Monday, April 18, 2016

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore - Review

Last August I was winding my way through the check out line of Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, clutching the meager three tomes that I had to choose from the basketful I had pulled from the shelves (sorry whoever had to re-shelve those :/ ). As I meandered forlornly through the bordering tables stacked high with bargain buys, I spotted a fun looking yellow cover.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan captured my attention. "I wish I knew of a 24 hour bookstore," the bibliophile in me sighed. So what did I do?
Well, I bought it of course.
I snatched that sucker up off that oaken table and deftly slide it between a fantasy and neo-gothic before my boyfriend could give me the side-eye and say another snarky comment on baggage weight regulations.

Patricia Wall/The New York Times

The last minute baggage roulette was completely worth it. This novel was the right book at the right time.  I just didn't know it until I got to its spot on my reading list and finally dived in head-first.

Mr. Penumbra is the mysterious owner of a twenty-four hour bookstore in which our unlikely techno narrator finds himself working the night-shift.  Boredom and mystery are often amazing bedfellows and through a series of inquires, adventure and a little deception, Clay (aforementioned narrator) finds himself on the cusp of figuring out a centuries old secret, stepping on the toes of a black-cloaked clandestine society.

The novel combines both new-fangled technology genius with old school paper and ink knowledge in an entertaining way that does not dismiss either, but shows how both are valid. Great news for a millennial like myself (am I a millennial? Who knows...) who loves her iPhone, but can't stand e-readers. Give me a book with pages that snap as I turn them and a heft in my purse that will eventually make me lopsided.

Illustration by Laura Terry.

The characters gliding in and out of the pages are realistic, if eccentric, and have believable relationships with each other and the world around them.  There is a sense of whimsy and of nerdom, all of which fit the subject matter and enhance the general feel of the story.

Reading this book will make you wonder at the idea of fate. Do specific things happen at certain times in our lives because they must? Does one step really lead to the next, if we are only open to listening and following? Being curious is just the thing a bored mind needs. It will bring you to your next step along fate's winding highway and on adventures that end where no one expects.

I can't help but think that there was a little bit of kismet working in the world that day. An unseen force that put that happy yellow cover right into my line of view. The perk to my mental outlook at a time when the year was dragging showed me that there are still adventures to be had. It was "the right book exactly, at exactly the right time"

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