Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan

Archaic codes and cutting-edge technology collide in this present-day tale of espionage and adventure. After Clay Jannon takes a job at San Francisco's strangest bookstore, he becomes curious about the unusual customers who check out the large tomes from the back shelves at odd hours of the night. His curiosity leads him into secret cults, the technological omnipotence of Google, and possibly to true love and to the secret to eternal life?

I was really impressed by the initial subject of this book: the intersection of traditional book reading and the new advances in reading technology. As someone who works at this crossroads nearly every day (as part of the Village Books eTeam) this subject is of personal interest to me, and to many others with one foot in literature and the other in the computer age. Sloan does a great job of depicting the huge leap between traditional book reading and the new technology of e-readers. The speed with which these developments are being made is truly incredible, and most of us can't even imagine the true technological might of a company like Google or other companies behind many new reading methods.

While the story in "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" is full of old codes, new kinds of books, methods of reading and a simultaneous love for antiquity, it gets strange really quickly. While I loved the RPG references and cherished fantasy novel memories on the part of the protagonist, it got hokey with the advent of an actual secret society as part of the story. That plus the unsatisfactory culmination of the society's centuries-old mission combined to form a real letdown at the end of the story.

However, the research that went into the font, and the idea to use it as a basis for a business/secret society was truly inspired. It brought to mind another recent book, this one nonfiction, about the history of fonts and their creation. A little bit about "Just My Type" by Simon Garfield can be found here if you're interested.

I'd recommend "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" to people who are interested in the cutting edge of reading technology but who still have a fondness for good old paper books, especially if you don't mind a little bit of cheese in exchange for some really cool technology. If you share Jannon's memories of high school fantasy obsessions, that helps too. This novel is available now at your favorite local bookstore! Also, did I mention that the yellow books on the cover glow in the dark? Awesome.

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