Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Robin Sloan

I imagine this quirky novel would be a talking point for people interested in the “digital humanities,” as it pits dusty, old books and their creaky scholars against shiny, electronic devices and their optimistic geeks. That’s definitely both exaggeration and simplification as there are characters that walk the analog-digital line, but then it’s also a lighthearted narrative in which many of the characters are archetypal.

Set amidst a hyperrealistic San Francisco, the bookstore of the title appears to a young, unemployed web designer who is eager for any work and takes the night shift. He soon realizes the store also functions as a library for a collection of mysterious books that seem to written in code. And, because it wouldn’t be a story without a conflict, he meets a cute Google employee and wants to impress her by doing some data viz with the logbooks of the library, thereby unleashing the anger of the head of a secret society. As a fantasy snugly tucked in next to the present day, the success of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore hinges largely on the amount of disbelief you are willing to suspend. I wasn’t entirely convinced with the resolution, but it’s a fun read — especially for bedtime reading since the cover has a special design feature.