Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

“The right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”Robin Sloan


Some books you love at first sentence.

In the case of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, I loved it at the author's photo and introduction sentence:

"ROBIN SLOAN grew up in Michigan and now splits his time between San Francisco and the Internet."

Oh boy! I thought. I hope the whole book maintains this tone!

And, I'm happy to report, it does.

There are character descriptions which made me visualize exactly who he meant.

“He has the strangest expression on his face- the emotional equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.”

There are snappy situation descriptions, entirely on point.

“...I can’t stop squirming. If fidgets were Wikipedia edits, I would have completely revamped the entry on guilt by now, and translated it into five new languages.”

And yes, Sloan's references are entirely current and in keeping with a 2016 mentality.

“Kat bought a New York Times but couldn’t figure out how to operate it, so now she’s fiddling with her phone.”

I could seriously quote Sloan's witty descriptions for days. He colors the story narrator, Clay Jannon, so well I want to go to coffee with the guy -- or at least follow him on twitter.

“But I kept at it with the help-wanted ads. My standards were sliding swiftly. At first I had insisted I would only work at a company with a mission I believed in. Then I thought maybe it would be fine as long as I was learning something new. After that I decided it just couldn't be evil. Now I was carefully delineating my personal definition of evil.”

As for the plot itself,'s quirky and, to be candid, preposterous.  But I don't care. I mean, I love Marvel movies, so clearly I can easily suspend my disbelief.

Plus there is a clear undertone in Sloan's writing that he enjoys printed books and much of the story is an homage to the printed text.

“'I did not know people your age still read books,' Penumbra says. He raises an eyebrow. 'I was under the impression they read everything on their mobile phones.''Not everyone. There are plenty of people who, you know--people who still like the smell of books.''The smell!' Penumbra repeats. 'You know you are finished when people start talking about the smell.' He smiles at that--then something occurs to him, and he narrows his eyes. 'I do not suppose you have a...Kindle?'Uh-oh. It feels like it's the principal asking me if I have weed in my backpack. But in a friendly way, like maybe he wants to share it. As it happens, I do have my Kindle. I pull it out of my messenger bag. It's a bit battered with wide scratches across the back and stray pen marks near the bottom of the screen.Penumbra holds it aloft and frowns. It's blank. I reach up and pinch the corner and it comes to life. He sucks in a sharp breath, and the pale gray rectangle reflects in his bright blue eyes.”

How can I not love that?

This book won't make an English teacher's reading list, but if you're looking for a fun little jaunt in a quirky world, pick up Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.