Publisher’s Synopsis: “The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything – instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra’s they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.”
I didn’t notice until I was nearly halfway through Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore that it has an endorsement from George Saunders on the front cover. If I had seen that before I got started, I may have been a little more excited about it. This reads as a love letter to books mixed with a treatise on the interplay of books and technology – the mingling of old knowledge and new.
I quite honestly loved everything about this book. The characters were delightfully quirky, but still real and quite likable (if sometimes a bit superfluous). The setting was wonderful; how could a book with “24-Hour Bookstore” right in the title not have a fabulous setting? The plot moved at exactly the right pace: events unfolded, but they never seemed rushed and as much as I enjoyed the book, I never wanted it to slow down to give me more time. This was not a difficult book to read, but nor was it overly simple. Sloan struck a perfect balance on almost every element of storytelling, leading to a whole that was cohesive and not at all over the top.
It is strange to me to read books set during the recession; it feels too current to have been immortalized in fiction just yet. However, the way that Sloan juxtaposes the recession and the generation that has been living through it on top of the interplay between a mysterious used book archive and Silicon Valley is masterful. A book about ancient books has never felt more modern.