Monday, January 21, 2013
New Release: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
You've likely already heard of this unique new novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, with its glow-in-the-dark cover and its celebration of books. It made a lot of "best of" lists last year and I was very excited to get it for Christmas.
Clay Jannon is an unemployed web designer in San Francisco who happens into a random bookstore, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, that has a "help wanted" sign in the window. Without much effort but, perhaps, a bit of destiny, Clay ends up with the night shift at the bookstore. It's a mysterious place with regular books in the front and towering shelves of strange volumes in the back. What those books are for and what the bizarre customers who come in at all hours are after is for the reader to discover alongside Clay.
I'll be honest and say that I really liked this book but didn't love it. I can't put my finger on it but there was something missing from it. Maybe it was heart? Most of the character interactions were plot-advancing with little character building. I also thought the Google fandom was a bit strong. It reminded me of Microserfs by Douglas Coupland in its attempt to humanize a corporation. But, where Microserfs was able to portray its employees as hard-working, barefoot, Lego-loving nerds, this story gave the impression that Google employees are overworked, obsessive-compulsive misfits who have every moment of every day, down to what nutrients they eat, micromanaged by their employer. It made me a bit sad. While this novel was seemingly meant to celebrate intelligence and individuality--the soul, if you will--it just served to reinforce the loss of such things in today's corporate world, regardless of the outward face they put on. Still, there were some unique and unforgettable characters and events in the book and overall I enjoyed reading it. I just wish it had been a bit, well, more.
Finding the soul of each book,