Robin Sloan Brings a Mysterious Take on a Mysterious Bookstore

It began with a quote that I came across from the blog of someone I follow; the quote having something to do with running one’s hand along the spines of hardcovers and detecting the sleeping spirits within them. It was a quote from a book that, until then, I had never heard of; a book called “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.”

The quote got to me, primarily out of its effective nature. Meanwhile, the title as well proved to be just as interesting itself. 24-hour bookstores do exist, but in the urban cities of Taipei and Hong Kong, and not the tech-savvy, global city of San Francisco. What possible story could be built around such a setting as that? Finally, I took to Goodreads to learn more about this novel, and learned of how this is the debut novel for author Robin Sloan, that follows our narrator Clay Jannon as he uncovers the mysterious activity that takes place beyond his sight in the bookstore. It was then that I knew that I had to read this book, and any possible doubts regarding its potential were erased that first night when I found my copy of it glowing in the dark.

Already I was intrigued by the fact that the primary setting is in my home region of the San Francisco Bay Area.  City names and venues that I’m very familiar with popped out before me, and Sloan doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is where Silicon Valley is at. The bookstore is located in San Francisco, the girl Clay is interested in gives him a tour of her workplace- Google- over in Mountain View, Clay makes trips out to Berkeley and Emeryville to meet up with people, and the act of tweeting and coding is seen as second nature as getting a ride on BART. It seems appropriate then that I got my copy of the book from- wait for it- the San Francisco Public Library.

The story itself is really interesting, for it goes above and beyond just strange, returning customers to the bookstore. There’s a pattern present, and when Clay figures that out, he finds himself face-to-face with something far bigger than he had ever imagined. I wish I could discuss just what it is that Clay figures out, but that would be too great of a spoiler on my part. What I can say is that no wonder it says in the synopsis that this is a good book for anyone who likes the whimsical nature of a Haruki Murakami novel, for I fell right in tune with its pacing.

Could it have flowed a little better? Probably yeah. Did it have some holes? Sure. For instance, Clay never lives it down regarding  a fictional fantasy series he’s been a fan of since childhood called “The Dragon-Song Chronicles.” Aside from excerpts he Clay reads- or plays on the audiobook- and the prominent role it winds up playing in this adventure of his, we don’t really know too much about it. From the sound of it, it sounds equivalent to how kids in the real world love the “Harry Potter” series. Perhaps this could be the next big thing for Sloan- making “The Dragon-Song Chronicles” into a real book series.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes solving puzzles, for there’s plenty of them throughout the course of the novel. But even more so, I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s a lover of books, for in the end, it’s books that wind up comprising the sum of the whole as Clay ventures onward.


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