, the enthusiasm often subsides when after promising title and exciting abstract reader do not get what she/he expected. But can such affection be put inside the book covers?
The books came into the life of web designer, Clay Jannon, when he needed them. The recession has hit the industry he worked in and he had to find a job in an unusual bookstore with suggestive name, not even knowing what adventure expects him.
Night shift, when Clay worked, smelled like a past. Sheltered from the world behind the bookstore walls, Clay was forced to obey the unusual rules of operation imposed by the owner named Penumbra. Although surrounded by thousands of unknown books, Clay was not allowed to browse any. Every night bookstore had its regular visitors, elderly people who always borrowed certain titles, never buying anything. Clay’s task was to make a list of visitors, their names as well as their physical description, and the books they borrowed. Soon it became clear that the story of the mysterious bookshop is much larger than neighborhood book club. With the help of a few friends Clay will go into the action decoding well-kept secrets of the mystical book lovers.
Title of the novel tells the much more unusual story than it actually is. Absolutely everything from cute cover to mysterious action gives the hint that irresistible reading is awaiting. However, the great potential of its subject is not fully used. Novel chronically lacks tangible protagonists. Trying to fulfill the plot, Sloan forgot to breathe life to his characters. Clay is at times passive and the importance of his character is not felt. Only at the end of the novel, we have the impression that he actually started to do something.
If the author is forgiven for characters neglecting, reader cannot avoid noticing that Sloan is mediocre storyteller. The realization of his very good idea didn’t fully work - he started brilliantly and then lost the initial thread. At times it seemed that he was in such a hurry to say this story, fearing that he would forget it or someone will steal it from him, therefore he completely ignored the story. Indeed, the plot is cinematic. If you are prone to personal perception of actions, without being necessarily led by the writer, you will not complain to his shortcomings. The leitmotif of the novel is the relationship between electronic and printed books. Acceptance of this seemingly big change, for many is violation with their own convictions. The book has remained and will be a kind of ideology symbol for which fights will last as long as the world have booklovers which do not want to let the smell of the paper go down in history .
On the other hand, Clay and Penumbra are two different worlds that represent the era before and after electronic books and comfort us with fact that such a change does not bite nor we cannot live in a world that has both options. On the contrary, it is precisely what the 21st century needs. The story also includes the Google employee Kat who is a kind of counterpart to Penumbra and readers and old school. Her role of modern technology representative contributes to the contrast in which the work is based.
The mission of this novel is to console inconsolable booklovers that in the midst of crowded public transport sniff pages of their books and show them that the world has enough space even for their Kindles. In this sense, Sloan was successful. Narrative rashness and characters understatement will be ignored by all those eager of mystical spaces, mysterious bookstores and experiences that such environments provide, because this novel truly delivers the magic. Unknown details of the history of printing and typography will arouse reader's imagination, at least for a few moments.
To satisfy the booklover with the novel about the books is already difficult task that is only for the fittest. Therefore, this novel should be evaluated as a beginner trying to describe something that is hard to put down on paper. Because really, to describe smell of yellowed books, tears shed for your favorite hero and touch of heartbreaking last page of the novel, there are no adequate words.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Geek quest - 4-,
This review is from: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Hardcover)
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.
3.0 out of 5 stars Have a Nice day,
This review is from: Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Paperback)
The young techno-inspired inhabitants of California are about as distant from me as some lost tribe. They have different ways of seeing the world and reach for the internet as a solution to life's every problem. The internet has everything at your fingrtips but technology has a way of bleaching out life's more immediate experiences, making it flatter. So, brilliantly we can sit at home and travel the world and learn about history, science, other cultures or wars in distant lands. But, I have a feeling that most westerners are interested in celebrity weddings. The vacuous and empty. Or porn.
One interesting concept that this book brought to me is the Singularity. This, I gather, is when artificial intelligence becomes greater than ours. The problem is that we can't imagine what that will be like because our intelligence is limited. It's like trying to imagine what life will be like in the year 3000. After you go through flying cars, the elimination of cancer and spaceships it's really hard to imagine the future beyond things that we aleady know.
Mr Penumbra started out as a 6000 word e-book and has been reworked into a papery book things. This is relevant to the story because it seems to be about the interface between old-world technology and new. A criticism levelled at the book is that it is aimed at young adults but I have read the Hunger Games and don't have a problem with books appealling to a wider audience. It is just sooo sunny, Californian, rock-climbing, low-carb, computer savvy, bright young things - it makes me feel a bit sick. But, I am an aging dinosaur heading for extinction....
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a Tale That Will Yank You Away & Swirl You Up...,
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
This is a tale that will yank you away and swirl you up into a fast-track frenzy of mystery, IT high-tech Google-stuff and a touch of romance. This is the PERFECT holiday book in that it not only gives you something to ponder as you're doling out Tom & Jerry's, but digs into the imagination of what we choose to believe and there's secret codes too! I found this gem while in Toronto not too long ago and yes, I was drawn in by the cover-art, but it is what's inside that hooked me and good.
Meet Clay Jannon, a thirty-something recently unemployed IT dude in search of a job--any job. Living in downtown San Francisco and with an open mind and an empty check book Clay sets out to apply for just about anything he could find. Jobs in his field were gone, (marketing designer for a bagel company) offices were shuttered and work sent overseas. With rent looming and his choices dwindling, he took a chance and answered an ad;
"HELP WANTED. Late shift. Specific Requirements. Good Benefits."
Written in first person and filled with witty dialogue and paced like lightening, you never know what is going to walk into the story next. Clay becomes the night clerk at Penumbra's and is told that the collection of rare books in the `waybacklist' is for special clients and they are to be carefully observed during each store visit. In fact, Clay is told to make very specific journal entries as to what they were wearing, their particular mood and what old tome they `check-out'. The weirdness begins as most transactions in this shop don't involve money.
One of the many aspects of this novel I found really refreshing was how author Sloan mixed old-fashioned paper books with high-tech wizardry all the way from the dusty shelves of the bookstore to Google's main brain-house and back again and again.
"Ah books...You know, old books are a big problem for us (at Google). Old knowledge in general. We call it OK. Old knowledge. Did you know that ninety-five percent of the internet was only created in the last five years? But we know that when it comes to all human knowledge, the ratio is just the opposite."
My one negative comment of Sloan's tale is the way he drops heavy thoughts into the story and then simply moves on. Like the above quote, filled with a message that is far from light and airy. Yet it's never explored and only seems to serve the purpose of confusion for the reader wondering where the heck that fits in?
I won't reveal what the secret codes lead to or mean or offer, it's all wrapped up and solved by the last page and is truly worth the read as well as the final surprise reveal. One thing this book does with such a wonderful flair is leaves you with the reminder that old-fashioned books will always hold a prominent place of importance in our world.
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Penumbra,
When the logo he designed for NewBagel fails to launch him on the path to great things and even a rebranding as the Old Jerusalem Bagel Company fails to save that particular foodie start-up, Clay Jannon finds himself desperately in need of a job. So desperate in fact that he leaves the safety of the internet and, having pounded the pavement for a while, bravely answers an advert in an actual shop window. After spending a couple of minutes in the company of the shop owner - and via a nerdy childhood love of The Dragon-song Chronicles - Clay finds himself employed as the night clerk at Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore.
A bookshop that opens around the clock is unusual enough, but it seems particularly strange in a shop that hardly has any customers. As Clay soon discovers, running the late shift at Mr Penumbra's is more like being a night watchman than a salesman. Even when a customer does wander in, they're far more likely to borrow an esoteric tome from the Waybacklist than actually buy something. These borrowers are a peculiar bunch and Mr Penumbra warns Clay not to pay any particular attention to the books that they borrow. He does however want his new clerk to keep a detailed record of every borrower - their time of visit, appearance and demeanour. It's all very strange and far from being a sound business model.
Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore is a truly original, delightfully humorous debut novel from Robin Sloan. Clay Jannon is an engaging everyman who learns to appreciate books and embrace technology in equal measure, helping him to appease all readers of the moment. His deep-rooted love of fantasy fiction and his high tolerance for the unlikely make Clay the perfect guy to find out what's afoot at Mr Penumbra's and force the mystery through to its ultimate conclusion. He might not have to fight bad guys but he certainly tackles ignorance and scepticism with gusto.
In his quest to uncover the secrets contained within the pages of Mr Penumbra's books, Clay is ably assisted by a band of quirky friends and acquaintances who would all fit in well in a Wes Anderson film. Clay's possibly/maybe/sorta girlfriend Kat is the wizard of the quest - she channels the awesome power of Google to solve the unsolvable in record time - while his childhood best friend Neel - he's big in boob rendering - is the warrior and money man. The three of them do seem from the very beginning to be an almost unstoppable (to say nothing of painfully cool) force.
Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore is a quirky, fun read that's peopled with characters that you can actually care about. The mystery that Clay is attempting to unravel seems strangely plausible - or as plausible as bibliophilic cultists can be anyway - as do the means, both technological and intellectual, that he and his questers must employ in order to get to the truth. There isn't much in the way of deadly danger but there is the ever present threat of bookshop closure. Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore is that rare novel that will appeal to both book lovers and techno fans, with each side having the chance to feel that their favourite medium comes out on top.
4.0 out of 5 stars Living by the book,
Poor Clay Jannon has lost his job as web designer for a bagel business and is scratching around looking for work. Coming across a 24 hour bookshop - as you do - he is taken on to do the nightshift. Nothing too strange in that, but then it gets... odd. Most of the book's shop seems to consist of mysterious, unique volumes which are lent out to mysterious, unique customers. Is is a front for a drugs network? Or some kind of multitasking Sudoku type game? Clay sets out to investigate, helped by his girlfriend Kat (who works for Google) and Neel, boss of a software house specialising in simulations of the physics of... but that would be a bit of a spoiler.
The investigation takes Clay to the heart of a bookish cult. Will he be able to bring the resources of the Google age to bear on the problem they labour to solve? If he does will it be the end of them, or the beginning?
I found this book variously exciting, hilarious, thought provoking and just plain absorbing. It's full of clever numbery stuff, as well as juxtaposing two quite different views of the written word - represented by the Unbroken Spine on the one hand and Kat's zany "googlers" on the other. Perhaps, it seems to suggest, there may be an accomodation between the two. En route we meet a variety of characters who might have stepped out of the pages of Cryptonomicon though without the hi-tech weaponry: there's a similar background of Californian venture capital start-ups, of engineers sizing up the business world, combined with the conspiracy-laden background of Foucault's Pendulum. All that works together a lot better than you might expect. I wouldn't trust it on facts: clearly this isn't a world where every Apple computer comes preladen with the Gerritszoon font (I've just checked) and I suspect that Google isn't run quite as described either. But it's a delightful take on how, perhaps, things ought to be.
I've marked as four rather than five stars because, despite being a rattling good read, I felt that the story made a few jumps and could actually have been a few pages longer and given a bit more. But highly recommended, all the same.
3.0 out of 5 stars Indiana Jones for the high-tech generation,
"I'm building my model of the store ... all the shelves are there ... I've set them up with a coordinate system, so my program can find aisle 3, shelf 13 all by itself. Simulated light from the simulated windows casts sharp-edged shadows through the simulated store. If this sounds impressive to you, you're over thirty."
Embedded in that final sentence, to steal a phrase from the book, might just be the problem with this novel for me: I'm over 30. Whilst I engage in the worlds of Google, YouTube and computers, I do so with an almost total ignorance of how they work. I can appreciate technology, but I can't "believe" in it. I can appreciate that there is a beauty in coding or in Hadoop, but I can't see it. Yet, I believe in weirder things than technology, so when our geeky hero Clay Jannon muses on this feeling--"[w]alking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines--it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits"--I know exactly what he means because I love books.
Mr Penumbra is a novel that exists in the present moment more than any other novel I think I've ever read. Its energy and vitality come from the power struggle between the ancient technology of the book, and the newest high-tech pretenders to its throne. The books are represented by a secret society of individuals who "orbit the store like strange moons ... vibrating with need"; modern technology sends "Googlers" to do its bidding in the form of "brilliant programmers" who wear "snug jeans and T-shirts". United through the newly unemployed web-designer Clay Jannon, ancient and modern technology, Googlers, Silicon Valley whizz-kids, and members of a secret society, embark on a journey to de-code the answer to one of human kind's most enduring quests ...
... and our hero succeeds! It's interesting that whilst the book may revel in modern technology, the narrative is rather touchingly old-fashioned.
Though Sloan ties all his loose ends up rather too neatly for my liking, I still enjoyed many aspects of Mr Penumbra. The writing is pacy and packed with life; it's frequently funny and only slips occasionally into a cleverness that is just a bit too self-aware. There are some surprisingly tender moments to be found even in high-tech romantic digressions, and it's hard to be immune to the image of the light of a laptop being a beacon in the lonely dark of the night. This is also a novel full of heart and great passions; for technology obviously, but also for books, for typography, for puzzles, quests and adventures. This passion is infectious and will keep you turning the pages till the very end. There is just enough balance with the ancient too, to (probably) save this novel from dating as quickly and embarrassingly as all other things high-tech; for ancient read human themes of love and friendship, life and death that will never obsolesce.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Douglas Coupland lite,
Clay Jannon quits his job as a web designer for a bagel shop and takes a job in Mr.Penumbra's mysterious 24-hour bookstore, notable not only for its vast collection of unknown and unreadable books but by the paucity and weirdness of its customers. Clay soon finds the shop is a front for some sort of book-based cult and procedes to crack its code.
Set in contemporary San Francisco, a world where characters talk seriously about The Singularity (the emergence of superintelligence through technology) and are nostalgic for the early models of Kindle, this is the sort of territory that Douglas Coupland has satirised so effectively in books like Microserfs and JPod. Unfortunately, Sloan lacks Coupland's wit and intelligence; what we get is a very lightweight but pleasantly engaging adventure tale. Characters are super-thin and a breathless chirpyness, where nothing really bad happens and everyone seems uncritically in awe of the power of Google, permeates the book. The conclusion not so much disappoints as underlines the banality of the whole venture.
Jannon is an economical writer who is reasonably good at getting the reader to turn the page, but for a story that revolves around the appeal and magic of books, this is a surprisingly insubstantial example.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
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This review is from: Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore (Kindle Edition)
Is started well and looked as if it was going to keep me gripped, but it lost its way for me about halfway through. The plot was interesting but it just never delivered what it seemed to promise at the start.
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Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Paperback - 27 Feb. 2014)